Saturday, April 17, 2004

Miami U. project: Appalachian music

A little planning, a lot of confidence; and mountain blues beat a path to Oxford's door

By Lindsay Whitehurst
The Cincinnati Enquirer

OXFORD - The Rumpke Mountain Boys, the Rabbit Hash String Band and Appalachian Grass don't sound like top-10 bands on a Miami University student's play list.

Chris Koenig is organizer of the Harpin' N' Pickin' Uptown bluegrass festival. Here he plays his guitar at the park pavilion.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
They don't play like a typical college student's top choices either: All three are born-and-bred mountain blues bands.

But for Miami senior Chris Koenig, the Appalachian blues are a musical love, a class project and an exercise in managing the arts.

Sunday, nearly 10 months of grant writing, band booking and advertising will come together at the Harpin' and Pickin' Festival, an event he conceived, secured funding for, and organized.

The festival runs from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. at Oxford's Uptown Park, featuring seven blues regional and national blues acts.

When it came time to do a senior project for his four years of interdisciplinary studies in festival management, Koenig combined work and pleasure.

"I wanted to throw a block party for fun, and I just put two and two together," he said.

Last July, he began making phone calls, writing grant proposals and contacting bands. Koenig secured grants from the Oxford Community Foundations, the Cinergy Foundation and the Ohio Humanities Foundation, among others, collecting more than $14,000 altogether.

"This is all about his entrepreneurial endeavors," said Hays Cummins, Koenig's faculty adviser.

Lesson 1 in creating a blues festival: In writing grant applications; Acronyms speak louder than words.

"I created this organization, FOLK. It's really just me, but the capitals make in look like it stands for something," Koenig said.

Lesson 2: Don't wait for your grant money to come through to get your acts lined up.

"I just started calling people and acted like I already had the money," he said.

He lined up nationally known blues guitarist Corry Harris, former Bob Dylan backup player Sam Lay, and the Rabbit Hash String Band out of Batavia.

Lesson 3: Pay attention to detail.

With help from Diana Durr, director of the Oxford Visitors Bureau, Koenig met with the Butler County Board of Health to determine how food had to be served and worked with Miami University to secure insurance for the bands.

Lesson 4: Do something no one has seen before.

Ultimately, Koenig said, he hopes the festival attracts new fans to Appalachian culture.

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