Friday, March 9, 2012

RenoFest - Hartsville, SC - March 23 - 25 - Preview

Hartsville, located in South Carolina's Piedmont region near the NASCAR track in Darlington, claims the late, great banjo innovator and singer Don Reno as a native son. Reno, a contemporary of Earl Scruggs, turned down a chance to become one of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys during World War II and thus may have changed the course of bluegrass history, leaving a spot open for Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt to join Monroe's band a few years later. Reno created his own idiosyncratic banjo style, known as single string style, and was well known as both an instrumental virtuoso and a fine singer. He toured and recorded with Red Smiley, and later with his sons Don Wayne and Ronnie Reno. He died, too early, in 1984. Ronnie Reno has established himself as one of the premier entrepreneurs in bluegrass, where he hosts Reno's Old-Time Music on RFD-TV. He is also a principle in Blue Highways TV, an independent cable TV channel carried on many cable channels, mostly in rural parts of the country, as well as independently on satellite TV.  Ronnie Reno and the Reno Tradition is the host band for RenoFest.

The Central Theater

Held annually in the Center Theater in downtown Hartsville, SC, RenoFest offers first rate national bands, but is perhaps best known for its band and instrument contests, which begin on Friday and dominate the event.  Knowledgeable fans and festival producers can identify bands and stellar musicians at the well run and carefully judged contests. The band contest is judged by bluegrass professionals based on clear and well-defined criteria, while the guitar and banjo contests are judged blind, allowing no preconceptions or prior knowledge to interfere with the judges' evaluations. Recent instrumental winners have been Zeb Snyder, Carl Miner, Steve Lewis and Seth Taylor on guitar and Cory Clark, Steve Lewis, and Seth Taylor on banjo. The band contest, added to the event more recently has been won by Carolina Blue, which will perform at RenoFest this year, Lonesome Meadow (from Ohio), and The Hagar's Mountain Boys. In other words, be prepared to hear some rip-roaring bluegrass music played by some people who you'll be able to say, "I saw that one play when no-one even knew his name."  

Zeb Snyder (2011 Guitar Winner)

Cory Clark Receives Prize Banjo
from Ronnie Reno

Carolina Blue (2011 Band Winner)

 Under the leadership of Hartsville City Attorney Marty Driggers, Chamber of Commerce Executive Judi Elvington, and brothers Russ and Rob Jordan, RenoFest has carved out a special niche for itself since its inception in 1998.   The festivities begin early Friday afternoon with performances by the five bands selected for the band contest based on criteria that can be found here. The winner of the band contest, selected on Saturday, wins a $1500 cash award and a booking at the next year's RenoFest. The winner of the guitar contest receives an Anderson Guitar while the banjo winner is awarded a Bales banjo. Runners up receive cash awards. 

- Performance Schedule for RenoFest 2012 -

  • 1:30 PM "SC Championship Band Contest" - Center Theater
  • 6-9 PM "Downtown Hoedown, BBQ Sale, and Free Concert" - Burry Park
  • 9 PM Until "Honky Tonk Hartsville" Various Locations

(All Events @ Center Theater)
  • 10:30 AM "SC Championship Guitar & Banjo" Competition
  • 1:00 PM "Bluegrass Concert" with Featured Performers
  • 6:30 PM "Bluegrass Concert" with Featured Perfomers


  • 10:30 AM Bluegrass Gospel Sing @
    Wesley United Methodist
    Downtown Hartsville
Friday Evening Community Barbecue

 School String Band

Featured Performers
Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out

Simply one of the best bands touring in bluegrass today. Russell Moore is four time winner of IBMA's Male Vocalist of the Year while the band has won more awards than can be counted. Musically wonderful and consistently entertaining. IIIrd Tyme Out alone is worth the price of admission.
 Steve Dilling

 Russell Moore

Ronnie Reno & the Reno Tradition

 Mike Scott

Wayne Henderson & Gerald Anderson

 Big Country Bluegrass has been getting significant air play on Sirius/XM satellite radio and widening their performing schedule.  The band has recently undergone some significant personnel changes, so no current photograph of them is available, but they can be counted on for solid, traditional bluegrass music. Carolina Blue, last year's contest winner, will also be featured.

The Central Theater is a refurbished movie theater with comfortable seats and excellent sound qualities. There's plenty of room for jamming, both upstairs and in the museum across an alley from the theater.  The Friday evening barbecue is a delightful outdoor community event more than a little dependent on the weather at this first festival of Spring.   Nevertheless, last year there was a good turnout on a clear, chilly evening.  The weekend ends with a gospel service at the Wesley United Methodist Church.  Marty Driggers and the others associated with putting on this event have done a terrific job of creating a niche event with a distinctive outreach and character.  We attended RenoFest for the first time last year, and now look forward to it as a staple on our schedule.  

Marty Driggers

 You can get further information about tickets to RenoFest here. There are plenty of accommodations available in and around Hartsville with after hours jamming at the Fairfield Inn. We're staying at Lee State Park, a few miles from Hartsville, but a pretty, pleasant state campground.

How to Get to RenoFest

RenoFest offers bluegrass afficianados a pleasant weekend at a time of year when it's still a little too early to get outside. Hartsville is pretty, bustling small town worth visiting for a musical weekend.