This exhibit features the Hatch Show print used to promote Bill Monroe’s fifth annual Bean Blossom festival staged in June of 1971. Bill Monroe was known for his tough willpower, fierce artistic competitiveness, gristly stubbornness, and lengthy feuds. (1) Given these qualities, his 1971 Bean Blossom festival was historical in featuring two artists whose appearances would have previously seemed unlikely.
Monroe, who jealously guarded the conservative tradition of “his music,” had booked an act considered to be outside of the traditional mainstream of bluegrass. Noted in the poster as a “special guest,” was John Hartford, sporting unkempt long hair and beard, in contradistinction to his former clean-cut Glen Campbell Show appearances. In addition to Hartford on the banjo, his band was comprised of guitarist Norman Blake, dobroist Tut Taylor, and fiddler Vassar Clements. (2) This band had just finished recording Hartford’s groundbreaking album, Aereo-Plain, an album many consider as “pioneering a mix of young and old, of tradition and originality, of reverence and abandon.” (3) This mix would ultimately become known as “newgrass,” a variation of Monroe’s music that he admittedly disliked, though it would become popular with a large portion of bluegrass fans. (4) Mandolinist Sam Bush, later founder of the progressive New Grass Revival, was there for Hartford’s performance. Says Bush, ” I’ve said many times without the Aereo-Plain album or band there wouldn’t have been any New Grass Revival. It was the first time where people truly used acoustic bluegrass instruments to create original contemporary music…It was the origins of what some people might call Newgrass.” (5) The fact that Bill Monroe booked Hartford suggests that his long-standing hard line traditionalism might be softening, an encouraging nod to the increasing youth of the festival crowds.
The second unexpected event at the 1971 festival was the reunion of Bill Monroe and his former lead singer, Lester Flatt. The men had not spoken to each other for decades. (6) Although Monroe dismissed Flatt’s appearance as his son James’s “doings,” he greeted Lester with a handshake and “Welcome to Bean Blossom”(7), after which they performed “Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” and “Little Cabin on the Hill” together. The Hamilton County Bluegrass Band, from New Zealand, had made their American debut at this festival. Their fiddler, Colleen Trenwith, kept a journal of the experience, and wrote of the Monroe-Flatt reunion: “That was the most exciting moment of the festival and the applause was upstanding and lasted for ages.” (8) The resolution of this longstanding feud proved so popular with the crowd that Lester and his band played the Bean Blossom Festival every year until his death in 1979. (9)
–Bean Blossom, Thomas Adler
As bluegrass historian Neil Rosenberg notes, “Those who attended the 1971 Bean Blossom festival considered it a milestone, confirming their faith in the power of the music.” (10)
(1) Can’t You Hear Me Callin’: The Life of Bill Monroe, Father of Bluegrass, Richard D. Smith,
Da Capo Press, 2000, pp. 63-64.
(2) Bean Blossom: The Brown County Jamboree and Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Festivals, Thomas
- Adler, University of Illinois Press, 2011, p. 120.
(3) John Hartford: Pilot of a Steam Powered Aereo-Plain, Andrew Vaughan, StuffWorks Press,
2013, p. 9.
(4) Bluegrass, A History, Neil Rosenberg, University of Illinois Press, 2005, p. 319.
(5) Vaughan 2013, p.10.
(6) Rosenberg 2005, p. 291.
(7) Smith 2000, p. 220.
(8) Personal Journal, June 10 – August 4, Colleen Trenwith, 1971, p. 12.
(9) Adler 2011, p. 122.
(10) Rosenberg 2005, p. 291.
http://frobbi.org/audio/landreth/BeanBlossom1971/index.html – sound recordings of the Bean Blossom 1971 festival
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfglyqcJj3c – home movie of Bean Blossom 1971