While there are plenty of great bands performing for the audience, HoustonFest prominently features the accomplishments of young artists, many of whom have, in the past three years, received financial support for lessons, workshops, programs, and instruments from funds raised by the festival. The music they produce ranges from old-time string band through traditional bluegrass to the farthest edges of bluegrass descendents. One band we heard covered Rocky Top to Munford & Sons. We heard a young band take on Bela Fleck. The range is wide, the ability is huge, the kids are nice and fun. Here's a look at the two day event:
The Mountain Park Old kicked off Friday in the mid-afternoon, as befits a two day festival featuring a host of volunteers and attendees, many of whom are employed, giving massive amounts of time in addition to the event. Oldtime and bluegrass lie in comfortable co-existence at HoustonFest, early signalling the new attendee that this festival grows from people's love of and acceptance and respect for a range of genres and approaches to them.
Zach Gilpin & Nick Keane
Featured on all stages throughout the two day event were lots of youth bands, many of who had been introduced to bluegrass through programs in the schools sponsored or encouraged by the JAM (Junior Appalachian Musicians). For more information about JAM and its affiliates, look here.
One of the most popular Oldtime bands in southwester Virginia, the White Top Mountain Band is in demand throughout the region and known world wide.
A small trailer on the grounds contains a collection of Houston Caldwell memorabilia, including the last letter he wrote his parents and a letter he wrote to Mr. Wilson, the Captain of the fire company. In the trailer are displays of Houston's ribbons from banjo and band contests, photos from his basic training, and much more.
No hint of pathos or morbidity attaches to this affectionate and revealing display. Rather, a thoughtful person will discover a young man who would have accomplished much, who lived life to its fullest, and inspired others to wish to be like him and remember him. That spirit pervades the festival, not only in formal presentations, but in conversations with those around the grounds. We both left the weekend on Saturday night only wishing we had had a chance to know Houston Caldwell directly, too.
The Boxcars, boasting a lineup of multiple award winners Adam Steffey and Ron Stewart, along with strength at every position and has garnered emerging artist and instrumental group of the year at IBMA. Singing from lead singer Keith Garrett and tenor John Bowman is very solid. Their timing is superb while they have become increasingly recognizable for their own sound.
Twenty years of playing together with only the brief absence of Jason Burleson probably says it all. Blue Highway's sound is always distinguishable. They write much of their own material as Tim Stafford, Wayne Taylor, and Shawn Lane are all award winning song writers. IBMA awards in seven different categories including fourteen times Dobro player of the year to Rob Ickes testifies to their versatility and staying power. Blue Highway is simply a great band!