Every year, musicians from near and far flock to Veterans Memorial Park days before the Mount Airy Bluegrass and Old Time Fiddler’s Convention officially begins.
The gates at the park open on the Monday before the convention starts and the grounds quickly fill up with tents, campers and cars, with the music running almost non-stop.
“I would be here two weeks before if I could,” said Natalie Wurz, of Stokesdale, who hosts an ongoing jam under a large tent near her recreational vehicle.
“Most come early to jam with friends,” Chris Manning, of Lexington, said from under Wurz’s tent. “That is what it’s all about.”
“Early, we’re late,” said Peter Adland, of Durham, who was jamming under a large tent near the trees along the greenway fence set up by Charley Pennell, of Cary.
Pennell said the early days are some of the best.
“There’s less people and the people are more serious,” he said.
The Mount Airy convention is generally thought of as the kick-off to the summer festival and convention season.
“I still think Mount Airy is the best,” said Wurz.
It’s smaller than conventions held at Galax, Virginia, or Clifftop, West Virginia, and many who attend appreciate the homegrown feel.
“This one’s just different,” said Vivian Leva, of Lexington, Virginia. “It’s smaller, more intimate.”
The folks jamming in Pennell’s tent came from a variety of locations including Arizona, California and Oregon.
“Many of us have been here, what 20 years?” said Pernell.
“Twenty-five,” said Sue McKay, of Toronto, Ontario.
Another reason to show up early to the convention is to stake claim to a particular camping spot.
Wurz grabbed her coveted RV spot about five years ago. A person in an RV spot has first dibs on the spot the following year.
“I just lucked out,” she said.
The musicians coalesce in different groups that seem to form different geographical mini-regions in the park, some more old time or bluegrass purists and some blurring the lines.
The folks in Pennell’s tent said they stick mostly to old-time tunes.
Though most of the folks who jam with Wurz are involved with the High Lonesome Strings Bluegrass Association, “I’m not a bluegrass nazi,” she said, adding that a Celtic jam would be held there at some point.
“Wayne plays harmonica. That’s not a bluegrass instrument, but I don’t tell Wayne he can’t play harmonica,” Wurz said. “He’s a good harmonica player. Chris knows really great fiddle tunes.”
She gestured across the road to a camper she said is owned by a musician who repairs instruments professionally and draws a high level of jammers, “because he’s what I would call an upper tier musician,” she said.
The wooded area on the hill is often referred to as “hippie hill.”
Sam Bush, of Greensboro, jammed with two friends on the hill.
“You know what we call the flatlands down there — the suburbs,” he said. “That’s where our parents stay.”
Bush, who has been attending the festival since he was a child, said the draw to the hill was the shade, and that “people usually stay up late up here on the hill. So the late crowd ends up here.”
Bush’s friends came early because they had to be elsewhere on Thursday and Friday, so attending Saturday wouldn’t be enough convention for them.
“We wanted another day,” he said.
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.