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Bluegrass festival big hit in Fawn

| Sunday, June 9, 2002

FAWN: What was once a grassy field with a great hilltop view is now the bustling site for an annual music festival that attracts fans from all over the country.

And there still is a great view.

The Mountain Top Bluegrass Festival is in its 10th year at the township campground owned by Ed and Francine Michaels of Sun Mine Road.

It evolved after a picnic the couple held years ago. They had frequented other bluegrass music festivals and thought their field would be a nice spot for a local version.

Now picnickers and "pickers" join them every year for the four-day music celebration.

Francine Michaels, whose Mountain Top Band will close the festival today, said she tries to bring in both local and national acts, but that most of the performers on the schedule aren't from the area.

One group that Michaels is particularly fond of is the Wheeling Park High School Bluegrass Band from Wheeling, W.Va.

Bob Turbanic, a graphic arts teacher at the school and the band's organizer, said he's been bringing students to the festival for the past five years.

"Francine and Ed have really transformed our program," Turbanic said. "Now our students get the chance to meet and play with real bluegrass musicians."

The band has played all weekend and its final performance is at 2 p.m. today.

After a slow start in 1993 with only three students, Turbanic said more than 40 kids are involved this year and about half play regularly at festivals.

Since the creation of his program, Turbanic said he's been contacted by schools all over the country, asking for assistance in starting similar programs.

He said he would really like to see one in the Pittsburgh area, calling the Valley a prime location for the music he loves.

"I started the program to give kids what I felt was better music than what they were listening to," Turbanic said.

"I think it's the only American music out there that's really connected to American culture."

That is why Francine Michaels likes bluegrass and brought it to the area.

"It's our roots. It's old-time country, where all the truly American music started," Michaels said.

Campers, RVs and buses sporting out-of-state license plates can be seen everywhere around the grounds.

While Pennsylvania and Ohio are well represented, so are Texas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana and more. Michaels said they've even had visitors from Germany.

Raymond Alabran, 76, of Mercer County said he's attended Mountain Top's festival since it started.

"I've listened to this music since I've been old enough to walk," Alabran said.

T.J. Groszkiewicz, who has lived in Wheeling for less than a week, said he saw an advertisement for the festival and decided to come for the day.

"I start a new job on Monday, and I wanted this chance to relax first," Groszkiewicz said as he helped his 3-year-old daughter, Josie, find some shade Saturday afternoon.

In addition to the scheduled acts, campers jam around campfires well into the night and play from their campsites along with the performers onstage.

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