For one weekend each year, the Stoney Creek Inn in East Peoria is transformed into a haven for those who live and celebrate the bluegrass way of life.
This year marks the fifth anniversary of Shorty’s Strickly Bluegrass Festival in central Illinois. On the first weekend of March, between 700 and 800 bluegrass lovers will congregate from all over the country to lend their ears to the blend of old-time country, ragtime and jazz that was originally developed in the 1940s by the “father of bluegrass” himself, Bill Monroe, and his Blue Grass Boys, whose instrumental lineup—mandolin, fiddle, guitar, banjo and upright bass—still defines the genre.
A longtime lover of traditional bluegrass, Shorty used to help set up at various festivals in Missouri before moving to Peoria eight years ago. Discovering that there really wasn’t much bluegrass here, she contacted a promoter with whom she had worked many times and asked her to bring a festival to town. When the promoter told her that if anyone could make a bluegrass festival play in Peoria, it was Shorty, she decided to look into what needed to be done to make it happen. After a while, she found herself in too deep to back out, and the first Shorty’s Strickly Bluegrass Festival was born in 2006.
Over the last five years, Shorty’s labor of love has grown, both in the number of performers and the loyal families and fans who show up to hear that “high lonesome sound.” This year, eight bands are scheduled to play the four-day fest, and after frequent requests for more gospel music, Shorty is giving the people what they want, having added an all-gospel evening on Thursday to complement the Sunday morning gospel show and bookend the weekend.
By tradition, the bluegrass way of life is a conservative one, based around the family. In fact, many bluegrass bands are family acts, including a number of those playing Shorty’s bill. And Shorty takes this family-oriented approach to heart, ensuring that her festival is a fit for all ages. The musical lineup, too, follows the traditional line. “She tries to keep the bluegrass heritage alive by bringing in bands with old-time sounds instead of the newgrass style,” said John Dale, a member of the Peoria-based Prairie Grass, who will play on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
It’s not just the music she loves so much, Shorty stresses, “It’s the people and their way of life.” The festival’s modest size only serves to enhance the down-home, friendly atmosphere she has cultivated. The musicians are very accessible to the crowd, ready to meet and greet anyone who shows up, and often teach free workshops on Saturday morning.
With five shows spread throughout the weekend, and 24-hour pickin’ and jammin’ rooms, no matter what time of day or night, there will always be someone with an instrument in their hand. Shorty won’t be one of them, however. “I always tell people I can’t pick and I can’t sing, but I can tap a mean toe,” she jokes.
Admission to the various shows costs between $10 and $20, with day-long passes priced at $25 and weekend passes from $30 to $40. The pickin’ and jammin’ rooms, however, are free and open to the public, and everyone is welcome. “I just want everyone to feel very comfortable coming out,” said Shorty.
With three-fingered banjo pickin’ and four-part harmonies filling the air, it will be a weekend of music, friends, fun and laughter. So if you enjoy the bluegrass way of life, or are looking for a family-friendly activity, Shorty’s Strickly Bluegrass Festival might be just the thing. The festival will take place March 4th through 7th. For more information, or to purchase advance tickets, contact Shorty at (309) 671-0175 or [email protected]. a&s