By Tony Cagala
When Ramona’s two-day Bluegrass & Old West Fest begins on Saturday, April 30, attendees can expect to get their money’s worth of Old West sights and bluegrass sounds.
A lot of the festival this year will focus on the music, said Rob Lewallen, event co-chair.
The festival will feature largely traditional bluegrass music, but some of the bands are really kind of leading-edge bluegrass, Lewallen added.
Gabriel Hampton is one of those leading-edge bluegrass performers to play at the festival. He’ll be a wandering minstrel throughout the grounds, starting up spontaneous jam sessions, and perhaps even play a set on one of the two stages.
Hampton is new to Ramona, having moved here only three months ago from Indiana. The 32-year-old learned his trade from his grandfather and father, but blends his own modern vocals with Bob Dylan-like melodies and Neil Young-like guitar riffs.
Some of the musicians will also conduct instrument workshops, where people can bring their instruments and learn how to play bluegrass music.
Joining Lighthouse, the headlining band with KSON radio disc jockey Wayne on both days of the festival, will be fiddler Dennis Caplinger of Bluegrass Etc. He is one of the country’s top-notch bluegrass musicians. Bluegrass Etc. was the headliner at last year’s festival.
“We’ve got incredible talent this year,” Lewallen said. Tom Boyer and Judy Taylor will be performing on the “tween” stage. Taylor is from Julian and puts on quite a show, and Tom Boyer sounds like Chet Atkins, Lewallen added.
“What I hear from everybody is, the more they hear (bluegrass music), the more they say, ‘wow, you may turn me into a bluegrasser, after all,’ because it’s fun music. It’s impossible to feel down or sad listening to this kind of music,” Lewallen said. “How can you listen to a banjo and feel sad? It’s just a happy instrument.”
The goal for the festival is to help make Ramona a destination spot, rather than a pass-through to Julian. And Ramona’s second annual Bluegrass & Old West Fest is already gaining luster as a great venue, especially from the performers scheduled to attend, said Lewallen. Every one of the musicians raved about it last year, Lewallen said.
Getting sponsors for the festival has been a success, too, given the state of the economy.
“It’s a really good thing for the business community, and it’s just a wonderful event for just everybody that lives here,” said Lewallen.
“We do have quite a lot of sponsors but we could always use more,” said Martha Luce, event sponsor coordinator.
Among event sponsors are Ramona Lumber, Ransom Brothers, Jewelry World, Town & Country Home Loans, Realtor Chris Anderson of Town & Country Real Estate, Third Street Grill, Wynola Pizza, Ralph Koerner, Greg Revers, Ramona Interiors, Century 21 owner/brokerArnie Fry, Century 21 realtors Martha Luce and Sally Westbrook, Jim Haworth Plumbing, Traction Tire, Ramona Disposal, Diamond D Feed & Supply, Tanquay Automotive, Amber Ramirez Farmers Insurance, Pacific Aviation, Ramona Martial Arts, Clear Escrow and Juanita Ward, EA.
Sponsors of the event will be accepted up to the day of the event, with non-food vendors accepted up to the day before, Luce said. Sponsors and vendors may contact her at 760-532-7196.
Jon Hasz and the Ramona Music Center will host a “petting zoo” of sorts, bringing instruments of all kinds from the store for people to play and jam with.
Also appearing and adding to the atmosphere will be the costumed Grand Ladies of the Old West.
Hand-woven rugs, turquoise and silver jewelry, candles, photographs in western costumes, barbecue, hot dogs, hamburgers, funnel cake, churros, and beer, water and soda are among vendor opportunities.
The festival is a 501(c) non-profit organization and proceeds will be used to promote music among Ramona students, said Luce.
Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for ages 7 to 12 on Saturday and $10 for adults and $5 for ages 7 to 12 on Sunday. Children 6 and younger will be admitted free both days.
To purchase tickets in advance, go www.ramonarodeo.com or stop by the Business Barn at 369 Main St. Tickets will also be available at the door both days of the festival.
The festival will be at the Ramona Outdoor Community Center at 421 Aqua Lane. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on April 30 and from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on May 1. Guests are encouraged to bring their own chairs, blankets and sunscreen.
Cowboy poetry, storytelling, children’s activities, free games, drawings, food, vendors and “spontaneous jamming” are among other weekend fest features.
Contestants for 2011 Ramona Rodeo queen will be introduced about 3 p.m. on Saturday, and a kid-friendly and wholesome “G-String contest” is planned.
Overnight camping will be available, and non-stop music is promised, with bands playing for 50 minutes each hour on the main stage and shorter “tween” sets on a second stage. A complete entertainment lineup and more festival information is online at ramonabluegrass.com.