Bob Webster, host of Bluegrass Country’s Stained Glass Bluegrass, returned to his home state of North Carolina to take in the second annual Willow Oak Park Bluegrass Festival over Easter weekend in Roxboro under the management of founding member of the Bass Mountain Boys, and Bob’s old high school classmate, Mike Wilson.
The festival opened on Thursday, April 21 at noon with the National Anthem and welcoming remarks to set the spirit for the next several days. Although the sky was overcast, the music began with bluegrass pioneer Melvin Goins & Windy Mountain. Melvin remains popular with North Carolina bluegrass followers and he was joined on stage briefly by Lorraine Jordan to help out with a trio number.
Also currently playing with Melvin is the multi-instrumentalist Jack Hicks (who played bass with Lester Flatt & the Nashville Grass as well as holding the banjo position with Bill Monroe) who helped start the new band Summertown Road. Jack treated the audience with both some Scruggs style guitar picking as well as Travis picking on a couple of numbers.
Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road followed Melvin and continued to entertain the bluegrass dedicated fans with some of her latest numbers. Lorraine was followed by the fellows in A Deeper Shade of Blue from the Monroe, NC area. They turned in a fine set with selections from their latest recording titled “Bluegrass To The Bone.”
I enjoyed seeing Summertown Road, which followed Lorraine, for the first time. Jack Hicks was replaced in this band by Elmer Burchett from Kentucky. Elmer can certainly drive the old 5-string and has played with Dale Ann Bradley, Alison Krauss, Pine Mountain Railroad, and David Parmley among others.
Friday was a bluegrass day for those who are truly dedicated to our beloved music as the rain flowed all day. However, the bands all played to those hearty fans who huddled under rain gear and umbrellas. The more fortunate were in their campers atop the hill and under the awnings and well within earshot of the music.
North Carolinia natives Lou Reid & Carolina closed the cycle of first sets for the opening day of the festival and held the audience until the dinner break. The performers repeated the rotation after dinner to end day one.
We enjoyed The Grass Cats who opened the second day festivities with songs from Russell Johnson’s forthcoming new CD titled “Anytime Anyplace But Only You.” Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice followed the Grass Cats and the toughed out the rain as well.
The folks who make up The Expedition Show came in from Sparta, TN for their first appearance at Willow Oak and treated the “soggy bottom” audience to selections from their new CD “Expedition Show” since the regrouping from the former band the “Williams & Clark Expedition.”
Tim Shelton’s NewFound Road continued the music in fine style with the Booher brothers (James and Joe) and Josh Miller. The Seldom Scene was also on hand to close the first set in the drizzle but kept the fans’ spirits up. Lou Reid didn’t have to travel too much to fulfill his role in two bands. The bad weather made for poor photos that day.
However, we were blessed with clearing skies and a mild breeze on Saturday to dry away the mud and bring out the fans from the camp sites to the stage area to enjoy the opening antics of Al Batten & The Bluegrass Reunion Band. If you don’t enjoy Al and the band, that’s your own fault because they always keep the audience smiling and tapping their feet.
The Boxcars followed Al and made their first appearance at Willow Oak Park and turned out to truly be crowd pleasers. The Boxcars are loaded with experienced talent and even worked up some fiddle and banjo numbers by Ron Stewart and John Bowman – multi-instrumentalists both. (The Boxcars will be part of the State At The State line-up in June sponsored by WAMU’s Bluegrass Country – see http://bluegrasscountry.org/stars-at-the-state/ for details.)
Michelle Nixon & Drive followed the Boxcars and kept the crowd tuned-in to the bluegrass feel of the festival. Michelle is getting back into the circuit after some downtime to spend with family, but she and her band Drive still know how to perform and gave the crowd several samples of songs from her forthcoming recording project to be released soon. Sixteen-year-old Jonathan Dillon showed his skills on the mandolin and banjo proving Michelle knows how to spot talent and help it grow so we’ll have artists to enjoy for years to come.
The always popular James King entertained next and tugged at everyone’s heartstrings with his emotionally powerful songs.
Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out was back for the second year and are not only crowd pleasers, but also talented musicians to boot. In closing the second set after the evening dinner break, Steve Dilling showed us he has become a sincere and relaxed emcee for the band.
After their performance of “The Dream,” a perfect song for this Easter weekend, Steve thanked the staff, his parents, our military personnel and reminded the audience to remember those in North Carolina who recently became homeless due to the damage of the recent storms just the weekend prior. The band received two encores to close the festival – what more can one ask for to remind us of the connections we enjoy in the bluegrass community.
Mike Wilson continues to make improvements to the festival grounds since the opening in 2010. He has installed many more electrical hookups for those who attend in their motor homes and campers. He’s also working on plans for bathrooms and showers and a private room for bands to use meetings and interviews. The increased camping amenities resulted in many more advanced ticket sales, a very good sign for continuation of the festival.
Perhaps the only disappointed “fans” were two basset hounds who displayed their frustration when told no dogs were allowed in the concert area.
Bob Webster, host of Bluegrass Country’s Stained Glass Bluegrass, returned to his home state of North Carolina to take in the second annual Willow Oak Park Bluegrass Festival over Easter weekend.