words & photography | MATT STEFFEN

The Whispering Beard 2022 edition landed at the Carriage House Farm again this year for the second season. It’s starting to feel like this long-run festival has found another home, one that fits in style and ease. It is abundantly apparent that the farm has made great effort to welcome the Beardos into their corner of the woods and that The Beard is fine tuning their part to settle in, make it memorable.

The layout of the grounds has stretched into the natural bowl shaped pasture behind the barn-enclosed marketplace, a larger footprint to spread out, pick your spot, and take it all in. The stage now faces the barn, the music can be equally enjoyed up close or from the cafe-like perch outside. You’ll find full-time food truck Chloe’s Eatery as well as several other food options outside, MadTree Brewing and The Lost Bridge Beverage Co. slinging refreshments. And to the delight of all the diehards, camping has returned. This was perhaps the most missed ingredient of the Friendship, Indiana days: the hang. No longer a transitory event, you can again set up shop, mingle late night, and not worry about the journey home. Ridgeline camping surrounds the bowl overlooking the venue while the Tater Patch Campground is a short hayride away to a neighboring field.

Traditionally, The Beard has been a bit of a trial by fire. The last week of August in the Midwest can be a crapshoot, often it meant at least the third ring of Dante’s Inferno Fahrenheit with a better soundtrack. While I appreciated the “you have to want to be here” weeding out of the feint of heart, it was really nice to not zip myself into a sauna bag at night and try to pretend to sleep. It’s amazing what a few weeks can do for the overnight highs. First Beard with a blanket.

After a soft opening Thursday night with Sylmar playing on the terrace, the festival proper kicked off on Friday afternoon with the traditional opening set by Easy Tom Eby. Sam Hibbard and Elijah Bedel, The Whiskey Bent Valley Boys, Ferd, and Beard favorites The Tillers filled the day with traditional, folk-friendly tunes. Banjo and fiddle forward, beats are stomped out on wooden boxes, and basses are upright sorta music. Try not to tap your toe kinda stuff. But maybe it was the twilight Blind Boy Paxton set that stole Friday night. Proof that it doesn’t take a lot to fill the silence and captivate the crowd. One man on a chair with a mic can draw in the whole field.

Paxton, or Jerron as his mother likely calls him, transports the crowd to another time. Decades older than his physical age, he draws on Fats Waller and Robert Johnson in tone. His time spent storytelling as much as string plucking. He sits on an unassuming folding chair amidst a pile of banjos, fiddles, flattops, and harmonicas. And it was that harmonica that made my jaw drop. At one point tucking the whole thing in his cheek like a fistful of Beechnut, while rolling up his sleeves, played the entire song with it in his mouth. Magically pulling the notes out with his tongue…I guess. I’m not sure if this is an act or he’s a time traveler, but there’s no doubt that he’s the real deal.

In the spitting rain we walked the long sloping hill back to our tents while Chicago Farmer blew the roof off the market barn with a late night set, accompanied by a chorus of snores washing over the ridge. The Beardos went hard opening night. It wasn’t until the Crow’s Nest mobile bar returned to the campground that the party continued.

After a night of enough to be annoying precipitation but not enough to send us fleeing, Saturday came through sun blazing. We woke to the announcement that breakfast was being served. In true Beard fashion, one campsite took it upon themselves to cook enough food to feed the entire Ridgeline. They asked only to consider donating to Music Fund Cincinnati in return, if you so desired.

Bellies full and faith in humanity at an all-time high, we made our way back to the basin where Ruby Vileos and Matthew Logan Vasquez of Delta Spirit fame started the day off with a more rocking edge. Electric guitars and seldom-utilized-at-the-Beard drum sets were in play. Obligations at the overlapping Cincinnati festival, Fotofocus, required me to split just as the Darrin Hacquard Band was getting started. Sad to be leaving, passing lines of fresh-faced Beardos meandered into the lawn, camping chairs slung over shoulders.

The return of The Whispering Beard to Carriage House Farms feels right and where it should be, hand in glove. A nearer destination and milder weather can only help to grow this much loved festival. Get back from your vacations, send the kids off to school, and take one last pause in a field filled with some of the best Folk and Americana you’ll find. It’s the perfect laid back farewell to summer.