Annual Backbone Bluegrass Festival scheduled for July 26 - 28

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Dr. Michele Dikkers and Steve Dikkers took the stage at Lakeside Ballroom in Guttenberg on Friday, June 28, as part of the River of Music series. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

In the 1600s people from Ireland, Scotland, and England migrated to America and brought with them the basic music styles that are considered to be the roots of bluegrass music. 

As the colonists began to settle in the Appalachians, they wrote songs depicting their day-to-day life in the hill country.  The songs reflected life on the farm in the remote areas they inhabited. The music was referred to as country music, mountain music or bluegrass. 

With the invention of the phonograph, and the onset of radio broadcasting, the music was brought out of the mountains and into the homes of people all over the United States.  

Bluegrass music features acoustic string instruments and emphasizes the offbeat. There are three major sub-genres of bluegrass: traditional, neo-traditional and gospel.  In bluegrass, one or more instruments take turns playing the melody and improvising around it, while the others perform the accompaniment.

Backbone Bluegrass Festival

For the past 38 years, The Backbone Bluegrass Festival has been providing, "good ol' music" in the rolling hills of Northeast Iowa. 

The festival will be held on July 26-28.  The festival grounds are located on 20 acres of well-shaded campgrounds at 1358 110th Street, Strawberry Point, just north of Backbone State Park. 

Dr. Michele Dikkers, physician, bluegrass musician and enthusiast, shared with The Press, "The Backbone Bluegrass Festival was started in 1982 as a way to promote Backbone Lake at Backbone State Park. The festival is held every year during the last full weekend of July. The festival grounds are located about four miles south of Strawberry Point off the Dundee Road, north of the Lake entrance to the park." She went on to say, "It has grown to include the Strawberry Jam Camp which allows musicians of all ages and skill levels to learn how to play bluegrass instruments in the 'bluegrass style.' Students can study guitar, banjo, mandolin, bass, or fiddle. Students are introduced to and taught the skills needed to participate in bluegrass jams." 

The Dikkers

"Good music is good music no matter the genre," state Steve and Michele Dikkers. The couple, who met through mutual friends,  have a love of all music, bluegrass music and bluegrass festivals. 

Steve Dikkers, a retired teacher, began his journey with the guitar in 1969. "Our family's Cocker Spaniel 'Lady' died in 1969. To ease my pain and suffering I sent away for the 'Buck Owens Learn How to Play the Guitar' course, and as they say  – the rest is history."

In addition to the guitar Steve plays the upright bass, electric bass, electric guitar, harmonica, banjo, and a bit of the mandolin. "My instrument of choice would be a pedal steel guitar – but even I know – I'm not crazy enough to learn how to play one of those!" he exclaimed.

Michele's musical career started out with the French horn. "I played the French horn in high school. About 11 years ago I decided I would like to play the upright bass and bought one," she said. 

Both musicians are self-taught along with the help of many friends. 

Steve shared, "In addition to the afore-mentioned Buck Owens course, I also made extensive use of my aunt's collection of organ song books, to learn the chords to popular songs from the '60s and '70s. I also attended Monday night jam sessions with Keith Yoder, Joe Schmitt, Gary Bramel, and Bill George for nearly 10 years." 

Steve Kaufman's Acoustic Kamp in Maryville, Tenn., has been a near-annual event for the couple. "It is a week of constant exposure to music that is sure to improve anybody's playing," they said. 

Michele's involvement with The Backbone Bluegrass Festival began at an early age. "I grew up near the festival site and started attending the festival when it began in 1982. When the festival moved to its current location I helped with clearing the 20-acre grounds. When I moved back to Northeast Iowa in 1998, I became active with the festival committee," she said. 

Steve attended his first Backbone Bluegrass Festival in 1994. He has attended the event as a spectator, performer, committee member, and eventually became president of the organization, a position he still holds. 

"Bluegrass music is known for its 'jams.' A group of players, of all skill levels, sit in a circle taking turns leading songs. During a song, everybody is encouraged to sing and play along, with players taking instrumental 'breaks' in turn," they explained. 

The couple shared, "It is friendly. It is open door. It is neighborly. We like to say that all of our egos are left outside the jam circle. Hours fly by during jam sessions. It is not uncommon to play until the sun rises." 

The Backbone Bluegrass Festival will provide music beginning on Friday night that will continue through Sunday afternoon. Food vendors will be available at the grounds. Spectators will need to bring their own lawn chairs or blankets. Carry-in food is welcome. 

The couple said, "Each night when the stage shows are done, the musicians and campers will gather around fires, under shelters, and by campsites to jam until the wee hours." 

Additional information can be found on the festival's website at https://backbonebluegrass.com or find them on Facebook.

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