Santee stages annual Bluegrass Festival

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The high, lonesome sound may have provided the musical backdrop at the Santee Bluegrass Festival on Sept. 13. The crowd at the sold-out event, though, was friendly, and their high energy came from the tasty, abundant food and spirited libations that poured as freely as the lyrical harmonies of the bluegrass music setting the tone at Town Center Community Park East.

The high, lonesome sound may have provided the musical backdrop at the Santee Bluegrass Festival on Sept. 13. The crowd at the sold-out event, though, was friendly, and their high energy came from the tasty, abundant food and spirited libations that poured as freely as the lyrical harmonies of the bluegrass music setting the tone at Town Center Community Park East.

This was the Fifth Annual Bluegrass Festival fundraiser, conducted by the City of Santee on behalf of its advisory board the Santee Park and Recreation Committee, with proceeds targeted for the Santee Teen Center, park improvement projects, and the Recreation Scholarship Program providing financial aid to needy youth and seniors for participation in recreation programs. The event is the city’s largest charity fundraiser and the primary revenue source for the Recreation Scholarship Program.

The four-hour concert and food fest took as its slogan, “Beer, Wine, Dine & let the Bluegrass Shine.” The event also included silent auction bidding and opportunity drawing prizes. A $40 admission ticket bought each festivalgoer access to 30 food vendors, 15 brands of craft beer and 15 wines from different vintners.

The licks were as hot as the weather, with one musician exclaiming, “Just when our instruments got used to the heat, it cooled down.” The concert featured bluegrass classics, mingled with a few original pieces. The bands returning in performance to entertain listeners were Box Canyon and The Tail Draggers.

Ed Quintana, there for his first time, said that although he is not an aficionado of bluegrass, he was enjoying the music, and that he usually prefers wine, but he was quaffing more beer samples that hot evening. He singled out as the memorable brews those he had sipped from Santee brewery Twisted Manzanita and from Vista’s Belching Beaver. His favorite cuisine? The spicy pulled pork carnitas from Oaks Bar & Grill at the Carlton Oaks Golf Course and the grilled samples from Coop’s West Texas BBQ. Other attendees also praised the lobster mac and cheese samples from the Oaks table.

Robin Neece, a Santee resident for seven years, was also attending the festival for the first time. “I am sorry my husband and I have never been here before this. It’s a good way to try new places and the money goes to a great cause,” she said.

She was impressed by the “delicious margaritas” served up by Por Favor Mexican Restaurant & Cantina. She was appreciative too for the hay bales as concert-area seating for those unfortunates who had neglected to bring their own portable lawn chairs.

Boll Weevil 53 dished up small-plate chili dogs to serve notice of a season’s worth of football specials. Alongside tasty shrimp cocktail cups, Anthony’s Fish Grotto in La Mesa handed out coupons for 25 percent off happy hour appetizers or $2 off weekdays to dogs that bring their humans out to dine.

Todd Tolson, of Tolson Computer Solutions, also manned a business booth, giving out water and soda to thirsty attendees.

“This is a great opportunity that presented itself,” he said. “We’re here enjoying the festival, and we’re letting people know our business is here in Santee.”

Event organizers said the festival has tripled in size since its inception in 2010. This year, over 1,000 tickets were sold, over 60 vendors participated (restaurants, wineries and breweries), and early estimates were that the event brought in over $10,000 on the silent auction,  $4,000 on the opportunity drawing and pick-a-cork activities, raising close to $40,000 in total for the festival. The 2013 event brought in about $37,500, which paid for a $10,000 donation supporting the teen center and sufficient money for the recreation committee to also revive a senior outing program, which allowed low-income Santee seniors an affordable a bus trip to Palm Springs for a theater performance. Festival proceeds further went to children from low-income households, providing discounts for classes ranging from karate to science.

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