Can I actually have attended 59 festivals at the Amelia Family Campground and am I gonna attend my 60th festival there in less than two short weeks? Gosh! It's really hard to believe, but it's true. Way back in May of 1980 the festival got started featuring bands like: East Virginia, James Bailey & The Autumn Harvest, Appalachian Express, B. G. Express, Friendly Henry & The Roots of Bluegrass, Hand Picked Grass and Canadian Bluegrass. Sadly, time has continued its march forward and many of these performers are no longer with us. That said, Bluegrass has continued to progress and is more popular today than ever. Much of this popularity in the central Virginia area is due to John & Ferne Hutchinson's love of the music and their support of the musicians who make it. A weekend ticket back in 1980 cost a whopping $13.00. That's right $13.00 for an entire weekend of Bluegrass music.
Back in 1980 Larry Sparks released his great album "John Deere Tractor." The great Lester Flatt had passed just the summer before this first festival at the Amelia Family Campground. The late Claude Warden (His son Claude Jr., better known to all as Junior Warden plays Bass and sings all the parts with the band Borrowed Time) was still presenting his Bluegrass festival over at Tom Scott Recreational Park in Amelia. Bands featured at Claude's April festival included; Lost & Found, Mail Pouch, McPeak Brothers, Friendly Henry & The Roots of Bluegrass, C. W. & The Bluegrass Sound, Bluegrass Ramblers and Stars & Bars. Bluegrass in Virginia was alive and well in Amelia, Virginia. Now, 30 years later it still is at the "Central Virginia Family Bluegrass Music Festival."
Back in 1980 The Heights of Grass were one of the hottest bands on the east coast (Members of the band at the time of this recording were; Don Grubb, Richard Ward, Mark Newton, Sonny Mead, Ron Rush, Vernon Hughes & Billy Lux) and their brand new album, "Louisiana Saturday Night" debuted. "Bluegrass Unlimited" gave it a less than excited review (Tough reviews were very common back in those days.), but that didn't deter the many fans of The Heights of Grass. Oh yeah, back in 1980 there were no such things as CDs. The state of the art was the vinyl Long Playing Record called LP's. They were 12" in diameter and were played on stereophonic phonographs. Cars had 8-Track players and cassette players which were beginning to take over from the 8-Track. I'm beginning to feel old, so I'm gonna stop talking about 30 years ago and start telling you about the upcoming "Amelia Festival" (That's what we like to call it!).
John & Ferne are always traveling around the country and they hear new bands and when they like a band and think we'll like them to too, then they book them at Amelia. The first band up in Amelia is Easy Street. Easy Street is from the tidewater area of Virginia and from the music on their web site they are quite good. Next up on Thursday is Some Assembly Required. Formed by Leo Szydlowski and Lynn Stephens, Some Assembly Required has been performing their eclectic style of Bluegrass and Folk music around central Virginia since early 2007. They have a new CD out this past spring. See my review by clicking here. Next up is another band that is new to me. It is called Allegheny Blue. Next up is one of Virginia's most beloved bands, Lost & Found. It was feared after the tragic loss of their founding Mandolin player, Dempsey Young, they might not continue. We are grateful the band was able to surpass great tragedy and continue. For more on the history of Lost & Found click here. The next band up is another from Virginia's tidewater area. They are Solid Rock, a primarily Bluegrass Gospel band. Solid Rock has been entertaining at the Amelia festival for the last few years. Now, if your were ever a fan of the music of Jimmy Martin or followed the music of Rhonda Vincent & The Rage throughout the years, then you know all about Audie Blaylock. Audie Blaylock & Redline is a high energy Bluegrass band in the finest tradition of the music. You haven't seen or heard anyone play rhythm guitar until you experienced Audie Blaylock.
I did a Google search on "Dark Holler" (As listed on the Amelia flyer) to make sure I was right about the first band to play on Friday at Amelia. The correct name for the band is Dark Hollow and what a band they are. In their manner of dress and stage presence they epitomize the great traditional bands of the early years of Bluegrass. Dark Hollow keeps alive the older music and believe me you ain't heard nothin' until you hear them do the old Stanley Brothers attempt a Rock 'N Roll with their version of "Finger Poppin' Time!" Next up on Friday is a band from the Raleigh, NC area called Constant Change. They have been performing at the Amelia festival for many years now. Why? Simply because they are good! Hailing from Reedsville, PA, Remington Ryde is up next. Now, I suppose you all know by now that I'm particularly interested in the Banjo. That being said, one of the finest Banjo players I have ever had the privilege of meeting and listening to, Billy Lee Cox, is a member of this group. So if you're a Banjo nut like me, you've got to hear Remington Ryde. Next up is the group, Hager's Mountain Boys from Roxboro, NC. These fellows play true Bluegrass with strong instrumentation and even stronger mountain harmonies. Be sure to catch their show. If you are as old as I am (somewhat over 30!) you will have most likely cut your Bluegrass teeth on the music of The Stanley Brothers. Well, the next performer is was too young to have heard the Stanley's live ,but he sure has listened to their recordings. Kody Norris & The Watuga Mountain Boys play Bluegrass the way the Stanley's did it. Why, Kody is Ralph & Carter all wrapped into one package. He is an amazing Bluegrass artist and deserves your close attention. Wrapping up the day on Friday is the half-breed entertainment of The Goldwing Express. Now, before you get all huffy and upset with me for using the term half-breed, you will only have to see one very entertaining show by Goldwing Express to know why I use the term.
Since the "Central Virginia Family Bluegrass Music Festival" ceased having Sunday shows many years ago they have always had a Bluegrass Gospel show on Saturday mornings. Mark Templeton & Pocket Change get things started followed by the Bluegrass Brothers with both bands doing only Gospel material. Thirteen year old Fiddle phenomenon Samantha Casey is up next. Joined by her father and few friends Samantha really shows us her talents. Up next is another great band from the tidewater area, Poquoson to be exact, Code Blue. While looking at their web site I was pleased to find a baby photo of the leader of Code Blue, Bud Finch. I've included it here:
Jonathan Dillon is up next. Starting as a hotshot kid Banjo player, Jonathan has grown into a fine multi-instrumentalist and singer and will carry Bluegrass far into the 21st century. Mark Templeton & Pocket Change and The Bluegrass Brothers will each do two regular sets of Bluegrass on Saturday in addition the their morning Gospel sets. The closing act on Saturday is Dr. Ralph Stanley. What can I say that hasn't been said about this icon of Bluegrass and folk music. Be aware there will be only this one performance by Ralph at 9PM, so if you're a fan of Dr. Ralph don't miss it.
This article has ran way too long ,but I would be remiss if I didn't mention there will be food concessions and other things of interest to Bluegrass fans and their families. Join me at the 60th "Central Virginia Family Bluegrass Music Festival." (Whew!).