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On the road: Bean Blossom Blues Fest

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Bean Blossom Blues Fest
Aug. 27

Nothing but the Blues describes the "The Bean," the three-day Bean Blossom Blues Fest now in its 13th year. It was our first time there, but it didn't take long to meet some wildly-enthusiastic fans who've never missed a year. Like "Pegleg," but we'll get to that story later.

Ask any biker in the tri-state area the way to Bean Blossom and they'll likely have detailed directions. It's the home of the "Boogie" — aka the Bean Blossom Biker Fest — and the world-famous Bill Monroe Bluegrass Festival. Drive south from Indianapolis on I-135, and as soon as the land goes from straight flat to rolling hills and winding roads, you'll know you're getting close.

We kicked off Saturday afternoon at the advanced harmonica workshop led by RJ Mischo on the Hippy Hill Stage, a tiny spot nestled in the woods. It was named after the hippies who used to camp there in the 60's and 70's, and I swear you could still smell the patchouli oil.

Mischo's workshop had the feel of a master player sitting on the front porch trading licks with a gang of serious musicians. They talked of "overblows" and a bunch of technical stuff we didn't understand. But it felt like we were hearing the blues in its simplest, purest form, just harmonica and sometimes guitar, in a rustic setting.

Back to the big stage, still small by big city standards, which Bloomington's Below Zero Blues Band was commanding with smoldering, swampy blues hits like "Bring it on Home" and "Baby Scratch My Back," their sound matching gritty vocals with "Stevie Ray" guitar.

We missed the WT Feaster Band — but hey, catch them at the Rib America Fest this weekend.

The Max Allen Band was next, with a high-energy funky, jazz, rock sound that's at least partly rooted in the blues. Then RJ Mischo was back, this time with his Red Hot Blues Band from Minneapolis.

Now back to Pegleg, aka Dennis Fuel, a blues lover who passed away a few months before this year's festival. John Hall, founder of the blues fest, held a dedication ceremony for Pegleg during the fest, scattering his friend's ashes from the stage and asking for a moment of silence while a friend rode Pegleg's Harley through the audience.

"Here's a guy that loves the music, the people and loves the fun," Hall said from the stage. "Here are Dennis's remains; lets have a funeral."

We only came for the day — but to get the feel for this festival, stay at the campgrounds. That's where the fun is: the campfire jams, the cookouts, the log cabins housing blues jams lasting well into the night.

Peglegs ashes. Photo by Lora Olive.
  • Pegleg's ashes. Photo by Lora Olive.

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