The Appalachian Fiddle and Bluegrass Association (AFBA) was formed in October 1973, in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, for the purpose of preserving and promoting a unique form of American country folk music called “bluegrass”. Bluegrass was made popular after WWII and was pioneered by Kentuckian Bill Monroe and his band, “Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys.” This membership based organization was founded by Louie Setzer, his brother Larry, and Andy Tomsic.
Bluegrass music originated as a curious blending of the old-time-Appalachian & ancestral Scots-Irish folk tunes combined with a high-pitched, modern, and mostly fast-paced tempo performed acoustically by groups of musicians on stringed instruments. Traditional bluegrass bands consist of banjo, fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and upright bass fiddle. As bluegrass further evolved, Bill Monroe added flavorings of “jazz” and “the blues” to his music, and, as other bands joined the bluegrass movement, some developed their own particular style of bluegrass pickin’, and many began composing new ballads that continue today.
In July 1974, the association was incorporated as a non-profit organization. That year the AFBA started sponsoring bluegrass festivals at Klein’s Grove, near Bath, Pennsylvania and monthly indoor “jams” were held October through May at the Blue Valley Farm Show Building in Bangor, Pennsylvania. The indoor “jams”, also known as “shindigs” continued to be held the second Sunday of each month from November through April at the Belfast Edelman Sportsman’s Club in Belfast, Pennsylvania. Audiences enjoyed the music as each band performed on the main floor while continuous “jamming” occurred in the lower level.
The 2004-2005 indoor “shindig” season sought a larger venue. On Sunday, November 14, Bluegrass fans congregated at the Hellertown American Legion in Hellertown, Pennsylvania. The auditorium accommodated a much larger audience and the bands had more jamming areas. In 2006 the fall indoor “shindig” commenced on the second Sunday in October replacing an annual pig-roast/shindig formerly held at Mountain View Park.
Mountain View Park, at the foot of the Blue Mountains, below Wind Gap, Pennsylvania, was purchased in October 1979 with many members helping to prepare the rural wooded site for an August 1980 Festival. In 1982, the festival was promoted by member Harry Grant and was moved to June in 1983. This is still an annual event known as the “Wind Gap Bluegrass Festival”. In August of 1989 the AFBA started their own festival, which also continues today. September 2002 saw the addition of a third Bluegrass festival. Public radio station WDVR-FM, Sergeantsville, New Jersey relocated their festival to Mountain View Park. Commencing with 2004, this event was retitled “Echoes From the Hills Bluegrass Festival” produced by Rich Evans and Beth Coleman. Unfortunately, in 2006, Rich and Beth decided not to promote their annual festival. The void was partially filled with an AFBA Saturday Shindig held on the same September weekend. Every spring, after what seems to be an endless winter, the park welcomes Bluegrass fans to a long-awaited May re-opening with a Shindig on the Saturday before Mother’s Day.
For many years, bands performed on a make-shift stage. However, after the original mortgage was paid off in 1993, in 1994 a permanent band shell was constructed by member Earl Karlsen. Now, a prominent stage back-drop, painted by artist D. E. Johnson, depicting a few of the greatest Bluegrass performers, most notably Bill Monroe, known as the “Father of Bluegrass”, and including Jimmy Martin, “Doc” Watson, Lester Flatt, Mac Wiseman, Tex Logan, Kenny Baker and Bobby & Sonny Osborne, is on display.
The Appalachian Fiddle and Bluegrass Association has the distinction of being the only 501(c)(3) non-profit Bluegrass association in the USA that owns a park. Bluegrass music fans travel from a broad area of Pennsylvania and surrounding states to attend festival weekends; most take advantage of the camping facilities. Day-trippers and campers of all ages ranging from toddlers to grandparents and entire families come and enjoy four days of music “off the beaten path”. Free music workshops are available; a variety of vendors are on-site providing food, merchandise, and Bluegrass band’s recordings. In 2005, the AFBA purchased additional property to accommodate demand for an increased camping/parking area.
There are more than 500, both active and social, dues-paying members residing primarily in the mid-Atlantic states. Throughout the year, active members and association officers donate a great amount of time, knowledge, talent and labor to plan and conduct festivals and Shindigs, maintain the park, and, in general, manage the association.
Merchants, contractors, professional individuals, and business people, both local and distant, have donated goods and services and assisted in various ways to help the association in perpetuating bluegrass music. The generosity of the bands who play at the monthly Shindigs must be acknowledged; all performances are donated; some band members travel more than 100 miles to share their time and talents with us.
In 2014 we celebrated 40 years of bluegrass music in our area. May the sounds of bluegrass echo at the foot of the Blue Mountain for many years to come!
Barbara Merring (AFBA Member) & Debbie Frey (AFBA Historian)
Updated: January 2015