Mitch Meadors explained it like this: "When it comes to bluegrass music, sometimes you have to see it to truly appreciate hearing it."
Meadors, who plays, sells and fixes many stringed instruments, including guitars and banjos, insisted that sometimes all it takes is one visit to the annual Valley Lake Bluegrass Festival in Southington for most folks to get hooked on the American-rooted genre.
"I like playing, but I like watching people playing it too," the Leavittsburg man said. "It takes skill and there are some really good players here."
Meadors was among the dozens of people who attended this year's festival at Valley Lake in Southington. The event, in its 29th year, was held Friday and Saturday and featured several bands on the main stage, including Young & Blue, Matheson Family Pride, Lloyd Blevins and Ramblin Mountain, Vertical Limit and Red Dust Mountain Boys.
Just as music poured from the stage, it also sprung from every corner of the campground as musicians met, mixed and mingled to form several jam bands among the trees, next to their campers, on their truck beds or anywhere they found a spot. Fingers moved quickly across strings and along fret boards. Musicians shared their instruments and encouraged each other to get in on the action.
"That's one of the great things about it," Tammy Hoover of Navarre said. "People come from all over and gather in one place for the love of the music. That's what it's all about. When it comes to the music, it's one big family."
Former members of the bluegrass band Cucumber & The Copperheads met up Saturday to perform some of their favorite tunes. They are, from left, Dallas Griffie of Parma, on banjo, Tammy and Marvin Hoover of Navarre, on upright bass and guitar, respectively, and Ray Ward of Cleveland on mandolin.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Virginia Shank
On Saturday, Hoover, who plays an upright bass and sings, and her guitarist husband, Marvin, met up with some former bandmates they hadn't played with in six years.
"We all came to see each other and play again together and it's been a lot of fun," Ray Ward of Cleveland, who played mandolin, said.
Charles Lape and Herb Saffle have hosted the last 23 festivals at Valley Lake.
"I think maybe the rain kept some people away today so that's a little disappointing," Lape said. "But it's been a great time. I appreciate everyone who came out and all the musicians. We had some great bands here this weekend and some wonderful musicians. The music has been fantastic."
Dave Baisden of West Farmington said the annual festival is the one place he knows he can hear bluegrass music.
"They don't play it on the radio around here. I'm originally from West Virginia, so I grew up with it. There's really nothing like it. It's acoustic music. It's live and it's honest. I think a lot of people have the wrong idea about it.
''But when you see how much it skill it really takes to play this kind of music, you really appreciate it. You really get a different perspective,'' Baisden said.
Mitch Meadors Jr. of Cortland, who picked his banjo to accompany his dad's guitar playing on Saturday, acknowledged many people see bluegrass musicians as "a bunch of hillbillies."
"And there's nothing wrong with that because we are hillbillies at heart," he said with a smile. "But that's OK.
''But there's more to it than that. We're regular people with regular jobs like everybody else. But this is a style of music that takes a lot of skill that has a lot of history and has deep roots. I think a lot of people when they give it a chance, they're pleasantly surprised."