That’s Grassroots: Master Musicians Festival thrives in Somerset

That’s Grassroots: Master Musicians Festival thrives in Somerset

That’s Grassroots
Master Musicians Festival thrives in Somerset
By Jamie Robinson

This year, music-lovers at the Master Musicians Festival in Somerset will have something to celebrate besides the eclectic, independent tunes. This year’s fest comes with a grassroots effort success story.

After noted festival head and founder Gabrielle Gray resigned in January 2003 to head the Bluegrass Museum in Owensboro, current president Robyn Zimmerman spearheaded a collaborative movement to save the festival.

With vocal local support, a Somerset town hall meeting, and a benefit concert featuring popular local musicians Tommy Minton and The Kettleheads, the movement garnered enough support to ensure the Master Musicians Festival would be celebrating its 10th anniversary. Zimmerman believes the community spoke out very emotionally because they feel the festival is a part of the community and want it to continue.

“In Somerset, the exposure to a wide variety of arts is limited and the festival really gives the community a sense of pride,” Zimmerman said.

The Master Musicians festival is a labor of love for the people of Somerset.

This year, the entire planning and directing was completely a volunteer effort. They started with 100 volunteers in January and the interest and willingness to help has not waned.

The MMF began as Gray’s vision in 1993 when it debuted with one stage in a parking lot of Somerset Community College. Since then it has grown to include two and sometimes three stages with regional and international performers. Last year’s performance by Robert Earl Keen drew heavily on Lexington crowds.

In past years the third stage was reserved for the Future Masters; young, talented regional bands, hungry for exposure and recognition among the talented Masters that occupy the other two stages.

This year, the third stage has been eliminated and two Future Masters rock bands, Bad Joke of Somerset and Nine Ball of Monticello have been invited to fulfill their aspirations of main stage glory as part of this year’s anniversary celebration.

“This year we wanted to let them run with the big dogs,” Zimmerman said.

The festival is known for its non-commercial spirit and its diverse line-up, spanning the musical horizon with classical and Broadway music on Thursday night; rock, folk, and blues on Friday night; and folk, bluegrass, traditional, Celtic, country, and rock all day long on Saturday.

Acts as diverse as the legendary NRBQ can be seen on the same day as the East Coast Music 2002 Entertainer of the Year and Grammy nominee, Natalie MacMaster.

The organizers of the MMF have also brought back a community outreach program that they have done in past years.

Bringing Arts to Students and Seniors (B.A.S.S.) started this past spring. The program works in conjunction with music and art teachers in the public schools to bring in talented guest speakers that have ranged in discipline from creative dance to classical cello with Petra Tabor, a festival performer on Thursday, July 17.

MMF is not strictly about the music. Art enthusiasts will find plenty to ogle over with 22 artisans selling their arts and crafts, and some offering workshops. Children will also have their hands full participating in several organized activities that include a craft project of painting musical themes on quilt blocks that will be auctioned off.

This festival has grown from its parking lot infancy in the last 10 years, evolving into its current status as a regional favorite.

Its mission of bringing master musicians to the stage has brought talented acts, both regional and international, to the grateful people of Somerset who are not about to let go of their festival.

With music that covers the spectrum, an arts and crafts fair that boasts everything from handmade soaps to dulcimers, and games and workshops for children, the Master Musicians Festival promises to exhibit the same grassroots flair that it took to make it happen this year.

Master Musicians Festival is July 17 through 19,2003 in Somerset. Tickets can be ordered online at www., or call 677-2933 or 1-888-FUN-JULY. Ticket prices vary, and two-day festival passes are available, but must be purchased by July 10th.