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Black Hills Bluegrass Festival brings Americana to West River

For banjos, mandolins, and acoustic bass – visiting this year’s Black Hills Bluegrass Festivalis a must this weekend. Organizers say it’s not the same old country music you’ve heard before.

With roots tracing back to the founding of this country, bluegrass music and the instruments and culture surrounding it remains one of the tentpoles of Americana all this time later.

Cathy Kjar is a vocalist and member of the Black Hills Bluegrass Association. She said there’s just something missing from regular country music.

“When I think about country music, it doesn’t have that mountain flavor to it – know what I mean? It’s remote and you’re sitting down on your porch playing it," Kjar said. "It’s just a little bit different type of a theme or a feeling of it.”

Kjar said you’ll hear instruments you might not have ever heard of before this weekend, calling back to that history.

“People who play mountain music, they would use these unique instruments," Kjar said. "A big standup bass, a guitar, a mandolin, a dobro, a resophonic guitar. They really started the phenomena of bluegrass.”

The festival isn’t just about performing bluegrass though, Kjar said they want to keep this sound alive.

“In the morning we have workshops," Kjar said. "So if you play banjo or guitar, or vocal harmony, mandolins, fiddles, if you want to jam with a band, those will all be workshops done Saturday morning. They’re free as long as you have a ticket, just come to at least one of the concerts.”

The three-day festival will be held at the Rush No More Campground near Sturgis rain or shine. It’s the 42nd annual rendition of the event.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture