We recently received the following letter (excerpted below) from Wendy Tyner, the Director of Philanthropy/Publicity for the Wintergrass Bluegrass Festival, which received a $2,500 grant for youth educational activities in 2021.

“Thanks to the IBMA Foundation’s generous financial support through the Project Grants program, Wintergrass was able to continue to provide bluegrass music education even in the midst of a world-wide pandemic. We were challenged in ways we could never have imagined. And yet, in the spirit of innovation and creativity during COVID, Wintergrass launched its first-ever streamed bluegrass program and music education series, creating the online origins of Pocketgrass, Workshops, The Youth Academy with “Mr. Joe” (Craven), and the Youth Orchestra with three Seattle high schools and Seattle Pacific University’s orchestra.  

“The combined free, virtual online programs brought 7,000 people together who would have otherwise been unable to experience quality bluegrass music.  With your support, we were able to present and pay 100% of the artists and production team, as well as showcase archival footage including Tony Rice, J.D. Crowe, Sara Jarosz, Red Wine, Blue Highway, the Infamous Stringdusters, Sam Bush, the Osborne Brothers, Tim and Molly O’Brien, and Darrell Scott. The highlight of the series for many was a never-before-seen interview with Janette Carter that illustrated her early years living at the Carter Fold in Poor Valley. Janette shared how she built the 880-seat amphitheater in southwest Virginia.

Under the remarkable leadership of Beth Fortune, Wintergrass Education Director, and the ever-so-inspirational Joe Craven, The Youth Academy Club with ‘Mr. Joe’ offered four online sessions teaching students how to play bluegrass instruments, along with clogging, songwriting, storytelling, and special bluegrass history lessons by Professor Tom Petersen. The free 30-minute sessions were followed by a live Zoom social gathering allowing students to interact directly with one another and the instructors.”

“The IBMA Foundation’s grant support also helped launch the free, virtual Youth Orchestra program. The string orchestra bluegrass program included students from three Seattle high schools, including two in disadvantaged areas of the city, and Seattle Pacific University’s orchestral students. Drs. Bob Phillips and Renata Bratt, Beth Fortune, and Professor Christopher Hanson of Seattle Pacific University worked with high school and college-aged orchestra students for several months to create the 2021 version of the Wintergrass Youth Orchestra. Given the unusual virtual learning model, students learned about digital audio recording, online orchestral rehearsal techniques, musical improvisation, and received fiddle-style coaching.  Beth Fortune wrote, ‘In a year where the answer to everything was ‘no,’ the Wintergrass education team pulled out all the stops creating innovative ways to say ‘yes’, serving kids of all ages and backgrounds anyway.

“Students had the fortune to work with Martha Redbone through her project based on William Blake’s poetry. Originally from Harlan County, Kentucky, with both enslaved Black people and Native Americans who trod the Trail of Tears in her ancestry, Redbone brings a unique perspective to folk music. Brandi Waller-Pace, Director of Decolonizing the Music Room, conducted an in-depth live Zoom interview with Martha, which was shared with the students. They talked about nature, chattel slavery, genocide, art, ancestry, poetry, musical styles, valuing different ways of learning, interpreting our world, and much more. It was deeply impactful. The students learned how music, deep thinking, artistry and empathy intersect. ‘Wintergrass plays a small part in making the world a better, more thoughtful, more-fair place. That is what keeps us going,’ stated Patrice O’Neill, Wintergrass Executive Director.

“Wintergrass was extremely fortunate to receive your support during a year of uncertainty. The grant allowed us to expand our programs, keep children engaged, and to offer them the opportunities to learn under extreme adverse conditions. We want to extend our heartfelt gratitude to Nancy Cardwell and to the Foundation’s Board of Directors for believing in Wintergrass during these tumultuous times. Your support inspires Wintergrass to continue to bring bluegrass music to children during a year of unrest and especially in future years to come.

“The next Youth Academy Club with ‘Mr. Joe’ airs June 5, 2021, on YouTube. Pocketgrass Episode 10 premieres on June 10, 2021, featuring the Wintergrass Youth Orchestra performances with Martha Redbone, archival footage of Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen, and three Northwest regional bands. This year has taught us our ability to fulfill our mission is not confined to the strictures of time and space on a festival weekend. Our gratitude has expanded with our view of what is possible. Thank you.” 

Photo above: Joe Cravens and his mandolin, on the PocketGrass screen

RETURN to the June 2021 issue of the newsletter.