Appalachian Fiddle and Bluegrass Association

History

 

The Appalachian Fiddle and Bluegrass Association (also known as AFBA) was formed in October, 1973, in Northampton County, Pa., for the purpose of preserving and promoting a unique form of American country folk music called “bluegrass”, made popular after WW II, pioneered by Kentuckian Bill Monroe and his band, “Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys”. Primary founder was Louie Setzer, also, brother, Larry, and Andy Tomsic.

Bluegrass music originated as a curious blending of the old-time Appalachian ancestral Scots-Irish folk tunes combined with a high-pitched, modern, mostly fast-paced tempo performed acoustically by groups of musicians on stringed instruments, including the banjo, violin, mandolin, guitar, and the large bass fiddle. As bluegrass further evolved, Bill Monroe added flavorings of “jazz” and “the blues” to his music, and, as other bands joined the bluegrass popularity, some developed their own particular style of bluegrass “pickin’ ”, and, many began composing new ballads, which continues today.

In July, 1974, the association was incorporated as a non-profit organization. About that time, AFBA started sponsoring bluegrass festivals at Klein’s Grove, near Bath, Pa., and monthly indoor “jam sessions” were held October through May at the Blue Valley Farm Show Building, Bangor, Pa. In recent years, the indoor “jams”, also known as “shin-digs”, had been held the 2nd Sunday of the month, November through April, at the Belfast Edelman Sportsman’s Club, Belfast, Pa. Audiences enjoyed the music as each band performed on the main floor, while continuous “jamming” occurred in the lower level.

The 2004 - 2005 indoor shin-dig season saw larger quarters. On Sunday, November 14, bluegrass fans congregated at the Hellertown American Legion, 935 Main St., Hellertown, Pa. The auditorium accommodates a much larger audience, and the bands have more jamming areas. This year, 2006, the fall indoor shin-digs commenced on the 2nd Sunday in October, replacing an annual pig roast/shin-dig formerly held at Mountain View Park.

Mountain View Park, at the foot of Blue Mountain, below Wind Gap, Pa., was purchased in October, 1979, with many members helping to prepare the rural, wooded site for an August, 1980, festival.

In 1982, festival time was promoted by member Harry Grant, then was moved to June in 1983, and is still an annual event, known as the “Wind Gap Bluegrass Festival”, this being the 25th year. In 1989, AFBA resumed the August festival, 2006 marking the 18th annual. September, 2002, saw the addition of a third bluegrass festival. Public radio station WDVR-FM, Sergeantsville, N.J., re-located their festival to Mountain View Park. Commencing with 2004, this event was re-titled “Echoes From The Hills Bluegrass Festival”, produced by Rich Evans and Beth Coleman. Unfortunately, in 2006, Rich and Beth decided not to promote their annual festival. The void was partially filled with an AFBA Saturday shin-dig heldon the same September weekend. Every spring, after what seems to be an endless winter, the park welcomes bluegrass fans to a long-awaited May re-opening with a shin-dig on the Saturday before Mother’s Day.

For many years, bands performed on a make-shift stage. After the mortgage was paid off in 1993, a permanent bandshell was constructed in 1994. During festivals, a prominent stage back-drop, painted in 1978 by artist D. E. Johnson, depicting a few of the great bluegrass performers, notably Bill Monroe, known as the “Father of Bluegrass”, Jimmy Martin, “Doc” Watson, Lester Flatt, Mac Wiseman, Tex Logan, Kenny Baker, and Bobby & Sonny Osborne, is on display.

The Appalachian Fiddle and Bluegrass Association has the distinction of being the only 501(c)(3) non-profit bluegrass association in the USA that owns a park. Bluegrass music fans travel from a broad area of Pennsylvania and surrounding states to attend festival weekends, and most take advantage of the camping facilities. Day-trippers and campers, of all ages, ranging from toddlers to grandparents, including entire families, come and enjoy as many as four days of music, “off the beaten path”. Free music workshops are available, and a variety of vendors are on site, providing food, merchandise, and bluegrass bands’ recordings.

There are more than 500, both active, and, mostly social, dues-paying members, residing primarily in the mid-Atlantic states. Throughout the year, active members and association officers donate much time, knowledge, talent, and labor needed to plan and conduct festivals and shin-digs; maintain the park; and, in general, manage the association.

Merchants, contractors, professional individuals, and businesspeople, both local and distant, have donated goods and services and assisted in various ways to help the association in perpetuating bluegrass music.

And, the generosity of the bands who play at the monthly shin-digs must be acknowledged: all performances are donated; some band members travel more than 100 miles to participate.

2006 marks the 33rd year since the Appalachian Fiddle and Bluegrass Association was formed, and “27 Years of Bluegrass” at Mountain View Park. May the sounds of bluegrass be heard and enjoyed for many more years at the foot of Blue Mountain.

 

                                   Barbara U. Merring/ AFBA Member

                                                July 2004

                                Updated: Oct. 2004 /Nov. 2006