This is the poster child of festivals.
This thought came to my mind after being at the Carl Junction Bluegrass Festival for a mere ten minutes on a picture-perfect September afternoon. This festival had it all: live music, a variety of food, arts and crafts vendors, community organization booths, a car show, and kids activities, all nestled in the shade provided by the sprawling limbs of the trees in beautiful Center Creek Park. Plus, the event organization was seamless, with volunteers directing traffic, driving shuttles, and providing information to attendees.
True, the organizers of the Carl Junction Bluegrass Festival have had a little time to refine the details of this event – like over 20 years – and the festival, which is held the fourth weekend of September every year, now brings more than 15,000 people to the southwest Missouri town of Carl Junction.
Historically, this has been a Saturday-only event, but in 2018, two more days of activities were added to the festival. On Friday night, the Indoor Bluegrass Jamboree was held at Carl Junction’s Stark Auditorium, featuring three bluegrass bands. On Sunday, Pick’n & Picnic’n in the Park (I dare you to say that three times fast!) invited families to eat a picnic lunch in Center Creek Park while listening to the music of the Picker’s Post Band.
I visited the festival on Saturday, when it was held from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Center Creek Park. I arrived in the early afternoon, and it was pretty crowded. But Center Creek Park is large, allowing ample room for both people and cars, and I didn’t have any trouble finding a parking space. Shuttles were available for those who parked in the free parking areas; there was also a $5 VIP parking option for those who wanted to park near the entrance. But even though I parked in the free parking area, I still didn’t have to walk far before I was immersed in the sights and sounds of the festival.
Each year, the festival organizers invite visitors to bring their own lawn chairs to relax in while they listen to the stars of the festival: the bluegrass musicians. To me, bluegrass brings to mind banjos, fiddles, and mandolins, but have you ever really wondered where this music came from? Well, I did. So I did some research.
According to the Bluegrass Heritage Foundation, bluegrass has its roots in the songs about country life that were sung by those who migrated to America from Ireland, Scotland, and England and settled in rural areas in the Appalachian region. In the early part of the 20th century, the classic bluegrass style as we now know it was formed, blending country, jazz, Celtic, rock, and gospel music styles.
And now you know.
Well maybe you knew all of this before, but at least now I know.
Back to the Carl Junction Bluegrass Festival. The music began flowing from the stage at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, and there was a sea of people kicking back in their lawn chairs enjoying the lively music of bands like No Apparent Reason, Berry Wynn & The Fly by Night Band, and That Dalton Gang, who was playing when I took this photo.
What makes listening to live music even better? Why, food, of course! The Carl Junction Bluegrass Festival had a wide array of dining options to choose from including: Ghetto Tacos, Clark’s Cuisine (barbecue), King’s Kettle Korn, and more.
Fred & Red’s (spaghetti red and Frito pie)
When I reached the last food truck, I discovered an additional area filled with arts and crafts tents and community organization information.
Then I realized it led to another vendor area, and then another. This festival was bigger than I’d expected!
Here are some of the vendors that were at the festival:
The Plaid Anvil (embellished/bleached plaids and leather goods)
Kimberly’s Jellies & Jams (a variety of jelly and jam flavors, including Mountain Dew and Coke, and avocado jalapeno, which I bought)
BJS Creations (jewelry, baby bibs)
Kimbriel Custom Crafts (handmade pens, razors, and holiday ornaments)
Surplus USA (metal art)
Car and Bike Show
I continued to walk through park, the energetic notes of bluegrass carrying me along the way. I came to the Car and Bike Show area, where rows of vehicles from different eras gave glimpses into times gone by.
Judging for the show started at noon, and trophies were given out at 2 p.m. This beauty was one of my favorites.
Even the little ones had an area dedicated to them at the Carl Junction Bluegrass Festival. Bounce houses, pony rides, a petting zoo, face painting, and an art project kept them occupied.
But if they needed a break from all of the stimulation, they just had to take a few steps to the quiet banks of Center Creek, where they could dip their toes in the sparkling water or search for wildlife.
With its idyllic setting, and family-friendly, alcohol-free environment, filled with music, food, and arts and crafts, it’s easy to see why the Carl Junction Bluegrass Festival attracts so many people to this neck of the woods each September.
For more information on the Carl Junction Bluegrass Festival, click here.
To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.