Musicians Against Childhood Cancer: A Festival and a Cause
This is the 16th year for Musicians Against Childhood Cancer to run at Hoover-Y Park in Lochbourne, OH. In 2000, Mandy Adkins died of an aggressive brain stem tumor at the age of 19, after treatment at St. Jude Children’s Reasearch Hospital in Memphis, TN. Her parents, veteran bluegrass promoter Darrell Adkins and his wife, Phyllis, who had promoted bluegrass at nearby Frontier Ranch, decided they no longer had the zest for promoting bluegrass events. Their friends, including long-term associates, musicians, and former bandmates rallied around the devastated couple, encouraging them to dedicate a festival to Mandy that would raise funds to contribute to St. Jude. Since then, the MACC, as the festival is known worldwide, has donated $809,690 to St. Jude and the YMCA. Bands donate their performance, freeing significant funds for additional donations, and the event — never maudlin or downbeat — has become a celebration of Mandy Adkins’ life and love of bluegrass. This year’s Musicians Against Childhood Cancer will run from July 22-25 at the Hoover-Y Park, which is located at 1570 Rohr Rd. in Lochbourne, OH. I’ve written a preview of The MACC, which you can read here.
Over the course of their 30 years of producing bluegrass events, Darrell and Phyllis Adkins have refined and clarified their vision of what bluegrass is, what the bluegrass audience wants to hear, and how to run a musically diversified festival that remains both fun and orderly. Darrell’s background is as a businessman selling automotive supplies worldwide, so he brings a businessman’s perspective to running his festival. The bottom line is always in sight, even more because proceeds go to support a cause truly central to Darrell and Phyllis’s lives.
Each year, great traditional bluegrass performers like J.D. Crowe, Larry Sparks, Allan Mills, Larry Stephenson, Dudley Connell, James King, and more appear at The MACC. In addition, a strong Nashville component of singer-songwriters who crossover from country music and bluegrass — like Carl Jackson and Larry Cordle — join the cast. Recently, performers better known for their country music have been added. Darryle Singletary sings his classic country songs as a solo artist. This year, the reunion of blockbuster country band Shenandoah from the 1990s — featuring Marty Raybon, who has been performing in bluegrass and gospel for years — will be featured. More contemporary bands like the Lonesome River Band and Sister Sadie are also on tap this year. Bands perform one set, so from noon until 11 p.m., there’s solid music, each day.
We first attended The MACC in July of 2008, and I’ve been blogging from there ever since. Irene has worked the gate each year, for at least four hours a day, starting as a runner and being promoted to banker, when they discovered her efficiency and accuracy. This will be our eighth year of journeying the 750 or so miles to Ohio for this event.
Bluegrass events are often divided into traditional and more progressive events. It’s not unusual to see a band come on stage while certain members of the audience fold their chairs, leaving the field with a harumph and “That ain’t bluegrass!” on their lips. So, each year, at some time during the festival, Darrell Adkins gets on stage and talks to the audience about the music and about behavior. He usually says something along the lines of, “Sometime during this weekend you’re going to hear some music you don’t care for. That’s the time to go back to your camper and take a nap, go to the vendors and get something to eat. It’s likely the next band you hear will be just to your taste.” In addition, he points out that people should be considerate of their neighbors: smokers should stay out of the performance area, people should drink in moderation, conversation should not interfere with others’ ability to listen. The MACC is the only bluegrass festival we attend that has a beer truck. Are there obnoxious drunks there? Not for long! Is there smoking? People tend to keep smoking outside the area, but it’s still obnoxious to an increasing number of people in the audience. Is there a space to dance? Yes, it’s located on a couple of concrete pads over to the side, where dancers can hear and see clearly, but bother no one. In short, there are rules. The guidelines are clear. When people chronically go over the line, they are ushered out. People who attend the MACC know the guidelines and know they can have a great time there when they stay within the lines. In many ways, by establishing behavior standards and then enforcing them with a gentle but firm hand, backed by security if necessary, the MACC is consistently the most well-behaved and under-control festival we attend. That’s saying a lot, and other promoters could learn from it.
Like many other bluegrass events, The MACC is a family event. In this case, it is both about families and presented by a family. Until her death a few years ago, Darrell’s mother, who came from the hills of Eastern Kentucky, was present at the MACC and sewed a quilt for auction to raise money for St. Jude. Backstage there are daughters, sons-in-law, nieces, and grandchildren galore. As they have grown through the years, they’ve been given, and taken, increasing responsibilities. But there’s an extended family, also. There are, perhaps, seventy or so volunteers, many of whom were associated with Frontier Ranch or played music with Darrell when he was an active performer. Year after year they look forward to giving a week of their time to the MACC. Ask questions about Mandy, and their eyes well up. She’s a living memory for many of them. We never met Mandy. We were brought to Ohio by Lyn and Brenda Butler, our friends from a small South Carolina festival, who saw us as being capable of contributing to the cause. Some of the volunteers are aging, slowing down. A few have passed on. Each year a few new faces show up at the staff tent and ask to become volunteers. Darrell tries them out. Some become regulars while others aren’t seen again. But for four usually hot days in mid- to late-July at Hoover-Y Park, magic happens, all of it in memory of Mandy Adkins. You might enjoy it, too.