Thursday, August 18, 2016

Dumplin Valley Bluegrass Festival - September 15 - 17, 2016: Preview

Dumplin Valley Farm - Before It All Begins

The Dumplin Valley Bluegrass Festival will run from September 15th through the 17th this year featuring perhaps the strongest and most varied lineup its had since we first attended several years ago. Promoters Joe and Mitzi Soward have carefully and thoughtfully built their lineup and developed their venue to accommodate more campers and additional day trippers, thus building their audience. This festival always feels like a family reunion while welcoming new people, from an increasingly wide geographic range, with open arms. It's a festival with lots of jamming and (usually) well-controlled partying. An additional virtue is its setting on a rural farm within close proximity to a Bass Pro Shop, a wonderful discount mall with outlets for Coleman, Lodge, and more. The Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Gattlinburg tourism area is conveniently nearby, yet far enough away to preserve the remote quiet of the festival itself. That's why we get there as early as we can and stay at the Dumplin Valley Campground, which is very convenient to exit 407 of I-40, when we're in the area.
Satellite View of Dumplin Valley Farm

The Lineup
Gibson Brothers

The Gibson Brothers have emerged in recent years as the most personable and entertaining show on the bluegrass circuit. Their songwriting has been widely recognized. Nobody surpasses their inter-song banter and playfulness, The mixture of contemporary sensibility with deep allegiance to bluegrass and country roots is right in the pocket of most bluegrass fans. Their nomination for 2016 IBMA Entertainer of the Year, despite the fact they haven't released a new CD in over a year, attests to the their quality, taste, and winning manner. 
Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time

Cord is a song writer of rare power, mixing acute character studies, story telling, and social commentary into his writing. His song Murder on Music Row has become an anthem for people decrying the decline of classic country (they prefer "real"), while an early country song of his, The Highway 40 Blues, became a Billboard #1 hit for Ricky Skaggs. It has become an iconic road anthem. In performance he sings from his long and deep catalog backed by a very good band of pickers who've been with him for years. 

Mark Kuykendall, Bobby Hicks & Ashville Bluegrass
Photo: Tim Barnwell
Mark Kuykendall is a bluegrass musician who played with Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin and others before retiring to cultivate his business and raise a family. Bobby Hicks is an iconic fiddler who played with Bill Monroe, The Bluegrass Album Band, and for over twenty years with Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder. They've combined to make a CD called Down Memory Lane featuring traditional bluegrass music. I expect a rousing good show from these two veteran bluegrassers

Jimbo Whaley & Greenbrier

Jimbo Whaley has returned to Pigeon Forge after a successful touring life with the well-known national band Pine Mountain Railroad. He now performs locally and continues to write inspiring and heart warming songs. His Kings of Orback is guaranteed to draw tears from anyone subject to even a whiff of nostalgia. I'd never heard Jimbo before coming to Dumplin Valley for the first time. I've become a fan and only wish he toured so I could get more of a chance to see and hear him. His band is filled with strong musicians, each with deep experience except for fiddler Abby Sinders who's too young to have that much experience, but does a fine job.
Trinity River

Trinity River has continued to grow and develop into a fine band, molded by constant touring, hard work, and ambition. The last time we saw them, in the cold wind of Gettysburg last May, tested their professional mettle, and they came through like champs, showing real professionalism in the face of discomfort and wind. 
Sarah Harris

Rhonda Vincent & the Rage

Rhonda Vincent is a regular, popular visitor to the Dumplin Valley stage. Her touring, recording, cruising membership & hosting, and television appearances on RFD-TV have made her a household name in bluegrass. She remains the hardest working bluegrass performer, her success attested to by the many IBMA and SPBGMA awards she has won. Her band has become more of a family enterprise, with daughter Sally Berry joining the cast with her two sons-in-law Hunter Berry and Brent Burke. But make no mistake, this is not an exercise in nepotism, merely quality music. They join Josh Williams, Aaron McDaris and Mickey Harris to form one of the finest groups of musicians in the business. 


When Steve Dilling left IIIrd Tyme Out he was looking for a break from the road. After joining Lorraine Jordan's organization, he looked around for a little side project to allow him to pick with friends and play an occasional gig. There was not shortage of quality pickers in the Raleigh area and Sideline became a reality. Now, only three years later, the band is playing over 100 dates a year, has recently acquired a bus to make travel a bit easier, and Dilling, one of the most accomplished band emcees in the business, finds himself more busy than ever. Brad Hudson has increased the musical color in the band with his Dobro play and singing. Sideline is perhaps the best traditional cover band in the business, lively and fun.

Brad Hudson & Skip Cherryholmes
Flatt Lonesome
Kelsi Robertson Harrigill

Flatt Lonesome returns to Dumplin Valley sporting five IBMA nominations, the winners to be revealed only two weeks after their appearance here. With their lively fusion of bluegrass, country, and gospel music fused with the twins Charli and Buddy along with their older sister Kelsi, the band has captured the imagination of many bluegrass fans. They have a powerhouse team behind them helping pave the way. 

Charli Robertson

Chris Henry & Hardcore Grass

Chris Henry's latest project Chris Henry & HardCore Grass reflects the current direction of the broadly talented musician who's a member of a distinguished bluegrass family. Broadly recognized as both a traditionalist and an innovator, Hard Core Grass brings traditionalism with and edge to it. Look for a couple of exciting sets with this band, and maybe some surprises. 

Steve Gulley & New Pinnacle

The name of Steve Gulley's band suggests new peaks in a long and successful career. Whether he's the lead singer in bands like Mountain Heart or Grasstowne or singing and playing with Dale Ann Bradley, Gulley has been a standout performer, since his days as a member of the cast at Renfro Valley. Now with his own band, Steve Gulley & New Pinnacle, he has released his own album Aim High, and is touring with his new band featuring neo-traditional music with lyricism, variety and drive. The title song, by Mark Simos and Jon Weisberger, is currently heading the Bluegrass Today charts, where it has resided for a couple of weeks. Gulley is, indeed, aiming high with this entry. 

Jamming - The Ongoing Banjo Seminar

Seldom Scene
Lou Reid

Formed as a bluegrass jam in recently retired Ben Eldridge's basement in 1971, each of the members had a full time professional job and wan't interested in touring. Instead, they thought they'd limit themselves to a weekly gig in the local Washington, D.C. area. Thus the name. Forty-five years later, with none of the original members remaining, The Seldom Scene is much more active than they anticipated and retains the signature sound pioneered by the original aggregation. Lead singer Dudley Connell, perhaps the most important male vocalist ever in bluegrass, having taken that role in two legendary bluegrass bands, continues as emcee after over twenty years with the band. Lou Reid is currently the senior member, having sung tenor and played both guitar and then mandolin in two separate stints with The Scene. Rickie Simpkins, after years of touring with the likes of The Tony Rice Unit and Emmy Lou Harris has joined the band on banjo and fiddle, an instrument new to the regular Scene lineup.

Ronnie Simpkins

Rickie Simpkins

John Cowan with Darin & Brooke Aldridge

John Cowan, legendary since his days as lead singer with The New Grass Revival, has combined with the popular and talented duo Darin & Brooke Aldridge for an increasingly wide-spread and long-running tour, while each continues with their own bands. The exciting blend of Cowan's  and Brook's powerful voices with Darin's harmony and virtuoso play on both mandolin and guitar have excited audiences and drawn rave reviews for the past year or so. Don't miss this singular performance by an old hand with lots of gas remaining teaming with fresh, young talent!


The Grascals are back! There's no other way to say it. This is the strongest Grascals lineup in their history, filled with good singers, terrific instrumentals, and a possible range they haven't yet fully explored. There's a positive chemistry on stage with this band that hasn't been there for several years, and John Bryant has brought his fine tenor singing and strong guitar to the band.  Meanwhile, original members Terry Eldredge, Terry Smith and Danny Roberts continue the tradition of loyalty to the Osborne Brothers and Dolly Parton. This band combines tradition with a driving contemporary sound that's hard to beat.

Terry Eldredge

Becky Buller

For years Becky Buller waited in the wings as she honed her skills (musical, compositional, and comical) playing with Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike. She waited until she was ready and then exploded on the scene with the Becky Buller Band. In 2015 she was recognized by IBMA with Recorded Event of the Year for her song Southern Flavor, awarded Songwriter of the Year in the Special Awards, and as Emerging Artist of the Year by the voting membership. This year she's nominated for 2016 Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year, Fiddler of the Year, and Female Vocalist of the Year. Such a response shows that Becky had been busy doing her homework. Her band began to click soon after it emerged, and has now taken serious moves toward joining the top ranks. 

The Trio
Brandon Bostic, Becky Buller, Daniel Hardin
Breaking Grass
Cody Farrar

Breaking Grass is a fine Mississippi-based band writing most of its own material while carefully selecting songs from bluegrass, newgrass, and country roots. Lead singer and primary song writer Cody Farrar has a facial shape that keeps him smiling all the time, setting a tone and look for the entire band, which is solid at all positions. The band is engaging and deserves much wider exposure than it has so far received. A good start would be for promoters to start placing them in positions in the lineup where they would be seen by more people. 
Britt Sheffield

This year's Dumplin Valley offers old favorites and a couple of newer, yet familiar, choices to create a lineup that should keep people listening to every band performing. It's the strongest lineup in the years we been attending this fine early autumn event. 
The Details

Tickets and Pricing: Early bird pricing has ended. Tickets can be ordered by phone at (895) 397-7942. Prices range from $90 for the whole three days down to $55 for a two day ticket or $35 a day. Music runs from (roughly) noon until around 10:00 PM. There's no better entertainment bargain than a bluegrass festival!

Camping: All people who are camping at Dumplin Valley Farm during the festival must purchase a three day ticket. Usually, by the time the festival begins, all full service and electric/water sites are already reserved. However, if you wish to obtain such a site, make your desires known to the Sowards and keep in touch with the. Their phone: (895) 397-7942. There remains plenty of room for rough camping. Since Dumplin Valley Farm has upped its visibility as a commercial campground, you should look at the RV Park web site as well as the Festival site. We like to stay there at other times in addition the festival. Pets are allowed only in the campground and must always be leashed. Other accommodations are readily available in the area. Here's a list of a variety of nearby accommodations 

Activities: Dumplin Valley is the first Fall festival we attend after a busy summer season. There's a sharp change from summer, with cooler (more pleasant) weather, fewer children, and simpler designs. Dumplin Valley features an attendee driven covered dish supper on Wednesday evening with much vying for recognition of good cooking done in camper kitchens. The covered dish is followed by a stage call that, for want of a better name, we'll call Joe and Friends. It's filled with good pickers and lots of fun. 

Jamming in the Pavilion

Dumplin Valley is a very Jam Friendly festival! Johnny Adams and his sidekick Lamar Moss host a daily jam in pavilion before the festival, then move it to the shade by silos during the festival. All are welcome. After hours jams take place all over the campground. People familiar with jam ettiquette will find themselves welcome around the grounds. A variety of Food and Craft vendors is available behind the shade tents. There's a Cracker Barrel on the Dumplin Valley Rd. only three minutes away. 

Johnny Adams & Lamar Moss

Emcee: Freddy Smith

Emcee Freddy Smith, a local radio personality with WDVX radio, serves as emcee and keeps the festival moving along. Good sound is provided by John Holder's Blue Ridge Sound. Hosts/Promoters Joe and Mitzi Soward are always busily in view at this well-run, entertaining, and welcoming festival. If you should happen to attend after reading this preview, please let Joe and Mitzi know.

How to Get to Dumplin Valley
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Joe Soward

Mitzi Soward