Bluegrass in the Park and Folklife Festival is in the best financial state it’s ever been in, according to its event and music chair, but Mark Hargis is worried about the future of this Henderson staple if younger people don’t take the torch.
“We have grown every year with our finances,” Hargis said. “We’re not going from festival to festival broke like we used to.”
So, on the financial side, the challenge of putting on the festival is becoming more manageable, but the committee needs help from a younger generation if the festival is to have a future.
Hargis’ wife, Monica, who oversees fundraising and is the volunteer coordinator, said she is the youngest person on the committee.
“And I’m 63,” she said. “We’re all starting to get close to our golden years.”
Still, the couple are excited and proud about this year’s festival, the event’s 37th annual, which will be bigger than it’s ever been.
For instance, the number of food vendors will go up from two last year to five. And the folklife piece of the festival is also growing, including a new addition this year, frontiersman, mountain men who will be wearing buckskin attire and showing off fur skins, tents and primitive cooking utensils.
Also included in folklife is woodworking, basketmaking, quilting, food preservation, butter making and, of course, the petting zoo and the Kentucky Wheelmen—the group riding those old-timey bicycles through town on Bluegrass in the Park weekend.
The festival also includes artisans—16 by the count on the website—who will show off crafts, jewelry, woodworking, honey and a host of other creations.
But the draw, as it’s always been, is the music. This year the festival will continue its tradition of finding great bands on their way to the bigtime. A couple recent examples of rising musicians who’ve played the festival include Pokey LaFarge and Billy Strings.
This year’s next best band is The Kody Norris Show, a group scheduled to perform at the Grand Ole Opry on Aug. 9—three days before they’ll hit the stage in Audubon Mill Park.
The festival will be Friday, Aug. 11 and Saturday, Aug. 12. The Kody Norris Show will play twice on Saturday, at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.
“They are a great upcoming band,” Hargis said. “They are so tight.”
Not only fantastic musicians, but they’re also a band that’s got the whole package, playing with high energy and bantering with the audience, Hargis said.
“They’re just a fun, fun band,” Hargis said.
Hargis is also the mandolin player and singer in local bluegrass band, Kings Highway, who will serve as the host band at the festival and play three times—5 p.m. on Friday and 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Saturday.
Mark’s son, Zeb, also a part of Kings Highway, has another band, Love Sick Blues. It’s an old-time country band in the vein of Hank Williams, Sr., and will perform at 8 p.m. Friday.
Mark and Monica said that last year was one of the best the festival has ever had, and though they need younger help, both are committed to growing it and seeing it through for as long as they can.
When asked if the festival could ever get as big as Henderson’s W.C. Handy Blues and Barbecue Festival, a four-day event with low-ball attendance estimates at 40,000, Mark Hargis responded, “That’s our goal, and it should be.”
“It’s been going on for 37 years and I’d love for it to continue on from here on,” Mark Hargis said. “When you’ve got that music in you, you want to give it to the world and you want to spread it.”