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The True Story Behind the Marana Bluegrass Festival

Just tell your friends, the devil made you do it!

March 15-17 at Gladden Farm Community Park

The Desert Bluegrass Association is bringing its annual Bluegrass Festival back to Gladden Farm Community Park, Friday, March 15, 3:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. (free) and all-day performances Saturday, March 16 and Sunday, March 17 from 9:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. ($20 one day/$30 both days/under 12 free with adult) on Tangerine Farms Road.

The Festival kicks off with a free concert Friday, March 15 from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. by Ky Burt, Wally Lawder, and John Hall.


Eight bands are on the bill, most with ties to Southern Arizona. The Dusty River Band, The Southern Comfort Band, The Old Blue Band, Brokedown Palace, The Bill Ganz Western Band, Nick McBlaine & Log Train, Annie Beach & Jam Pak, and Out of the Blue.

Marana has plenty of lodging options for you to stay all weekend.  Don’t be satisfied with just a few hours of down home bluegrass.  Make this event last all weekend!

Check out the Marana Bluegrass Festival for more information and plan your trip to Marana today.  

Want to hear the fable of Marana and the Devil?

The devil came to Marana

Circle round, my friends, I’ve got a story I bet you haven’t heard.  Back in ’79, the devil went down to Georgia, he was looking for a soul to steal.  Johnny knew it might be sin, but he took the challenge and gave the devil his due.  Defeated and humbled, the fiend slunk back to the depths from whence he came.  He stewed and he raged and he fumed over his downfall.  And then he hatched a plan. 

“Georgia was never my country,” he mused to himself.  “I’m from the land of fire, from a place where the sun scorches the earth.  That’s my territory, and that’s where I can make a deal.”

Marana is not the devil’s Town.  Marana is a place where farmers industriously till their soil, a place where families put down roots and lend their neighbors a hand, a place where business thrives off honest work.  But the evil one didn’t know all that.  He didn’t know what Marana really meant.

So the devil packed his fiddle and he took I-10 to the Marana Road exit.  He went west, to Tangerine Farms Road, to Gladden Farms Community Park.  He strutted across the grass, casting his evil eye around for an innocent soul.  He was hungry and he wanted his prey. 

Leaning against a mesquite tree, old Johnny, yes that same Johnny, plucked his strings.  After he had defeated the devil back in ’79, back in ol’ Georgia, Johnny had traded in his golden fiddle for a train ticket west.  These old bones needed warmer airs and sunnier skies.  When that Sunset Limited blew through Marana, as its whistle floated along with the desert breeze, Johnny grabbed his bag and his trusty fiddle made of wood and hopped off that California-bound train.  This old Georgia boy had no interest in California dreamin’.  No, sir, not Johnny.  Arizona would do him just fine, and as he looked out on the mountains of Marana, he knew he’d found a home.

Johnny’s been kickin’ around these parts, pluckin’ his strings for a mighty long time now.  His hair has gone gray and his brow is lined with years of toil, of honest labor.  His fingers, though, oh those fingers.  They haven’t lost a beat.  Catch Johnny in the right mood, at just the right moment, and you can still see that old flame.  But all this the devil didn’t see.  He saw an old man leaning against a mesquite tree.  And the fiend was hungry.

“You don’t know me, old man, and you probably don’t want to.  I’m the devil and I’m about to make you an offer.” Johnny levelled his gaze on the imp and knew exactly who he was. “And what would you want with an old bag of bones like me?” he replied, unmoved.

Play a Good Fiddle

“Now you probably play a pretty good fiddle, old man, but give me my due. I’ll better a fiddle of gold against Your Town, I think I’m better than you.  If my fiddling is too hot for you, Your Town and all the souls in it are mine. ”

Johnny smiled inwardly.  He’d heard this before.  He looked down at his crooked fingers, gnarled by years of strumming and picking.  “You can keep your fiddle of gold, I don’t need your treasure.  I play for the music, and if it’s the music you want, it’s the music you’ll get.  But I’m just an old man, so let’s hear what you’ve got first.  Go ahead, lad, saw those strings.”

Fire on the mountain, could the devil play a tune!  His bow shot across the strings quick as a roadrunner, sharp as a cactus.  The notes sprang from the instrument like lightening.  His band of demons erupted from the earth, and their evil hiss cursed the land all around.  But, boy, could that beast play a song.

When his bow released the strings and the demons receded into the soil, Johnny stared up at those red eyes.  In Johnny’s gaze, the devil saw a flicker of something familiar.  He knew those eyes.  Behind those gray hairs, those years of toil, there was something he’d seen before. 

Johnny laughed.  “Well, I suppose you’re still pretty good, old son, but you sit right there down on the grass and I’ll show you how it’s done.” Run boys run, Johnny can still play that fiddle hot.  He can still chop and drive with the best of ‘em, and he can still play for Marana.  Those fingers may twist with the knots of age, but don’t you doubt them.  That’s still Johnny.  You know it, I know it, and just right then the devil knew it, too. 

It’s been many years since the devil came to Marana and challenged old Johnny to a fiddlin’ duel.  Not many folks know that this Town came so close to the evil one’s claws, and Johnny sure wasn’t going to tell them.  That’s just not the kind of man he was.  But now you know the truth. 

Every year, a few of us like to get together and celebrate Johnny.  Old timers and young fellas, lads and lasses alike, we all get together for the Marana Bluegrass Festival.  This year, help us remember Johnny and all those pickers across Southern Arizona who make this land of sunshine the land also of banjos and guitars and, yes, fiddles. 

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