By Regina Elling
As soon as guests appear at this year’s Bluegrass and Old West Fest, they will quickly realize that this year is different. After all, to reach the stages and listen to the bands, they will be taking a walk back in history, literally, with every step.
That’s because this year’s event will feature an “encampment,” basically, a series of mock “camps,” each done to exacting period specifications, featuring real people living as though they had stepped back in time.
“We will probably have between 50 to 55 people in the encampment,” says Jim “Captain” Cooper. “The
settlements featured will include mountain men, Civil War, a chuck wagon, a traveling pioneer/covered wagon, a tent saloon, a cowboy traveling across the plains, and maybe even a teepee.”
The encampment is a unique way for the public to learn about history, and for the re-enactors to share their love of it.
“All of us do this with a heart-reaching desire to see that our generational connection, our heritage, and the richness of our western culture is not lost,” Cooper explains. “We hope to re-instill some of that interest in our history in the current generation.”
In many ways, the encampments offer viewers much more than even the best interactive museum displays or documentaries.
“The encampments give the public an open opportunity to talk to the re-enactors, to listen to full explanations, and to get their questions answered. The presentations are complete and include many, many authentic items of the period being represented,” Cooper says. “This is not stuff you can go to the store and buy, and it’s not reproductions. People have carefully collected authentic items over a period of many years.”
The Ramona Bluegrass & Old West Fest takes place May 4 and 5 at the Ramona Rodeo Grounds, 421 Aqua Lane. Beginning Friday night, May 3, the encampments will be set up. They will be on view all day Saturday, and three professional judges will choose the winning displays.
“Most of the time you compete against your own type of encampment,” says Cooper. “This will be different, and will give the judges a little challenge. But they are all well-equipped and well-qualified to judge the period accuracy of each encampment.”
Although this will be the inaugural year for the encampment, future plans include making it even bigger and better.
“Next year, we hope to have better coordination with the schools so that more kids will be able to attend,” says Cooper. “We’d also like to try to make it a full five-day event.”
Event organizers are excited about the possibilities the encampments bring to the overall event.
“This is an unparalleled learning opportunity for the public,” says Cooper. “The grassy area of the fairgrounds is an ideal location. And any re-enactor will tell you that the love of our heritage and history is what keeps them involved.”