Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Willow Oak Music Festival in Roxboro, NC - Review

We first visited Willow Oak Music Park in 2008, finding a site with marvelous potential that had become a shambles due to poor leadership. Since Mike Wilson bought the park and began rebuilding its reputation, Willow Oak has undergone a remarkable transformation. While still a place where people can go to have fun playing both music and corn hole together, it is also now a music park where a lover of listening to the music can do so without being upset by cigarette smoking or raucous behavior. It has become a real pleasure to attend the Willow Oak Bluegrass Festival. The music is mostly traditional, the audience filled with families together for the weekend, the sound good, and the site clean and well-kept. A dance pavilion has been built where people can dance without disrupting site lines. More electric sites have been added to the campground, around the area are small areas planted with azaleas decorated with old farm equipment, and the park has a general feeling of well being and disciplined development.

Melvin Goins & Windy River

Melvin Goins has been performing bluegrass and country music for sixty-two years. He brings plenty of enthusiasm and genuine nostalgia for traditional country and bluegrass music with him. His show is filled with songs that in another's hands would be just old chestnuts, but he keeps them fresh and enjoyable.

 Melvin Goins

 David Bowling

Ken Blanton

Bryan Goins

Jack Hicks

Bob and Ann Cook
Return to their first bluegrass festival in a couple of years

Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road

Lorraine Jordan has built a band that, after some years of regular change, has been stable for several years and provides the kind of solid support that is just what her fan base is looking for.  

 Lorraine Jordan

Josh Goforth

Tommy Long

Ben Greene

John Bradley

Little Roy & Lizzy
Little Roy Lewis

Lizzy Long

The Little Roy & Lizzy show continues its incessant tour. Today Lizzy was sore from a fall and they had a trip to Missouri and Nebraska coming immediately after they finished at Willow Oak. Nevertheless, they produced the high level of energy expected from this dynamo. I'm always captured by their professionalism, joy in performance, and reminiscence of an era now represented by one touring group.

 Nathan Stewart

Al Hoyle

Lisa Hoyle

Little Roy

Lizzy Long


Lou Reid & Carolina
Lou & Christy Heading for Work

Lou Reid & Carolina can be counted on for tuneful bluegrass from Monroe to more contemporary work. His great hit of a few years ago, Time, never ceases to move me.  Skip Cherryholmes will  be joining the group soon as Kevin Richardson leaves to front his own band. Lou's voice and mandolin are the center of this fine, small band, but wife Christy keeps things light and funny while contributing both a strong beat and well-matched harmony. Trevor Watson is always reliable on banjo. It's always a pleasure to see this group.

Lou Reid

Christy Reid

Trevor Watson

Kevin Richardson

Steve Dilling with "My People"

The Corn Hole Tournament: Dilling with Tyler Jackson

Al Batten & the Bluegrass Reunion

Al Batten proudly announced  that this year marks the 41st year of The Bluegrass Reunion.  They don't write music. They don't change what has worked for them all these years. They just play traditional bluegrass music as well as anyone today. So how does Al Batten & the Bluegrass Reunion differ from dozens of other regional and local bluegrass cover bands? They merely exhibit excellence in musicianship, tempo, taste, professionalism, and showmanship. Best known in eastern North Carolina, this band deserves a much wider audience and a presence on satellite radio.  Mike Aldridge's thirteen year old son Nathan played a couple of fine instrumentals in the style of Chubby Wise and distinguished himself. He bears careful watching in the next few years as he continues to develop.

 Mike (Precious) Aldridge, Johnny Ridge, David Turnage

Jimmy Cameron

David Turnage

Mike Aldridge & Johnny Ridge

Johnny Ridge

Nathan Aldridge

Photographer Laura Ridge

The Bluegrass Brothers
Victor Dowdy

The Bluegrass Brothers have proven to their fans that a parking lot pickers band can emerge from the pack and become a reasonably successful touring bluegrass band. Selecting mostly second and third generation songs to cover, they are always energetic.

Cason Ogden

Steven Dowdy

Chris Hart

Robert Dowdy

Emcee Buddy Michaels

Michelle Nixon & Drive

Michelle Nixon has a pleasing voice and personality, and chooses good material to showcase herself. Accompanied by one of the larger bands around, she offers a tuneful show.

Michelle Nixon

 Nick Nixon

Tim Newcomb

Jonathan Dillon

Mike Sharp

 Tracey Burcham

Patrick Robinson

The James King Band

Looking...well, not svelte, but thinner and healthier than he has in years, James King is in good voice and appears happy with the progress he's made despite the tragic loss of his daughter Shelby. He's attacking his songs with strength and picking better than I've ever heard him. His band is the strongest I've ever seen. This weekend Darrell Webb substituted at mandolin, but he will soon be joined by young Chance Leadbetter, who stood in more than capably on one song this weekend. It's heartwarming to see this seasoned trooper back in the pink.
Barry Crabtree

 John Marquess

Darrell Webb

James King

Debbie Wilson - Relaxed At Last

Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice

With a new CD and hit song both rising to the top of the charts and a stable band, Junior Sisk continues to be the best national band playing traditional bluegrass music and music that sounds traditional, but is newly written and bears his own unique persona. Specializing in "get even" songs from the "she done him wrong" school of song writing, he brings humor and wit along with his own humility to the stage with great effect.

Junior Sisk

Chris Davis & Billy Hawks

Junior Sisk & Jason Davis

Jason "Sweet Tater" Tomlin

Drive Tyme

 Willow Oak Bluegrass Festival remains small enough and local enough to have time to give musicians in the early stages of their careers an opportunity to perform in regularly scheduled spots, not merely as unpaid showcase acts. Tyler Jackson is a young banjo student of Steve Dillings's who has shown remarkable progress. He made his professional debut with his band Drive Tyme at Willow Oak on Saturday morning. He still clearly has work to do in showmanship and stage presence as well as on the banjo, but this was a pleasing start, and he will continue to improve as he perseveres. 

Tyler Jackson

Ronald Smith

Gary Barret

David Owen

The Dance Stage

Crabtree Sound
Doug Crabtree

Steve McDonald

Mark Newton & Steve Thomas

Mark Newton and Steve Thomas, two seasoned Nashville performers have a new, star-studded self-titled CD and are supporting it on the road. Thomas is a sought after session musician skilled on fiddle and mandolin. Newton is the co-producer of the Graves Mountain Festival and served for several years as co-producer with Carl Jackson at the IBMA Fan Fest in Nashville.  They featured material from their new CD as well as traditional bluegrass material. Bassist Matt Wallace provided plenty of drive.

 Steve Thomas

Mark Newton

  Matt Wallace

 Old Reb

Linda Dilling & Sheila Maness

The Bass Mountain Boys

 The Bass Mountain Boys were an active touring band during the 1980's and 90's  traveling widely throughout the US. They were a free-wheeling, fun-loving group of men who enjoyed themselves on the road and the stage. Their enthusiasm then and now was infectious. Tales of their exploits best not recounted here, but uproarious over breakfast or around a campfire, suggest a day when a weekend at a bluegrass festival provided quite a different experience than it does today.  This rare reunion show demonstrated beyond any doubt why they were once so popular and suggests strongly that they should consider more such appearances. They dedicated their performance to the late John Maness.

Mike Wilson

Mike Aldridge

Mike Street

Johnny Ridge

Steve Dilling

Johnny Ridge, Mike Street, Mike Wilson

Bob Cook

Bob & Ann Cook

Irene Lehmann

Irene shot a lot of video at Willow Oak which we are slowly putting up on our YouTube Channel. If you subscribe, you will receive emails every time we upload new material. Enjoy!

The Malpass Brothers

The Malpass Brothers are an unusual duo for a bluegrass festival, yet, because the music they play has no other real home, it seems as if a bluegrass festival is where they belong. They sing music from the emerging days of country music (Delmore Brothers and others) through the emergence of country music in the 1940's to its full flowering in the 1950's with Hank Williams and the soaring violins of the late fifties and early sixties. Their newest tunes include a nod to Elvis and Johnny Cash, but deny the country rock they say now masquerades as country music. They are, perhaps, at their best in their impressions of Hank Williams, Marty Robbins, and others. Their look and sound is reminiscent of the days when the line between country and bluegrass was unclear or non-existent. They represent a nice change of pace which promoters of bluegrass festivals might consider while seeking to maintain traditionalism, since classic country is not widely heard these days.
 The Malpass Brothers - Chris & Taylor

 Dad Malpass - Chris

Taylor Malpass

Chris Malpass

IIIrd Tyme Out

With Russell Moore singing better than ever after a period of six weeks when he was ordered not only not to sing, but not to talk, IIIrd Tyme Out sounds and looks terrific. Russell has benefited hugely from his rest, looking revived and sounding wonderful. The band, secure in the knowledge that their award winning singer is back on top of his game, is bringing it in spades. See them when you can!

Russell Moore

 Justen Haynes

Wayne Benson

Edgar Loudermilk

Steve Dilling

The weather at Willow Oak was warm and sunny during the days on Thursday and Friday, sinking into a damp chill in the evenings. As Saturday dawned overcast with rain forecast, some people left early. Those who stayed enjoyed a full day of music with only a few sprinkles late to dampen the day. Problems that once marred it, like smoking, have largely been eliminated, as attendees have learned that Mike Wilson is serious about the few rules there are, while at the same time encouraging them to have a great time.  It was, on the whole, a fine weekend, and we are already planning our schedule to be there next year. This has been an improving and growing festival, one you should consider on your schedule for 2014.