SEMBA 2019 May festival

Frank Ray, left and Jim Bunch, right, perform Sunday at the Southeast Minnesota Bluegrass Association’s May festival at Cushion’s Peak Campground near Rushford.

RUSHFORD — The Soggy Bottom Boys are a fictional band from the Coen Brothers’ 2000 movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou.” On Sunday, a soggy bluff-bottom grounds was a reality at the Southeast Minnesota Bluegrass Association’s May festival.

Campground owner Tom Vix helped tow a couple larger campers from soggy ground at Cushion’s Peak Campground Sunday morning.

“I’ll probably have to do a couple more before it’s all done,” he said.

According to the National Weather Service in La Crosse, Wis., more than an inch of rain fell on the grounds from Saturday evening through 10 a.m. Sunday morning. However, the music was held indoors and the rain of little serious consequence — especially for festival goers who remember the SEMBA August festival in 2007. Downpours sent the nearby Root River out of its banks and toward the campgrounds. Most surrounding highways were closed due to high water.

“This is nothing — just wet ground,” Vix said. “The river probably won’t even come up.”

The rain didn’t deter attendees. For returning festival goers, the events in May and August are like reunions.

“We’re pretty much all friends here,” said Carol Anderson, of Morristown.

The festival also is a reunion for the performers.

“Bluegrass friends are lifetime friends,” said Frank Ray, who played with his band, Cedar Hill.

For more than 50 years, Ray spent much of his time traveling and performing bluegrass across the U.S. Semi-retired now, Ray, who lives in the Ozarks in Missouri, is more choosy about when and where he travels.

“I like to go to areas where I’ve never been or haven’t been for a long, long time,” Ray said. “People — that’s the fruit of all the music.”

At the SEMBA events, the musicians aren’t confined to the stage. Many of the festival goers are at different stages of musical mastery themselves. Tents are set up for instrument workshops or jamming. Babs Schaffer, of Potosi, Wis., bought a banjo this weekend. A music teacher, Shaffer said she found a deal on the instrument and decided to take it up in addition to the others she plays. The festival jams were an opportunity to get started.

“That’s where you learn a lot,” she said. “You practice without stopping.”

“Even if you mess up,” added Isaiah Powell, a multi-instrumentalist from Caledonia.

Messing up is no big deal, said Anderson, who plays guitar.

“Nobody criticizes anyone,” she said.

The May festival is made possible with about 70 volunteers’ help, said Darrell Ottman, SEMBA president and festival director. The August event requires about 90 volunteers, he added.

“These people are in it for the right reasons,” Vix said. “They just love music.”

Vix and his wife, Judy, also pitch in to make sure the facilities needed for the event are up and running.

The area Relay For Life team, Up All Night, provides food at both festivals. The events are the biggest fundraisers the group has each year. Last year’s August festival helped the team send more than $4,000 to the American Cancer Society, said team captain Jim Stennes. Along with SEMBA volunteers, the Relay for Life team is essential to the event, Ottman said.

“They keep everybody fed,” Ottman said.

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General Assignment Reporter

John joined the Post Bulletin in May 2018. He graduated from the University of Iowa in 2004 with a BA in Journalism and Japanese. Away from the office, John plays banjo, brews beer, bikes and is looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter “b.”