The small gatherings of bluegrass fans inside this barn in Worthington, Ind., more than a decade ago led to the formulation of the SamJam Bluegrass Festival.
SamJam came from humble beginnings
Before there was a SamJam Bluegrass Festival, there was a barn.
It didn't contain a stable of horses, a multitude of livestock or a fancy tractor. No, it had much more than that.
It had friends on the ground and music in the air, which led to many late nights and the kind of camaraderie that can't be explained, only felt. It is the love of neighbor and the love of bluegrass music where the roots of the SamJam Bluegrass Festival began, and it is those roots that are entwined in this event and make it something all its own.
"We never started with the idea we would begin a bluegrass festival, but here we are all these years later and it's hard to believe everything that has happened," said Sam Karr, a Kentucky native and the owner of the barn in western Indiana. "Like a lot of people, we just had a few who liked to pick instruments, some people who could sing and a lot of people who liked to have fun and just listen."
Based on Karr's connections in the bluegrass music industry through the Ragheads, bands of prominence participated in some of the early shows, small gatherings of true bluegrass fans. As more bands began to enjoy the small setting, things began to outgrow backyards and smaller venues.
In 2013, Karr met Jeff Mattingly, the owner of Bourbon 30 (a bourbon and merchandising company), and the image of the SamJam Bluegrass Festival began to take shape with Mattingly's artistic and authentic styles. The signature line of merchandise was one of the signs that SamJam was on the move.
"I knew we were ready for something bigger just based on who all wanted to participate in our festival and how things started to fall into place," Karr said. "That's where Rick comes into the picture."
As a former newspaper editor and now a public affairs professional, Rick Greene has spent most of his professional life in economic development in one form or another. A Waverly, Ohio, resident, Greene didn't have to look far to find the kind of venue and the type of community that was perfectly suited for Karr's emerging festival. He said the expansive Pike County Fairgrounds, Pike County's location at the intersection of two four-lane highways (U.S. 23 and Ohio 32), and a bluegrass culture in the foothills of Appalachia, meant Pike County had all the makings for a first-class bluegrass festival.
"All we have ever needed was a lineup and Sam Karr delivers that consistently. Any bluegrass fan can look at our lineups and understand it can hold its own with festivals anywhere in the country," Greene said. "Based on the enthusiasm we heard from our very first festival in 2016, we knew this festival was going to grow at a rapid pace."
Greene and Karr work with the Pike County Fair Board and the Pike County Chamber of Commerce on the event's organization.
"A supportive community is an absolute must and I could not be more impressed with the people of Pike County. Rick told me these are great people and he was right on the money," Karr said. "I always felt like people love an underdog story and we've got one because I've got pictures from the barn to prove it. But I'm very proud of our history and Rick and I are looking forward to continuing our story in southern Ohio."
Part of that story includes a 2018 Momentum Award by the International Bluegrass Music Association for Best New Festival/Event/Venue.