KENDALLVILLE — Joe Steiner was zipping around in a golf cart Thursday night at the Noble County Fairgrounds. It was opening night of the 43rd Tri-State Bluegrass Festival, held every Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend in Kendallville.
Steiner is responsible for the impressive lineup of bands performing at the festival. He is especially proud of this year’s internationally known acts, The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper and Nu-Blu.
“I aim for diversity,” Steiner said. “There’s not just one style (of bluegrass music). I look for a mix.”
The three headliners join a weekend performance schedule of national, regional and local bluegrass bands that offer something to everyone.
Steiner explained that bluegrass music styles vary from the traditional sounds of the 1940s and 1950s to the progressive sounds of today. He said the traditional band is “five guys in black suits standing around one mic” and playing the traditional bluegrass instruments, mandolin, guitar, banjo, fiddle and string bass. The resonator guitar, played horizontally flat like a steel guitar in country music, is sometimes seen in traditional bands.
Progressive-style bands are influenced by other musical genres and often add non-traditional instruments such as saxophone or piano, Steiner said.
Steiner is no slouch as a musician, either. He is a master banjo player, largely self-taught. He became interested in bluegrass music as a senior in high school when he saw famous bluegrass musician Bill Monroe and his band on television.
“I was obsessed with learning the banjo after that,” he said.
The festival continues through Sunday evening. Performance schedules are available at the Fair Street entrance on the west side of the fairgrounds. Admission is $25 per person for Saturday and $15 per person on Sunday.