Laurel Lakes Family Campground in Salemburg, NC will present its 6th Annual Fall Bluegrass Festival on the weekend of September 18 – 20. We have never attended any of the events promoted by Nancy Canady at Laurel Lakes Campground, but musicians I’ve talked to say it’s a good venue and well-run. I’ve included several pictures Nancy sent me to give a sense of the environment there. Thursday will feature local and regional bands with a pretty strong contingent of bluegrass gospel bands. Friday will feature Pine Mountain Railroad, The Wells Family, and Randy Waller & the Country Gentlemen, as well as a couple of local bands. Saturday’s lineup is quite strong, with the Lonesome River Band, the Doerfel Family, Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road, and New York regional favorite Remington Ryde.
Laurel Lakes is a full service campground providing water and electric as well as some rather pricey sewer sites. There is a dump station on the premises. Three day tickets are $45.00 at the gate with day prices varying depending on the day. Also offered are premium “Gold Circle” seating at a slight premium. It remains to be seen what the sight lines and general seating offer to decide whether the premium seats are worthwhile. Laurel Lakes is located in south eastern North Carolina near Fayetteville. It is convenient to a huge bluegrass audience.
Pine Mountain Railroad
Like many other bands these days, Pine Mountain Railroad has put lead singer and mandolinist Cody Shuler’s name up front. Their new Gospel CD has been getting plenty of interest. They’ve added a dynamic voice in Jerry Cole, who’s also a pretty good flat picker. They can be relied on for a solid, entertaining performance.
Randy Waller & the Country Gentlemen
Randy Waller suffers from being the heir to one of the great names in bluegrass history. By taking the name Randy Waller & The Country Gentlemen he both acknowledges his heritage and assumes a burden he tries to wear with grace. Waller’s own voice is a terrific instrument, and the band is enjoyable. They play a mix of Country Gentlemen standards and newer material with enthusiasm and strength. At a festival a year or so ago, Randy showed me his copy of Carl Fleischauer and Neil V. Rosenberg’s wonderful book Bluegrass Odyssey, which he had had autographed by every still living musician from the era portrayed in it. Waller’s excitement and enthusiasm for this volume helped me to see him in a new light.
The Doerfel Family
I’ve been suspicious of family bands. I grew especially suspicious when I first saw this band, featuring nine or ten children on stage along with their parents. I particularly didn’t like the idea of enticing kids to perform by waving dollar bills in front of them. The Doerfel Family originated in western New York several years ago, but soon moved to Florida, spending much of their time on the road. Despite almost terminal cuteness, they have consistently improved in their musicality. The parent’s decision to spend almost no time on the stage and consistent improvement among the teenaged members of the band has yielded increasingly impressive results. It’s been about eight months since we’ve seen them perform, and I’m looking forward to see where they’ve gone and how they’ve improved.
Kim, Eddy, Ben, and T.J. Doerfel
Lorraine Jordan & the Carolina Road Band
This Monroe style traditional bluegrass band consistently delivers first rate bluegrass music in an enjoyable and entertaining program with enough breadth to please almost everyone. In recent years Lorraine Jordan has drawn together the best band she has ever had. The addition of Jerry Butler a couple of years ago brought a mellow, country style bluegrass voice and a lightness of humor to the band that was just what it needed. We haven’t seen Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road since John Wade became their bass player, but his previous work with James Kind suggests he brings strong bass playing along with a very fine baritone voice to the mix. Josh Goforth, a multi-instrumental wizard, blends his light tenor and very strong flat picking to the band’s mix. Bennie Greene is always solid on banjo. This band has versatility and strength while never straying far from its traditional bluegrass roots.
The Lonesome River Band
Under the direction of the great Sammy Shelor, The Lonesome River Band delivers consistently high output, high energy, rock tinged bluegrass music that often brings down the house. Shelor, four time winner of IBMA’s banjo player of the year award, is a powerful presence on the stage moving to support each member of his high powered band. How many instrumentalists have been honored by having a style of playing named after them like Shelor has? Brandon Rickman’s song writing and lead singing are first rate, and Andy Ball contributes significantly with voice and his mandolin picking. Mike Anglin is one of the best on electric bass and sings first rate harmony. Mike Hartgrove, recently returned on fiddle, is always strong. LRB can be counted on to provide heart pounding bluegrass music at any venue where they appear.
Remington Ryde, a very good regional band from Pennsylvania will appear on Saturday. Having never seen The Wells Family, I haven’t anything to say about them. Their web site provides some insight into their work where there are several clips you can listen to. Other local or regional bands include Harvest Wind, Carolina Connection, Shades of Grace, and others. Be prepared for lots of Gospel bluegrass.
While there have been significant changes in the lineup from what was published in their flier, this festival still offers several bands worth coming out to hear. Nevertheless, advertised national bands Jr. Sisk and Rambler’s Choice, Special Consensus, and the Circuit Riders no longer appear on the schedule. Carolina Sonshine, an ambitions Gospel and secular band with increasing national visibility and regional band Constant Change were also previously announced but are not appearing. The original lineup remains available on line in the flier announcing this festival. For some thoughts on the importance of an Internet presence to the successful marketing of bluegrass music, see my essay on the web site of the California Bluegrass Association here next Friday. Many festivals reserve the right to change their lineup, but this disclaimer doesn’t appear on the flier, and the changes here are too major to ignore. However, The Sixth Annual Fall Festival at Laurel Lakes Campground promises a strong weekend of first rate bluegrass and should be considered by all bluegrass fans who can get to it. Too many small festivals are losing support to events that feature only headline bands. A good selection of local and regional bands is necessary to continue the growth and popularity of bluegrass as a genre and festivals as a means of presenting the music. This festival deserves continued support.
*Dave Roye Photo used by permission