Monday, April 7, 2014

Willow Oak Bluegrass Festiva; Roxboro, NC - Preview

The Willow Oak Bluegrass Festival will run from 24 - 26 at Willow Oak Music Park near Roxboro, NC. Convenient to the Raleigh-Durham region as well as Southwestern Virginia, this festival, set in a well-designed and maintained music park built around a scenic small lake, has re-emerged as one of North Carolina's fine, small but excellent bluegrass festivals. Mike Wilson, promoter and former member of the Graves Mountain Boys, has done an excellent job of restoring the festival's reputation and continually improving the grounds. Vendors are situated behind the stage on an elevated plateau, providing a good variety and quality of foods. The lineup is strong, and has been improved each year since we returned after several years absence. If you're not a MerleFest kind of person and want to enjoy some very good bluegrass, Willow Oak represents an excellent choice.

The Lineup

Lawson Creek

This Virginia-based bluegrass band has an almost non-existent internet profile, so it's nearly impossible for me to say much of anything about them.

Melvin Goins

Melvin Goins is a Willow Oak regular. He's a bluegrass old-timer who brings his still-good singing and well-regarded songs to a willing audience. He is supported by a strong band.

Constant Change

Constant Change is a strong regional band with many players well-known to this audience and others across North Carolina. It has a deep lineage in bluegrass with a number of players familiar to North Carolina audiences. They're a very reliable band.

Balsam Range

 Coming out of the westernmost and one of the most rural counties in North Carolina, Balsam Range, based in Hayward County, has risen rapidly as one of the best and most popular national bands touring today. From their second CD on, Balsam Range has impressed with its drive and the creativity of its excellent song writing. If you haven't heard this fine band yet, Willow Oak is a good place to begin your experience with them.

Caleb Smith

Country Gentlemen Tribute Band

The Country Gentlemen Tribute band, fronted by former Country Gentlemen bass player Bill Yates, this with singing eerily similar the Charlie Waller's coming from Mike Phipps, this band seeks to emulate this important second generation bluegtrass band.

Mike Phipps

Bluegrass Brothers

The Bluegrass Brothers, with two of their original family members restored to the band, are a fan favorite with their high energy delivery. They also keep alive the legend that a band can seamlessly move from parking lot to festival stage. They cover mostly second and third generation bluegrass bands.

Victor Dowdy

Adkins & Laudermilk
Dave Adkins

We're eager to see what Dave Adkins and Edgar Loudermilk have put together since forming as a band at the end of 2013. Adkins has a bluesy, rocky bluegrass voice and performs with huge vigor and enthusiasm. Edgar Loudermilk is a seasoned performer, having spent the past seven years with IIIrd Tyme Out. The combination promises to be interesting, and first impressions from the chatter, are positive.

Edgar Loudermilk


With the addition of Shannon Slaughter, a seasoned, mature performer, to his band Grasstowne, Alan Bibey may have achieved the formula that will really click. Bibey, whose precision and versatility on one of the two signature instruments of bluegrass has been well-recognized for a generation, now fronts a band with the potential to become and remain a strong team of excellent individuals. 
 Alan Bibey

Darrell Webb Band

Darrell Webb has moved from being a young tyro to a top veteran before our eyes. While performing widely as a top fill-in with some of the best bands around for the last several years, his own band has continued to develop and mature as they seek a signature sound to propel the into the top ranks of touring bands. Webb is well known and admired as both a multi-instrumentalist and a singer. 

Darrell Webb


Sideline began a couple of years ago as just that, a side project appearing locally at small venues around the Burlington/Raleigh/Cary area. Just a fun project for a group of musicians with full time positions in national bands. But with changes in priorities and surprisingly strong responses from audiences as well  as the release of a CD, the band is emerging as a force in itself. So far they're a very good cover band of bluegrass classics. It remains to be seen if they seek to develop their own unique band sound and to write or select original music reflecting or helping to define that sound. One can only wish them well. Meanwhile, Sideline is an enjoyable and energetic band of real pros.

 Steve Dilling

Jr. Sisk & Rambler's Choice

 Photo by Alane Anno

With his 2014 IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year award, Junior Sisk has been properly recognized for what many already knew. He's one of the very best traditional singers in bluegrass music. Sisk has fashioned a band of like mind which supports his work completely. He not only sings great music from the first generation of bluegrass, with an emphasis on Stanley Brother's, he has found contemporary songs with an old sound that fit perfectly into his work. Sit back and enjoy!
Junior Sisk

James King Band

The Bluegrass Story Teller continues to tour and excel at his unique brand of delivering the best in traditional music along with story songs, both older and more contemporary, that rip at your heart. He's recently had a couple of band changes that have strengthened his core group, although it remains difficult to keep musicians on board with the hard touring required by King's schedule. He remains one of the living greats, with still plenty of time to add to his already legendary career.

James King

Malpass Brothers

 The Malpass Brothers function as a welcome novelty act at a bluegrass festival, bringing accurate and enjoyable impressions of great country stars from the fifties through the eighties to the bluegrass stage, accompanied by a full scale country band, including drums. Their show is welcomed by most fans at bluegrass festivals, many of whom were country fans before they discovered bluegrass. Recently, they've been opening for Merle Haggard.

Taylor & Chris Malpass

Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out

We're eager to hear Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out in its new configuration, about which we've heard nothing but good things. The addition of Blake Johnson on bass and harmony vocals and Keith McKinnon on banjo has provided an opportunity for this storied band, one of the most recognized bands of the last two decades, to re-energize itself in develop new sounds based on Johnson's unique, blues-style vocals and their blend with Russell Moore, five time IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year, and no mean guitar player, also.

Russell Moore

 The Details

Willow Oak Music Park is located a few miles west of Roxboro, NC in a very rural setting. The camping facility provides electric hookups ($20 per day or $100 for the entire week) and there are water standpipes available, but not hookups at the sites. Rough camping is free as is parking in the day parking area.  A hot shower facility has been added, but it's a bit of a walk. Further information on camping at Willow Oak may be found here. Ticket information can be found here. For people who don't camp, there are facilities in Roxboro, some of which have festival specials. Promoter Mike Wilson, who is an old bluegrass guy, having toured as a member of the Bass Mountain Boys for several years, knows how to put on a festival. The behavior standards are high, yet there's plenty of room to provide fun for all. In the campground there's an ongoing cornhole tournament, plenty of jamming, and a party atmosphere. 

How to Get to Willow Oak Park
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Willow Oak has become one of our favorite moderate sized festivals to attend. It has grown in recent years because of professional, consistent management and strong programming. We look forward to attending this year, again. Please say hello to us, if you're there.

Mike Harris - Promoter