As fair-goers walked throughout the Missouri State Fairgrounds on Wednesday, they could hear the sounds of live music from multiple bands for the Show-Me Bluegrass Festival.
All day the Budweiser, Ditzfeld, and Touchstone Energy stages offered bluegrass music in between other free entertainment acts. One such act was the Farnum Family, from Galena, Missouri, who played bluegrass as well as gospel, folk and Irish music for a sizable crowd Wednesday afternoon at the Ditzfeld Stage.
It was the fourth time the touring family band has performed at the Missouri State Fair for Bluegrass Day. Norm, Trish, Daniel, Benjamin, Hannah, Maggie and Matthew all performed Wednesday; one of the siblings, Nathaniel, was unable to attend the Fair performance this year.
“We have six children, we home-school all of them. We started day one doing that. We’ve made music a part of their curriculum,” Norm told the Democrat after the family’s performance. “We play primarily acoustic roots, Americana-type music, a lot of gospel music. We play family-friendly events, the State Fair being a prime example of that. We do other festivals as well, Irish music, cowboy music, we go to Cody, Wyoming, to play for the stampede rodeo out there; we’ve been there four different years. Off-season in January we’ve gone down to the Rio Grande Valley to play the RV park tour.”
Each family member plays an instrument, and several also sing. Not only have the children been brought up incorporating music into their lives, beginning to tour as a family in 2004, but it’s also the story of how the Farnum family began.
“My wife and I started playing music 28 years ago when we met. I discovered she played the piano and she discovered I played the banjo. Then it was love at first sight, making beautiful music, all those cliches,” Norm said. “We had Daniel and slowed down our music career for a spell until we got the children to an age we thought it would be a good idea to let them choose what musical instrument they would like to play.
“Living in the Branson area, we were exposed to a lot of really good, wholesome music,” he continued. “The Sons of the Pioneers is probably a prime example of the inspiration we receive. We play a lot of cowboy music as a result. And then from Silver Dollar City, I used to perform there in the saloon as a singing and dancing bartender. It’s really a blessing, the music manager there hired us back to play for the last nearly 10 years for their music festivals, primarily the bluegrass and barbecue festival. And it’s right in our backyard.”
The family mostly tours in Missouri and the Midwest and almost every family member who was asked said their favorite trip is to Cody, Wyoming.
“It’s a real blessing (to be able to travel as a family),” Trish said. “We’ve had neat trips and experiences we wouldn’t have had without playing music.”
“As a home-school family, our traveling is kind of the equivalent of a field trip,” Norm said. “We can see stuff we otherwise wouldn’t be seeing, like geography, points of interest, landmarks and such. We meet lots of really neat people too.”
During their set Wednesday, the family played all together, as a quartet and a trio in many combinations. Daniel seems to be the spokesperson for the group, cracking jokes, introducing songs and performing a bit of his cowboy poetry. Benjamin switched between guitar and mandolin throughout the set. The family also had CDs for sale, such as Daniel’s “Song of the Bandit” featuring cowboy tunes and poetry, plus Hannah’s “A Time to Fiddle” featuring fiddle, waltz, rags and Irish tunes.
About halfway through their performance, the Farnum Family had an unexpected special guest. Gov. Jay Nixon stopped by the Ditzfeld Stage to address the audience about Bluegrass Day as he made his rounds on the fairgrounds. He noted that while many state fairs are straying from their agricultural roots and becoming a large rock concert, he proudly said the Missouri State Fair has stayed true to its beginnings, even with its music on Bluegrass Day.
“It’s a huge blessing for our family, and many other families as well as other bluegrass musicians, folk music,” Norm said of the Missouri State Fair hosting Bluegrass Day.
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.