In September of 1975, bass player Tom O'Neill circulated a proposal to a group of people whose names had been gleaned from the personal address books of his bluegrass and old-time music playing friends. He sent out a preliminary newsletter announcing The Minnesota Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Association (MBOTMA), based on the San Diego Bluegrass Club and its newsletter format. MBOTMA got started with its first official newsletter, mailed to a new membership of 40, that October.
During the first year there was a heavy workload to bear but the Association's membership grew steadily and in August of 1976 MBOTMA was incorporated as a non-profit corporation in Minnesota. During the first three years membership grew to over 400 and many events were put on to try to raise money for the fledgling organization.
The organization introduced its first three-day festival at Wildwood Campground in Taylor's Falls (MN) in August 1980. This event would eventually become today's Minnesota Bluegrass August Festival, now located near St Cloud (MN). 1980 was also the same year MBOTMA held the very first Buy, Sell, Swap Meet, which would develop into the Minnesota Bluegrass Winter Weekend, held annually the first weekend in March at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center in Plymouth (MN).
In 1988, the August Festival moved to Camp in the Woods Resort, near Zimmerman (MN). By the second year at this location volunteers had constructed a permanent stage facility that they were proud of, and over the years countless bands enjoyed performing there to capacity audiences. The Minnesota Bluegrass Homegrown Kickoff was started in June 1993 at the same venue and provided a format for MBOTMA Member Bands to show off their talent. This festival also flourished, but in 2001 Camp In The Woods was sold to a housing developer, the stage that the volunteers had worked so hard on needed to be abandoned, and a larger location with a long-range future was sought.
The goal of moving the two summer festivals to a new home was realized in 2002 with a move to El Rancho Mañana, a campground and riding stables located in the rolling hills of central Minnesota west of St. Cloud. The venue is large enough to accommodate increased interest in bluegrass and old-time music and offers amenities such as horseback riding and a swimming beach. Volunteers designed and contributed much of the labor to build a new concert area and stage, much larger then the old one. It is now considered one of the Midwest's most beautiful outdoor festival grounds.
In recent years two more indoor festivals were added to the annual calendar. The Minnesota Bluegrass Fall Jam was first celebrated in 2006, is a multi-day festival featuring concerts, band development workshops and jamming in Minneapolis in the fall. Plus a late winter gathering was added to the annual calendar in 2011 - Minnesota Bluegrass Cabin Fever, which is held in early April in Duluth. MBOTMA also hosts various jam sessions, sponsors children’s educational programs, and helps support many events sponsored by other organizations or its member bands.
In 2001, MBOTMA brought on board its first professional executive director, Jed Malischke, to better serve its membership and mission, as well as Bea Flaming as administrative assistant. Jed retired at the end of 2015, having built up membership levels, expanded festival offerings, and seen the organization through the move from Camp in the Woods to El Rancho Mañana. Bea retired in 2017. Her warm personality made everyone feel welcome both on the phone and at events, where she was often found working long hours at the merchandise table. Events Manager Matt Johnson, Office Administrator Darcy Schatz, and Magazine Editor Doug Lohman now provide professional staffing for the organization.
MBOTMA marked its 40th anniversary in 2015. Its monthly publication Minnesota Bluegrass has been voted “Best Newsletter” by the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America (SPBGMA) twice. The International Bluegrass Music Association nominated the Minnesota Bluegrass August Festival “Event of the Year” in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2014 and 2015 — and bluegrass and old-time music have never been better here in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest!