Bluegrass takes root at Potter Lake

There was no big-name headliner, no huge stage, no hill packed with Kansas University students blowing off finals-week steam.

But Will Lamborn hoped that Saturday's Bluegrass Festival and Carnival at Potter Lake would tide people over until the recently defunct Day on the Hill festivities make their return next year.

Lamborn is the comedy and concert coordinator for KU Student Union Activities, which sponsored the bluegrass fest.

More than 100 people gathered on the lawn south of Potter Lake Saturday afternoon for the festival, which featured four local bluegrass acts in four hours. A small array of carnival events flanked the stage, including a moonwalk and T-shirt dying.

SUA had hosted Day on the Hill, a free outdoor concert on the lawn between Memorial Stadium and the Campanile, every year since 1988 until the event folded in 2003. In the 1990s, Day on the Hill featured such national acts as Pearl Jam, They Might Be Giants and Urge Overkill. The event fizzled in recent years when SUA's limited budget made it difficult to book big name acts.

"The last couple of years we haven't had the money to spend on (Day on the Hill), so we were trying to think of different ways to do an outdoor show for the public that wasn't as expensive," Lamborn said. "And we thought a bluegrass festival would be a good opportunity to involve the community at large, not just the students."

While a larger budget funded by a recent campus referendum will allow SUA to bring back Day on the Hill next year, many of the attendees Saturday hoped the Bluegrass Festival would become more than a placeholder.

Rob Dewhirst, a Lawrence resident who recently launched the Web site www.lawrencebluegrass.com, lounged in a lawn chair as The Dewayn Brothers, a bluegrass band from Emporia, whipped through a banjo- and bass-laced set.

"I hope they do this every year, if not more often," Dewhirst said. "Lawrence has a big bluegrass following. And you don't even have to be a huge bluegrass fan to enjoy this; it's something everyone can appreciate."

Justin and Rachel Tucker, who brought their 14-month-old son, Elias, out to the festival, agreed with that sentiment.

"We moved here from the Southwest, and bluegrass is everywhere out there," Rachel said. "So when we saw they were having this festival, we decided to check it out."

Paul Schmidt, the bass player for the Midday Ramblers, said the festival was a great way to showcase the genre.

"We just want to bring bluegrass to the people," Schmidt said. "It's really fun to play. It's fast and furious and intense. And there's less stuff to carry around. We don't have amps or anything."

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