By James Keelaghan
Nineteen eighty-eight was the first year I played Summerfolk with my own band. The festival, as usual, supplied rooms to out of town performers. Our rooms were on the ground floor of the hotel. My mandolin player, Kathy Cook, shared a hotel room with a young up and coming songwriter named Shaun Colvin. I shared a room with my curmudgeonly bass player, Bill Eaglesham.

On the Friday night, at the hotel, the party spilled out of the function room and into the hallway. People would emerge from rooms with mandolins, guitars or banjos and disappear into one of the many jam sessions going on. At the far end of the hall, a door opened and a man stepped into the hall. You couldn’t miss him. He was 6’8 with broad shoulders. He seemed to fill the hallway. Behind him, a more diminutive man was negotiating the passage with an upright bass. That was my first glimpse of Keith Grimwood and Ezra Idlet, better known as Trout Fishing in America.

I got to see them in action that night and they were the life of the party. Over the course of the weekend, I caught them as many times as I could. I came to realize they are that most essential of festival elements-the spark plug. They are musical instigators. They are also so proficient, and so sensitive, that they can play with anyone. Ezra and Keith manage to put other performers at ease and get them playing with one another.

Their personalities are as different as their heights. Ezra is more playful and extroverted while Keith is more serious and reserved. The difference is what makes them so strong. They bring out the best in one another.

Keith began playing music professionally when he was still in his teens. He was part of the Texas All-State Orchestra for years and later earned a degree in music from the University of Houston. At 22, he landed a position with the Houston Symphony Orchestra. Keith put himself through college with the inevitable basketball scholarship and by playing pop music in local clubs.

Idlet and Grimwood met  in 1976 when they became members of the eclectic folk/rock band, St. Elmo’s Fire. When St. Elmo’s dissolved in 1979, Trout Fishing in America was born (named for Keith’s love of Richard Brautigan’s writing and Ezra’s love of fishing).

I have rarely met two musicians more accomplished than Keith and Ezra. There are many reasons that they have been doing this for almost 40 years-solid rhythms, blazing riffs and great writers who also know how to cover other people’s material. Add to that four grammy nominations and an upright bass full of other awards and you get the idea. It’s only fitting that they join us for our 40th on the eve of their 40th. They are also one of the most requested acts from Summerfolk fans.

It’s rare to have a band that has seen you through a couple of decades of your life. The other day I pulled up a list of performers from that year. Of the 13 duos or bands at the 1988 festival, there are two still in existence. Trout Fishing in America is one of them.

One of the great things about Trout Fishing, from an artistic director’s perspective, is you get two bands in one. There is no denying their appeal to the adults, but Keith and Ezra discovered early on that they also were kid magnets. There are very few artists that can pull that off. Usually one or the other suffers. That’s why they will not only headline our mainstage, but will also be the highlight of our Family programme.

Summerfolk has always been a family affair. In fact, some families are represented by three generations at Summerfolk. We’ve expanded the family programme and made it easier on the family pocket book this year by making admission free for children 12 and under accompanied by a ticketed adult.

This year our children’s area will feature, the massive craft tent, Todd’s musical petting zoo, a Sunday afternoon children’s parade, and a return of Elephant Thoughts with reptile displays, Science gizmos and gadgets, a bubble station and more.

Our children’s parade was one of the highlights for the festival in 2014 and it’ll be even better this year. Stilt walkers, costumes, a 30 foot articulated dragon decorated by the kids and a parade route that takes them through the park and to the opening of the evening concert.

This year, we will also be having a children’s open stage session in the gazebo tent. It’s a chance for the youngsters to strut their stuff.

Trout Fishing will be doing workshops all weekend at the 40th Annual Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival and will headline the amphitheatre stage on Saturday Aug. 22. Their featured kid’s show will be that same Saturday afternoon. Summerfolk happens at Kelso Beach Park Aug 20-23. All the information you need, and links to tickets can be found at summerfolk.org or by phoning 519-371-2995.