That High and Lonesome Sound

Crystal Ridge Bluegrass Band. From left, Brian Davies, Tyler Walls, Kirby Mittelmeier, Tom Carpenter and Ellie Hakanson.

The Sedona Bluegrass Festival returns this month for its fifth year with a lineup that includes a Grammy nominee, a swing band, a self-proclaimed drinking club and a group that truly understands family ties.



In 2003, Chamber Music Sedona and the Sedona Historical Society united for Sedona’s Arts and Heritage Week, but that wasn’t the only pairing that took place that week. Wanting to try something new, Bert Harclerode, the executive director of the nonprofit Chamber Music Sedona, put together a weekend concert series featuring the acclaimed Fry Street Quartet, Custom Country Band and Burnett Family Bluegrass. The response from the community helped Bert sow the seeds for a bluegrass festival. The first annual Sedona Bluegrass Festival took place in May 2007, and it showcased five bands.

Chamber Music Sedona celebrates the fifth anniversary of the festival this year with five days of bluegrass in the red rocks. On May 4, the festival’s headliner, the Claire Lynch Band, will perform at the Sedona Public Library. Admission is $5 plus two cans of food, which will be donated to the Sedona Community Food Bank. On May 5, Claire and her band will perform at the Bluegrass BBQ at a private residence in Munds Canyon. Admission is $65 per person. On May 6 during the Sedona Gallery Association’s 1st Friday Gallery Tour, Burnett Family Bluegrass will perform at several local art galleries. That event is free to the public. The following afternoon from 1 to 4 p.m., Burnett Family Bluegrass and Crystal Ridge Bluegrass Band will play the Red Rock State Park Bluegrass Benefit Concert in the park. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for children 18 and younger. Kids younger than 10 are free. All proceeds will help keep the gates of the state park open.

Finally, the main event takes place May 8 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Creekside Park at Los Abrigados Resort & Spa (160 Portal Lane). The afternoon begins with the Crystal Ridge Bluegrass Band followed by the Burnett Family Bluegrass, Pastor Mustard and His New National Swing Band, and the Claire Lynch Band. Admission is $40 for adults and $20 for students. Children 12 and younger are admitted free with a paying adult. Last year, nearly 500 people attended the festival.

Bert personally handpicks all of the acts featured at the festival with the help of his colleagues and fellow musicians. This year, audiences will hear not only bluegrass but also newgrass, swing, acoustic and even some country music. Is it strange to hear swing music at a bluegrass festival or to have a bluegrass festival hosted by a chamber music organization? Not at all, says Bert. “Our festival is similar to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in that we mix up the music so people can see the crossover and the influence genres have on one another,” he says. “And chamber music is one person on one part of music – everyone is a soloist. The same goes for bluegrass. In that type of setting, you get to see how the musicians interact and the nonverbal communication that takes place.”

Bert says about 60 percent of the festival audience travels from outside of Sedona for the event, but even as the festival grows, he intends to keep it anchored at Los Abrigados where the setting is intimate and beautiful – perfect for “that high and lonesome sound,” as bluegrass music is often called. Most festival goers stay for the entire concert. Low-back lawn chairs (softball clearance or lower) and blankets are encouraged, but outside food, pets and smoking are not allowed. Food can be purchased from Los Abrigados. (Here’s a tip: Purchase lunch in advance on Chamber Music’s website and you’ll pay only $10 as opposed to $15 the day of the concert.)

For more information on the festival or to purchase tickets, visit or call 928-204-2415.

MORE SEDONA MUSIC FESTIVALS: Jazz on the Rocks 2004, Arizona Opera League, Jazz on the Rocks 2005, opera fundraiser

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