Saturday, 9 May 2015

33rd Annual Big Bear Festival - May 25, 2015 (update)

With only a few weeks to go before the longest-running bluegrass festival in Holland takes place, we have received an update... and a nice bit of history about the event as well. 

Appearing at the 33rd annual Big Bear Festival will be USA artists such as Alan Munde Trio (with Dick Kimmel and Adam Granger), Mark Johnson and Emory Lester (Mark is an extraordinary clawhammer banjo player whose peers call his playing style "clawgrass"), Jeff Scroggins and Colorado and, from Holland, Heartstrings (two familiar veteran Dutch bluegrass performers in Elly Beurskens and Bruno van Hoek).

Jamming at Tex Logan's home, August 1971
(Ron Petronko photo)
Dick Kimmel sent this historic, rare photo of Alan Munde (left) jamming with Kenny Baker, Bill Monroe, Tex Logan and Jimmy Martin. The occasion was one of Tex Logan's now legendary all-night picking parties at his home in New Jersey, USA. [note: Sadly, fiddler/songwriter Benjamin Franklin "Tex" Logan passed away on April 24, 2015 after a lengthy illness. History may remember Tex best for his song 'Christmas Times A-comin' which Bill Monroe recorded and performed for many years].

The 'Big Bear Festival Story' written by producer/promoter Rienk Janssen:

Big Bear Festival
Zuidlaren, Netherlands

“The small festival with the big name[s]”

The first festival in 1983 was Egbert Meyers’ initiative. He had attended my first Strictly Country Festival in Diever the year before and wanted to do something similar in Grolloo, where he had found a nice little open air theatre that looked promising, the Berenkuil (the ‘bear pit’).

He asked me if I had anything against that and I decided to help him get it off the ground, with the simple philosophy: the more bluegrass music, the better. For the date, we chose "Whit Monday" (Pinkstermaandag in Dutch). ‘Pinksteren’ in the Netherlands is a holiday weekend that falls some time between May 11 and June 14 (seven weeks after Easter).

On May 22, 1983 the first edition took place, with Bob Paisley, Peter Rowan, Transatlantic
Bluegrass, Jerrycan, and Egbert himself on the program. It was well attended and we decided to keep going. The next one drew even more people, so the Berenkuil was too small, and we started looking for a better location. Another reason for that was Grolloo - just like Diever - did not really have the possibility of moving indoors when the weather was bad and in our climate you will need that about half of the time.

Those first two years the festival was called Berenkuil Festival, and when we moved out of Grolloo we wanted to keep the “bear” in the name. That is when Egbert came up with the Big
Bear name and the logo that ever since has been used.

In 1985 it was in Zweeloo and the next three years in Papenvoort, where Ab Sligter - who later started the successful concert series in De Amer in Amen, NL - helped us out.

In 1989, the Big Bear Festival took place for the first time in Zuidlaren where, on May 25, 2015, the 33rd edition will be held. On the grounds of the psychiatric hospital Dennenoord we found De Kimme, a very nice theatre that will hold several hundred people and a park around it that provides a great place to do music outdoors when the weather permits.

Around that time Egbert Meyers moved on to other things, and in the meantime ‘Diever’ got rained out a few times too many. So Big Bear became more and more ‘mine’.

Dennenoord welcomed the festival as it fit quite well in their endeavours to further the integration of the hospital population. Many patients live there permanently - and the ‘normal’ society - and I was very happy with the logistics, as just about everything we needed was there including helping-hands for the chores on the festival day. Just about the only things I need to do myself is booking the bands, promote the festival in bluegrass circles, put up my record booth on the festival day and take care of the annual deficit.

Of the Dennenoord staff, I have worked closely together with first Frans Diemers, then Paul Bitter, and nowadays Herman Overberg. Egbert Meyers stayed connected to ‘his’ festival for quite a few years doing the MC work, later to be followed by Paul Bitter, who is still very much involved. There is always food available inside and outside the theater.

The sound had been in Pieter Groenveld’s capable hands for close to 25 years. These days Jan and Beppie Pals are most able and willing to help make things sound as perfect as can be.

Over the years many famous, and some less famous, artists have stood on the Big Bear stage. The main focus has always been bluegrass and acoustic country music, but when opportunities presented themselves we have had very memorable shows by the likes of Dave Van Ronk, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Santiago Jimenez Jr., Mark O’Connor, Jerry Douglas and many more. Even if I do say so myself the list of performers has been quite impressive.

Despite its ‘big’ name, Big Bear is a relatively small festival. In the best years we have had as many as 500 people. Enough for a nice atmosphere, and quite ideal to enjoy the acoustic music, if not always enough to pay the bills. However, for the foreseeable future, I plan to keep going and hope to see many familiar and new faces in the crowd on May 25, at the 33rd Big Bear Festival.

~ Rienk Janssen

 More details about the festival, including a festival poster,
may be found at: