You know something special is happening when performers, staff, and attendees speak about being involved in a music festival for 10, 20 or 30 years, evenlining up the night before before the gates open to ensure the best pick of camping spots. The Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival is that something special, and the 2014 event more than met expectations. The music, and the weather, were magnificent all four days, except for a brief rain shower early Sunday morning.

Grey Fox offered performances by more than 40 bands this year, both plenty of old favorites and many new discoveries. With all the stages and different things going on, there are often multiple opportunities to catch a favorite artist. For example, If you missed 2009 Telluride Band Competition winners The Hillbenders on the main, High Meadow stage Thursday afternoon, you could catch their rocking set at the Catskill stage on Friday, when they covered “Talking in Your Sleep” and “Friend of the Devil” as well as original fare for an enthusiastic crowd. Rushad Eggleston played both the Creekside and Family Stages, as well as making a guest appearance with Aoife O’Donovan.

The festival gates opened Wednesday morning, and although the music wouldn’t officially begin until Thursday afternoon, at mid-afternoon Wednesday there was a quarter-mile-long line of vehicles at the site entrance. (In fact, even some of the artists line up for spots in the regular audience camping, rather than stay in the area reserved for them. Informal campground jams are one of the hallmarks of Grey Fox.) For those who couldn’t wait for the music to start, there was a well-attended “open mic” session at the Catskill stage Wednesday evening, featuring a wide range of performers and material, both traditional and original, before an appreciative audience.

Thursday morning, host band Dry Branch Fire Squad opened the show on the High Meadow (main) stage with their blend of traditional and gospel numbers, and of course, bandleader Ron Thomason’s inimitable corny jokes told in a country drawl. Nashville’s The Barefoot Movement followed, in their first Grey Fox appearance, and then Town Mountain, who brought their “heart, grit, soul, and drive” to a wonderful bluegrass version of “I’m on Fire.”

At the more intimate Creekside stage, improvisational cellist Rushad Eggleston (a past Grey Fox scholarship winner to Berklee College of Music and co-founder of Crooked Still), wowed an overflow crowd with his quirky and humorous set of original material, including the unforgettable “I Peed on a Bird.” The Emerging Artist Showcase featured The Zolla Boys, a brother act from Connecticut, with Sam Zolla, 13, on mandolin, Ben Zolla, 14, on guitar, and their father, Larry, on bass. “This is THE show for us,” said Larry. Another emerging artist proved that the Grey Fox family feeling extends well beyond its boundaries; Swiss bluegrass trio Mala and FyrMoon sang a song inspired by a moment at last year’s festival, when they were volunteer staff. According to band member Stefan, “Playing Grey Fox is amazing for us.”

On the High Meadow stage Thursday evening, The Deadly Gentlemen were followed by the Aoife O’Donovan band—featuring a surprise appearance by a few of her former bandmates from Crooked Still, including Rushad Eggleston . O’Donovan’s new solo album “Fossils” was one of Rolling Stone’s “must-hear albums of the summer.” The Grammy-winning Steep Canyon Rangers showcased their tight harmony vocals and innovative songwriting . For the perfect end to a perfect day, Nickel Creek closed out the evening, celebrating their 25th year together after a seven-year hiatus with a tight set that included the lively “Hayloft” and thoughtful “21st of May” from their new album “A Dotted Line.”

Grey Fox is well known as a family-friendly festival, so it’s no surprise that all ages are represented both on and off stage. One of the Grey Fox’s special attractions is the Bluegrass Academy for Kids, a four-day learning camp which provides training to more than 100 children aged 8 and up each year, culminating in a real, live performance Sunday afternoon on the High Meadow stage. When not in camp, kids can often be seen busking around the festival site. According to banjo instructor Ira Gitlin, who has been with the program since 2000, when he had just two students (one of whom later played with the Dixie Bee-Liners), many BGAK students have gone on to become professionals, although not all in bluegrass. But the point of the program is not to “turn out virtuosos or pros.” As with everything at Grey Fox, it’s as much about building community as about the music. “If they don’t remember anything except that they had a fun time playing with other kids, we’ve done what we set out to do,” says Gitlin.

For kids who don’t play an instrument, there are plenty of entertainment options at the Family Stage, from tie-dying and crafts, to a wide variety of musical acts, to magic. Up to 20 kids (rising sixth-graders and up) have the opportunity to learn circus skills and perform with Gary the Silent Clown, a Ringling Brothers veteran who has been involved in Grey Fox since the early 2000s. On Thursday and Friday evenings, there is a family-friendly movie.

On stage, while some of the youngest carry on musical traditions, other performers steeped in tradition experiment with new forms, like the Travelin McCourys in a Friday night High Meadow stage set with jam-scene virtuoso Keller Williams. At any stage at any time, you might hear snippets of “Norwegian Wood” and “Tequila” in a fiddle solo jam, or a bluegrass-style cover of Pink Floyd’s “Fearless.” Gangstagrass blended bluegrass and hip-hop for a packed Catskill stage audience late Saturday night.

Friday morning Mama Corn, one of Pennsylvania’s hottest bluegrass groups, opened the main stage with their fun-loving show at 11am. The talented Red Wine, from Italy, one of Europe’s premier bluegrass bands, followed. At the Catskill stage, there were clogging demos and square dancing lessons in the morning, and in the afternoon, Town Mountain, the Hillbenders, and Wood & Wire turned out some awesome sets.

Meanwhile, bluegrass legend Del McCoury reminisced to a packed house at the Creekside stage, picking a couple of tunes along with sons Ronnie and Robbie McCoury. McCoury told entertaining stories about growing up on a Pennsylvania farm, listening to the Grand Ol’ Opry Saturday night on a radio hooked up to a car battery—until it ran down—and then push-starting the car Sunday morning to go to church!

Friday evening on the Catskill stage, 2010 Telluride winner Nora Jane Struthers was followed by the Travelin’ McCourys. Returning Grey Fox favorites The Gibson Brothers kicked off the evening on the High Meadow Stage. There was a brief special presentation honoring three longtime Grey Fox staff members, and then Boston’s all-female bluegrass group Della Mae performed with Jim Lauderdale. The band recently toured several countries ending in -stan as cultural ambassadors for the U.S. State Department. One band member mentioned onstage that she met “the man she’ll marry in two months” at a previous Grey Fox. In a uniquely Grey Fox gesture, the band brought out legendary Grey Fox ice man Wayne to do his signature “i-i-i-i-i-i-i-ice” call—frequently heard around the site as well as seen on t-shirts—to introduce their cover of Foreigner’s “Cold As Ice.” The evening ended with an innovative, high-energy set by Keller Williams with the Travelin McCourys. [pic of main stage at night]

The audience scene at Grey Fox is also something special. The “Grey Fox Way” means that it’s OK to leave chairs in place in front of the High Meadow stage all weekend—there are zones for low-backed chairs close in, high-backed chairs farther back, and at the top of the hill, sunshades—and it’s OK to use someone else’s empty chairs as long as you get up when they return. The vibe is mellow and friendly. Many campers participate in the best-decorated and most eco-friendly campsite contests, and this year some even organized an unofficial parade! Colorful tapestries and banners are everywhere, and many sites are shared by groups of friends who’ve been coming to Grey Fox together for years or even decades.

Saturday morning offered the annual Bluegrass Karaoke—with live accompaniment—at the Creekside stage. Grey Fox staff and sound technicians were among the performers. Keeping up the family feeling, audience members were asked to sign a card for the longtime hostess, Kitsy, who could not be present this year due to an illness in the family.

The Emerging Artist Showcase continued at the Creekside stage with Red June, performing their award-winning song “Cloud of Dust” and other original material. The band, from Asheville, North Carolina, learned their traditional style from a grandfather who was a bluegrass musician in the 1940s. Another Emerging Artist, Cold Chocolate, wowed the crowd with their unique Americana sound, performing Robert Johnson’s “Come on in My Kitchen” (by way of Crooked Still) and Hank Williams’ “Pressure-Cook Me.”

Elephant Revival kicked off Saturday evening on the High Meadow stage. Grammy award winners Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott’s masterful set followed, highlighted by “Turn Your Dirty Lights On,” a protest song about mountaintop removal and the coal industry. The celebrated, multiple-award-winning Del McCoury Band performed many well-known audience favorites. After their set, the winners of the annual Grey Fox instrument raffles were announced. Finally, the Carolina Chocolate Drops closed out the night with an energetic set featuring several special guests.

A review of Grey Fox wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the wide array of food and vendors. There were ample choices for every taste, from vegetarian fare to barbecue, from 16 food and beverage booths. More than 50 vendors offered everything from handmade crafts to massages and haircuts, as well as a wide range of quality jewelry, clothing, and musical instruments.

Grey Fox’s unique community vibe and consistently high-quality offerings are the reasons why performers and audiences alike are so eager to return year after year. For video and photos of this year’s event, or to get on the mailing list for next year’s festival, go to


-by Jean Gazis

photo credits: Jean Gazis


About Jean Gazis

Jean Gazis is a freelance writer, photographer, and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. She camps with her family and attends concerts and music festivals year round. Her blog about urban nature, family camping, and sharing nature with children is 2014 was Jean’s family’s 9th year at Grey Fox.

To get in touch with Jean, email