Ever wish you could wander freely through Doc Watson's rehearsal room, randomly picking up and plucking on any or all of his vintage instruments?
It's a tantalizing thought - whether you're a layperson who might not know a banjo from a guitar or someone like country/bluegrass star Kathy Mattea.
Consider, then, Todd Crowley's Traveling Musical Petting Zoo, a fully interactive, hands-on exhibition for the instrumentally curious. The Zoo is just one of myriad attractions and performances taking place at the 17th annual Podunk Bluegrass Music Festival starting today and running through Sunday at Dodd Stadium in Norwich. And Mattea, who performs Saturday, is the headline attraction.
Dodd is a new home for the long-running and popular festival, which has traditionally taken place in East Hartford's Martin Park. That the friendly confines of Dodd were selected is quite a coup for Norwich and the area.
"Oh, yeah, absolutely we're delighted to be at Dodd," says Roger Moss, the executive director of Podunk. "We were looking for a new home, and Dodd is a great venue. It's a really nice place, it's easy to get to, and they've hosted some major concerts over the years, as well as being a very popular destination for minor league baseball."
Grammy honoree Mattea's Saturday set takes place at 9:30 p.m. on the Main Stage, and the entire four-day/night fest is packed with talent. Also playing - just as representative examples - are the Lonesome River Band (Thurs.), Dailey & Vincent and Dale Ann Bradley (Fri.), The Grascals and Special Consensus (Sat.), and the Spinney Brothers and Rick & Allan (Sun.). Simultaneously with the Main Stage shows, the Telefunken Workshop Stage will also present nonstop performances.
Moss says part of the fun and appeal of the festival is the mix of talent.
"We obviously like to present major touring acts, but we've also become known for recognizing upcoming regional acts. We focus on local acts on the second day, and on Sunday we have an actual band competition. The winner gets a slot at the 2013 festival, along with studio time and a cash prize," he says.
Mattea, of course, is a terrific headliner. Not only does she have mainstream hits, she's recently focused on sterling bluegrass material including "Coal" and the soon-to-be-released "Calling Me Home," and her history of philanthropy and social activism makes her a very popular artist for all the right reasons.
"Kathy's been on our radar for a long time," Moss says. "Obviously, she's had a lot of success with more country-pop style songs, and I'm sure she'll want to play some of them because I'm sure her fans will want to hear them. But her last record was an Appalachian bluegrass album, and that's the direction she's been working in. Either way, we're delighted to have her."
Along with the music, Podunk offers all sorts of songwriting workshops, family-centric activities, food, vendors, raffles, on-site camping and, yes, that instrumental petting zoo.
Podunk Bluegrass Music Festival, 5-10 p.m. tonight, 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Dodd Stadium, 14 Stott Ave., Norwich; adults $15 Thurs. and Sun., $43 Fri. and Sat. ($30 after 5 p.m.); seniors $13 Thurs., $35 Fri. and Sat. ($30 after 5 p.m.), $10 Sun.; juniors (13-17) $13 Thurs. $21 Fri. and Sat. ($15 after 5 p.m.), $10 Sun.; four-day passes are available, $143 adults, $123 seniors, $90 juniors; (860) 828-9818, podunkbluegrass.net.