Touted as the oldest float operator on the Illinois River, Hanging Rock Camp was the site of last weekend's 32nd annual Blue Note Roundup.

"Marcus Olive is a real sweetheart to let us come out," said artist and musician Dena Coleman. "This has been going on since before he owned it. It's been going on for a long time."

Coleman attended Blue Note on Friday, but she lives nearby so she didn't camp. She returned Saturday to play in the afternoon, and her singer-songwriter "sweetheart," Steve Fisher, played in the early evening. They were still hanging out way past dark Saturday.

"I love Blue Note. It's local musicians," said Coleman. "Everybody volunteers. Nobody gets paid."

Organizers of the three-day music festival claim it is one of the most laid-back events on the river, and it only happens because of volunteers.

"There are always glitches, but because we all collaborate, it is always an amazing exercise in community," said Kathy Tibbits, one of the organizers. "I'd like to thank everyone who volunteers, attends, and plays. It just keeps getting better. We look forward to it year to year."

Tibbits is a local artist, and she also helps out by taking T-shirt orders and tie-dying the shirts.

Admission to Blue Note was $5 per person, but there were options to camp on site, rent a cabin, or park an RV for additional costs.

People of all ages set up tents, open and screened canopies, playpens, and vendor tents. In the middle of it all was a flatbed trailer being used as the stage.

The music was set to kick off Friday at 6 p.m., but some who have been around Blue Note over the decades may have been running late. A memorial service was held for Zollie Johnson, one of the founders, on Friday afternoon in Fort Gibson Military Cemetery. Another memorial was held Saturday at Blue Note.

"The original bands were blues men who, I think, had not played together," said Tibbits. "Roundup is about getting them to one place at the same time."

Many of the original attendees were Vietnam veterans and friends. The festival used to be in the fall, and has been held in various places, including Peyton's Place and Arrowhead Resort.

Some volunteers these days include Horace Young, who scheduled the bands; stage manager Scot Sayler; and George Gow, running sound.

Tahlequah musician Kelly Anquoe was scheduled to play first Saturday. His words for the weekend were: "camp, play, swim, laugh, and wonder."

"I appreciate all the efforts by the coordinators to bring local musicians and families together in this kind of open environment," said Anquoe.

Isaiah Starr and Emma Thompson heated up the summer nights by spinning fire. Thompson had a full weekend, as she also volunteered to run the children's activities area. Many adults enjoyed the bubbles from that site, as well.

The Illinois River provided respite from the hot, humid days. Access under a bridge was close to camp and to services. Hanging Rock features a store and Moe's BBQ.

Check it out

Those wanting to keep an eye out for the 2020 festival should look up the "Annual Blue Note Roundup" group on Facebook, especially since Tibbits mentioned the possibility of an Earth Day festival.

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