During the 1940’s, country music musicians toured the southeast in tent shows which were much like circuses, medicine shows, and tent revival meetings that inspired them.
The Lewis Family, styled as the “first family of bluegrass gospel” dominates this festival as its leader, Little Roy Lewis, dominates the family. Roy Lewis, 63, is the youngest sibling of the Lewis Family, which has toured churches and festivals and appeared on television and radio for over fifty years. Roy Lewis is perhaps five foot three inches tall, doughy red faced, with graying blond hair. He is a constant whirlwind of energy on stage and on the festival grounds where he greets friends and strangers, tells stories, helps vendors sell their wares, and never stops moving. On stage he transitions seamlessly from singing the family’s characteristic up-beat gospel music to baggy-pants clowning. At least once a session, he dons an outrageous costume, often in drag, and becomes a part of some other band’s act, convulsing members of the band as well as the audience. He is a consummate showman and clown.
The Lewis Family Festival is promoted by Norman Adams and Tony Anderson, who organize seven bluegrass festivals from
This festival, as one might expect, featured a high proportion of gospel music. Wednesday evening, before the festival began, offered a Community Southern Gospel Night sponsored by the Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce. The music was not bluegrass and featured local church groups singing to recorded backgrounds with enthusiasm and a range of skill and musicality. During the festival itself, the Lewis Family played and sang an afternoon and evening set on each of the three days. This must have been exhausting for the three sisters, who are aging and not in good health. There was also a featured gospel group on each day. With the exception of
Honi Deaton and Dream have strengthened their program and group since we saw them at
Friday offered so much good music it was difficult to take it all in. Lorraine Jordan and the Carolina Road Band have found their groove and have continued to improve since the addition of Jerry Butler to the group as lead singer. By taking on some of the emcee role and bringing an element of humor to the group,
Since the Gary Waldrep Band was also at the Lewis Family Festival, we had the pleasure to see two versions of the Daughters play. Mindy Rakestraw and Jane Baxter, regular members of Waldrep’s band also appear on the Daughters album. In his typically generous fashion, Waldrep invited
Mac Wiseman has not traveled with a band for years. He appears at an event, assembles his band from those available, and takes to the stage to present his program of songs both new and old, reminiscences of the early days of bluegrass, and jokes that evoke a rare response from this somewhat stodgy and tired audience. With Little Roy Lewis as his banjo player, Lizzie Long on fiddle, and 2005 IBMA Dobro player of the year
Grasstowne rounded out this fine day of music. When Steve Gulley left Mountain Heart,
Saturday could not help but be a letdown from the previous day. The weather had turned cool and rainy, putting something of a damper on the day, too. Heaven’s Echoes, a gospel band, managed to sing a song so offensive to American values of tolerance and acceptance that even this Christian and patriotic audience only gave them a lukewarm response. Carl Shifflet and the Big Country Show continued the tone of hearkening back to the bluegrass past. Shifflet, looking something like a tired bloodhound, spends a good deal of his time mugging at the audience while he stands on one foot with his other leg waggling in the breeze. His solid band provides good support for a range of recognizable tunes. Jimmy C. Newman & Cajun Country offered a change of pace with their chink-a-chank Cajun sound, but Newman relied more on his Grand Ol’ Opry reputation than on rehearsal and polish. He ended up trying to remember the words and having difficulty deciding what song to sing next.
Saturday offered two musical highlights. LeRoy Troy gave his one man show.
The Cherryholmes Family is always a crowd pleaser. While only having been on the bluegrass scene for four years, this energetic family band has achieved top honors in IBMA, performs regularly on Grand Ol’ Opry, and tours ceaselessly. Father Jere Cherryholmes has taken some of the edge off his presentation and daughter Cia continues to improve on an already very good performance in her singing and playing. Recently she appears happier and more relaxed on the stage. The Cherryholmes keep the music coming at the audience and have added new material as their newest album is about to hit the stands and has had extensive air play on XM radio.
The Lewis Family Festival presented just what its audience wanted. That being the case, it seems odd that the audience required so much work from the performers for so little response. Perhaps this is because as the audience ages, it just doesn’t have the energy to give back to the entertainers. If a newer, younger audience is to be attracted to this music and to keep it vital, promoters like
Earl and Lizzie Long