Monday, August 14, 2017

Dumplin Valley Bluegrass Festival - Preview

Located just off Exit 407 along I-40 in Kodak, TN, Dumplin Valley Farm RV Park, home of the Dumplin Valley Bluegrass Festival sits between Nashville to the west and the home of bluegrass music, Appalachia, to the east. It sits in what is, perhaps, the most convenient location in the country for touring bands to get to. The Dumplin Valley Bluegrass Festival, which runs from September 14 - 16, is spread out under its signature three silos beside a re-purposed milking parlor that has become a sloped stage area seating 650 as well as an overflow tent. This year's lineup features five bands that have never been to Dumplin Valley before as well as some old favorites. There are also some new food vendors, including new managers of the fixed kitchen beside the pavilion.  

The Lineup

New Bands to Dumplin Valley

This year Dumplin Valley offers an unprecedented six bands never before seen at this festival. For people who have never seen any of these bands, there will be some pleasant surprises. For those familiar with them from other venues, you'll glad to see them here. 

Dry Branch Fire Squad

Ron Thomason is widely recognized for his humorous monologues and his connection to traditional bluegrass and gospel music. Beginning his long career with a stint with The Stanley Brothers, his band Dry Branch Fire Squad has been traveling the roads for over forty years. You won't want to miss them. 

Ron Thomason

Billy Droze

Billy Droze, with a new CD fresh off the presses, splits the difference between classic country and bluegrass with an ear and feel for both. He presents his material with genuine emotion and a good feel for the traditions of the music he sings. 

Malpass Brothers

I'm not generally a gret fan of tribute bands, but the Malpass Brothers, with their eerily on target impressions of classic country stars like Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard (for whom they opened for several years), Hank Williams and others, have found a home at bluegrass festivals for the country music they play and sing so well. I've long believed that many bluegrass fans chose bluegrass as the closest substitute for the country music they loved so well thirty years ago. This band fills the bill in spades. 

Country Current: The U.S. Navy Blugrass Band

If you've never seen the U.S. Navy's bluegrass band, you're in for a treat. Filled with bluegrass standards, songs written by members of the band plus retired band-master Wayne Taylor, and the most rousing presentation of the service hymns you've ever heard, this band is fast-paced and fun, as well as providing other bands who celebrate the services with a model for  how it's supposed to be done. 


Flashback is composed of members who played with J.D. Crowe and the New South during that band's long and distinguished career. Stuart Wyrick, on banjo, doesn't pretend to be Crowe, and does a fine job on the signature instrument. 

 Po' Ramblin Boys

Founded just three years ago and veterans of two European tours as well as scheduled as a 2017 showcase band at IBMA just two weeks after Dumplin' Valley, the Po' Ramblin' Boys bring early an early bluegrass style featuring C.J. Lewandowski's (Carl Shifflet and James King's bands) Monroe Style mandolin play and Jerome Brown's Stanley style banjo to life again. Without seeking to imitate any particular early bluegrass band, they recreate the sound, look, and feel of the first generation bluegrass bands so many bluegrass fans like to hear. Such music belongs as a component of any well designed bluegrass festival seeking to provide the range of music bluegrass is capable of producing. I look forward to hearing them for the first time. The Po' Ramblin Boys are nominated for a Momentum award at IBMA this year. 

The Rest:
The Gibson Brothers - Leigh & Mike Barber

The Gibson Brothers, nominated for seven IBMA awards (including both of them for Male Vocalist of the Year, Best Album and Entertainer of the Year) are simply at the top of their game.  Their latest CD, In the Ground, containing twelve new songs written by the two brothers,  continues to lead or chart high. But what sets this duo apart from other bands is not only the excellence of their songs and singing, but the humor, warmth, and sometimes biting sharp wit of their between-the-songs patter. Jesse Brock, too, is nominated for an award as mandolin player of the year. This band always give the audience the complete package!


Rhonda Vincent & the Rage

Rhonda Vincent is a regular at Dummplin Valley. She brings her first rate show band composed containing standouts on every instrument. Rhonda's daughter Sally has joined her on stage to contribute harmonies and solid rhythm guitar. Brent Burke has become a standout on Dobro and is beginning to sing, too. One look at Rhonda's tour schedule tells you both how popular and how busy she and her band are.

Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice

Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice has come into its own as a band. They've been together for two or three years without a change in personnel. Jason Davis has been a standout on banjo with Ramblers Choice since 2010, and is the longest standing member of the band. Junior has been long recognized as a leading traditional tenor singer, one of the best in bluegrass. His renditions of Stanley Brothers songs are widely appreciated. Contemporary writers of traditional style music also like to contribute to his catalog, and have written several "gotcha" songs that Junior sings with gusto. When not on the road, Junior can often be found in the woods and fields around his Virginia home where he loves adding meat tot he freezer. 

Jimbo Whaley

Jimbo Whaley toured nationally with Pine Mountain Railroad for about ten years before returning to the Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville area to spend more time with his family and go into business. 

Flatt Lonesome
Charli Robertson

 Flatt Lonesome has risen on its tight family harmonies, energy, and youth. We think we might have seen their first festival appearance at Newell Lodge in South Georgia about six years ago, when they were a bunch of enthusiastic kids from Callahan, FL singing mostly gospel songs. They've come a long way since then, worked hard, and continued to create new ways to express their faith, sing classic bluegrass, and combine it with old time country. 

Kelsi Robertson Harrigill

Paul Williams & The Victory Trio

It's always a treat to see Paul Williams take a rest from his retirement to perform at Dumplin Valley and a few other venues, either with Doyle Lawson as "Old Friends," or with his own band The Victory Trio. A veteran of bands back to Jimmy Martin & the Sunny Mountain Boys over fifty years ago, Paul made a commitment to singing only gospel music with his own band years ago. His pure tenor voice remains undiminished even as he continues into his eighties. Make sure to see, hear, and appreciate this bluegrass treasure. 

David Davis

David Davis, from Alabama, is a fine practitioner of Monroe style mandolin, as well as Civil War songs and other material. We haven't seen him in several years. I particularly look forward to hearing his rendition of Chancellorsville, a heart rending song about the accidental shooting of Stonewall Jackson. 

Volume Five

Volume V from Mississippi has been a hard working band for several years under the capable leadership of Glenn Harrell. It's gratifying to see them earn a nod from the IBMA professional membership with a nomination for Emerging Band of the Year in 2017. They play a pleasing blend of traditional bluegrass tunes, gospel music, and newer songs chosen from a range of contemporary song writers. 

Lonesome River Band

Some bands are so popular and recognizable, they need only to be mentioned by their initials rather than by their whole name. LRB leads the list of such bands in bluegrass. Sammy Shelor has been named IBMA Banjo Player of the Year as well as having been the second winner of the prestigious and rewarding ($50,000) Steve Martin Prize Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. Lead singer and frequent contributor of his own fine songs Brandon Rickman has received to little recognition for his work. 

Brandon Rickman

This years lineup at Dumplin Valley presents a very satisfying set of fifteen bands from familiar old favorites to bands this audience may not have heard before that will now be added to their favorites. 

The Details

Dumplin Valley Bluegrass Festival is a first-rate medium sized festival conveniently located just north of I-40 in East Tennessee. Its strong lineup and friendly reputation draw visitors from abroad as well as from many states. It has a limited  number of electric/water or full hook-up sites, but lots of un-reserved rough camping. Check with promoter Mitzi Soward to see if any sites open, but know that you can usually find a space to camp. There are bathing and flush toilet facilities available. 

Camping and Other Accomodations: Currently there is a waiting list for sites. Call to reserve a site or see if one has opened up: 885-397-7942. Dumplin Valley is located just north of the Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg tourism region servicing the Great Smoky National Park. There are a number of nearby campgrounds and motels available within a few minutes drive of exit 407. If you can't get a camping spot at Dumplin Valley or would prefer to attend while staying off site, you have plenty of opportunities. 

Tickets: Prices at the Gate are $90 for  three days, $65 for a two day ticket, and $35 each for single day tickets. Day tickets bought in advance save $10. Call the number above for further information or to purchase tickets. 

Vendors: Several food vendors offer a variety of food choices. This year will feature a new operation in the permanent kitchen facility beside the pavilion. There are also craft vendors and, often, an instrument and gear vendor, too. Mitzi has written me that there are a broader range of choices available from vendors this year. 

Jamming: This is a very jam friendly festival, with jams of a huge variety of quality available and, largely, open to new members. Johnny Adams and his sidekick Lamar Moss traditionally lead a jam in the pavilion for early arrivals, which then continues in the shade of the iconic silos, which dominate the site. This enjoyable jam welcomes people of all abilities. Shows end early to accommodate jamming around the camp ground each night.

Johnny Adams' Jam 


...and Night

How to Get to Dumplin Valley Bluegrass Festival
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For many people, Dumplin Valley has become a "don't miss" festival, well-known for both its strong selection of bands, plenty of jamming activity, and welcoming atmosphere accompanied by the usually moderate weather of early Fall in East Tennessee. We always look forward to this one. 

Mitzi & Joe Soward - Festival Promoters and Hosts

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