In Memory Of

2020 and 2021 has been a real challenge for everyone, including all of us at Oklahoma’s International Bluegrass Festival. OIBF 2020 had to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic and it was hard on everyone. OIBF lost several special friends, Byron Berline and Jim Paul Blair, who were not just important to the festival itself, but to each of us who worked alongside them to create and present this wonderful event for the past 24 years. Just 2 months before Byron left us, we lost his musical partner of over 40 years and multiple bands, legendary banjo player John Hickman. They will remain in our hearts as we go forward with the festival that was so much a part of their lives. Rest well dear friends, OIBF will carry on in your honor. 

Byron Berline

It is with almost unimaginable sadness that we report the passing of OIBF’s dear friend BYRON BERLINE, who conceived of and founded Oklahoma’s International Bluegrass Festival 26 years ago. Byron passed away on July 10th, 2021 at age 77. Everyone involved in the festival, from board members to volunteers to fans and friends from around the world will feel his loss profoundly for a long time. Byron was a legendary fiddle player, but so much more. He was a kind and gentle man who always had a warm smile, a hearty laugh and a ready willingness to share music with anyone from professional to beginner with equal enthusiasm. He taught, mentored and inspired countless musicians of all ages. One of his main goals in creating OIBF was to provide music scholarships to young players and to bring quality performers from the US and around the world to entertain festival audiences. OIBF has succeeded in these goals and will continue to do so in Byron’s honor. In his years of travelling as a professional musician he discovered bands from all over the world who loved and played bluegrass music and he wanted to bring them to the US so we could see the impact bluegrass has had on people everywhere. He brought so many great international bands to OIBF for us to discover!
OIBF WILL BE HELD THIS YEAR! As we grieve his loss, we celebrate his extraordinary life and the gift of music he shared so generously. This year we also celebrate the lives of two others whom we’ve lost since our last event in 2019. Banjo legend John Hickman, Byron’s friend and partner since 1974 in bands including Sundance, LA Fiddle Band, BCH, California and The Byron Berline Band, passed away only 2 months ago, on May 11th, 2021 at age 78. These two impeccable musicians and friends could match each other note-for-note and were extraordinary to see perform. Jim Paul Blair, another precious member of our OIBF family and a superb musician, passed away on February 11th, 2020. He was only 58. We had planned on remembering him at the 2020 festival but had to cancel due to the pandemic. We are proud to be able to celebrate the lives of all three of these dear friends at OIBF 2021.
Please join us in Guthrie, Oklahoma on September 30, October 1st & 2nd at OIBF as we bring alive the music Byron, John & Jim loved.

Jim Paul Blair

It is with profound sadness and grief we report that our dear colleague and friend, Jim Paul Blair, passed away on February 11th, 2020 from a rare lung infection and pneumonia. He was only 58. Jim was not just a friend to OIBF, he served the festival for over 20 years as a board member, Treasurer, grant writer, tax preparer and in endless other areas. Jim was an integral and irreplaceable part of the success of OIBF. Over the years Jim also graced the stage at OIBF with The Neverly Hillbillies, Hankerin’ 4 Hank, Bonham Review and many others, and as our always surprising emcee for the Random Band Jam. He once described that task this way: “The Fun Girls just tell me the theme, dress me up and tell me what to do and I do it. It’s always a hoot. They do all the work and I just show up!” Beyond his work with OIBF Jim was the former Executive Director of the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame and an active supporter of his community of Muskogee. His friend Cliff Casteel described Jim as, “Musician, health administrator, historian, humanitarian and columnist.” Creative, intelligent, fun loving, musically gifted, generous of spirit – all these phrases are just a few ways to describe Jim. We will miss all that he did for OIBF, but we will miss him more as a dear friend. Rest in Peace dear friend. Our hearts are with his wife, Katey and his entire family.

John Hickman

It is with a very heavy heart I must tell you that our dear friend John Hickman passed away this morning, May 11, 2021, in his sleep at his home in Guthrie, OK. His wife Sue was by his side as always.  Sue says she is glad John is now free of the health issues he’s had for the past several years which had robbed him of the ability to do what he loved best, play the banjo. While John was a close friend to us, and to many, he was also a legendary banjo master whose innovative style influenced generations of players. He was also a quiet, humble man with a wry and often hysterical sense of humor that his closest friends enjoyed. He could often deliver one sentence and have everyone falling on the floor laughing. Today I picture him with my Mom, Dee Fernandez, enjoying a jam session with a lot of friends in her heavenly garage, while she cooks up a pot of spaghetti for him. Their inside joke was they always said, “don’t worry, I’ve got your back”. Rest in Peace John and pick to your heart’s content now. Here’s a picture of John in 2016 after being honored by the American Banjo Museum in Oklahoma City, with his buddy Byron Berline, me and my husband Richard. It was a great night.