Monday, August 24, 2015

Dumplin Valley Bluegrass Festival: September 17 - 19, 2015 - Preview

Dumplin Valley Bluegrass Festival is located about half a mile north and 2.5 miles east of Exit 407 of Interstate 40 just north of Sevierville, Tennessee. It is held on a former dairy farm converted to a commercial campground and music park. With the large, comfortable stage located in a slightly sloping former milking parlor, the site provides protection from the weather and good listening, especially with sound provided by John Holder's Blue Ridge Sound. It's one of our favorite festivals, compact, welcoming, comfortable, with plenty of activity and fine bands. People who know it, love it. If you've never been to Dumplin Valley before, why not make this your first trip. The festival will run from September 17 - September 19 this year. Here's the scoop:

Balsam Range 

Balsam Range is the 2014 IBMA Entertainer of the Year and nominated to repeat this in 2015. Coming from western North Carolina, Balsam Range represents a range of personal musical tastes who have come together to develop a sound that rings of both the ancient hills and much newer musical influences that come together to create a pleasing hole. Always a joy to hear.....

Cordle, Jackson & Salley

What happens when three if Nashville's most popular and successful singer/songwriters come together to showcase their talents singing and playing each other's songs, often with songbird Val Storey to add flavor? A magical hour or so of familiar and not so familiar songs, award winning and sometimes provocative, but always moving and interesting. You'll find yourself saying, "Oh, I didn't know he wrote that one!"

Jimbo Whaley & Greenbrier

Jimbo Whaley (pictured here with Dobro player Matt Leadbetter) was a founding member of Pine Mountain Railroad touring widely for several years. Now performing only rarely, and mostly around his home in Pigeon Forge, Jumbo still has an electric personality. His story songs tug the heart as he weaves tales about the hazy, perhaps lost, Eden he grew up in or the courage and perseverance of folks he's known. His band, Greenbrier, is filled with solid music professionals. 

Barefoot Nellie & Co.

Barefoot Nellie & Co. is a Chattanooga-based band that won the Bluegrass Idol contest at Bluegrass on the Plains this year. In the songs we listened to, the adopted a unique take on a familiar song (Aragon Mill) creating an even more haunting air than the song customarily evokes. The contrast of the slow, melodic fiddle behind the past-paced drive of the rest of the band in Lefty Frizzel's bluegrass/country standard "Gone, Gone, Gone" also suggests unique band takes on familiar songs that promises to be interesting. 

Bethel University Bluegrass Band 

The Bethel University Bluegrass Band is a component of the widely recognized Reanaissance Program of this Tennessee sectarian liberal arts college located in McKenzie Tennessee. The bluegrass band is directed by Stephen Mougin, longtime guitarist with the Sam Bush Band who has, during the past few years forged a career in band coaching and mentoring. The band is always a pleasure to see and hear.

Rhonda Vincent & The Rage

Somehow we seem to have gone through an entire summer without having seen Rhonda Vincent & the Rage. We know she's been working, and working hard week in and week out, but, this year, not in the places where we are. This is our loss, as the Queen of Bluegrass always puts on a good show, and her fans come away with a sense they've spent good time with a great performer supported by a group of side men who can'be be beat, nor do they miss a beat. It would be easy to imagine that from Hunter Berry playing fiddle on the left side to Aaron McDaris on banjo holding down the right, Rhonda's band was populated with pickers who each in his own way, is a bluegrass star. Rhonda continues to campaign as hard as ever and to give her best at each satisfying performance.

Josh Williams and Friends

Playing his Todd Sams Tony Rice model D28 replica and possessing on of the finest baritone voices in bluegrass, Josh Williams, who's won three IBMA Guitar Player of the Year awards, performs with a band he's chosen to call Josh Williams and Friends. It's a little difficult to know who's going to be in the band, but I can be pretty certain they'll play satisfying sets of Bluegrass Album Band material that allows Josh to more-than-adequately showcase his Tony Rice style picking. 

The Crowe Brothers

The Crowe Brothers, Josh on guitar and Wayne on bass, come from the relatively isolated and absolutely beautiful Maggie Valley, one of the prime music and tourist destinations of western North Carolina. Their music apologetically cries out "Mountain." Steve Sutton, on banjo, adds much to this very good band which certainly gets less attention than it deserves. Traditional North Carolina mountain bluegrass at its best......

Volume Five

Fiddler, Singer, Songwriter Glenn Harrell has led Volume Five, a Mississippi-based band, since its inception. Nominated for IBMA Emerging Band of the Year this year, the band features well-chosen gospel and secular material that's tuneful and moving. This year and next they are achieving wider national recognition, and should be on the mental maps of all bluegrass fans. Colby Laney has added solid singing (along with his fine flat picking) to a band that has steadily improved.

Becky Buller

After several years of playing with Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike, where she established herself as an able song writer, singer, and comedienne, and a stint with the Darin & Brooke Aldridge Band,  Becky Buller took some time off to begin a family while she further established her song writing credentials and hosted a radio show. Now she has formed her own band, recorded her first solo CD, and embarked on a great adventure. Nominated for seven IBMA awards, Becky Buller is making a huge splash in her first full year as an independent band leader. While the personnel of her band remain uncertain, it's clear that Becky Buller is and will continue to be a force in bluegrass for years to come. Catch her early and watch her explode. 

Lonesome River Band

The Lonesome River Band is never willing to rest on its history of great songs played by lasting figures in bluegrass. After more than thirty years and more members than are easy to count, Sammy Shelor, who joined the band early in its life and has continued as its leader for lo these many years, is never content to rest on his many laurels (five time IBMA Banjo Player of the Year, recipient of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo & Bluegrass and more) insisting on adding new songs, many written by singer/guitarist Brandon Rickman. The recent addition of Jesse Smathers singing tenor and playing mandolin adds a different color to LRB's musical pallette. Barry Reid, on bass, is a wonder, both as the strong beat that helps drive the band, and as an inventive bass soloist. The work of both Smathers and Reid on Merle Haggard's "Shelley's Winter Love," is superb. 

Barry Reid

Breaking Grass

Breaking Grass is breaking through. Founded five or six years ago by lead singer/songwriter Cody Farrar, the band selects its music from a wide variety of eras within the bluegrass catalog while writing original material that is sometimes heart rending and at others comical and fun. The band writes together, creating strong shows. Farrar's outgoing personality and fine singing provides a lilting quality to the band. You'll like this band while wanting to get their recordings and and see them again. 

Rebecca Frazier and Hit & Run

We haven't seen enough of Rebecca Frazier and Hit & Run, but what we've seen has led us to be on the lookout for more. We're glad that she'll be at Dumplin Valley to provide it. Rebecca Frazier is a strong lead singer and standout flat picker. She's surrounded herself with a band designed to support her work while supplying enjoyable music themselves. A look at her tour schedule says that she has enjoyed increasingly widespread national attention recently. Rebecca Frazier and her band deserve more and will surely be getting it. 


We've seen Steve Dilling & Sideline frequently throughout the year as the attractiveness of their well-chosen covers, their fast, tight instrumentation, and good singing combine with Steve Dilling's folksy and famiar emceeing to create real enthusiasm for them as one of the foremost interpreters of traditional covers playing. Choosing most of their material from first and second generation bands, they manage to remain fresh by selecting less well-known songs and delivering them flawlessly. Always a good time.....

Fiddlin' Carson Peters

Carson Peters, at age eleven, shows remarkable poise on stage and off with his strong fiddling, his yet-to-develop voice, and his unselfconscious and smooth emceeing. It's hard not to be impressed with a kid whose experience has already surpassed many of his elders, with appearances in settings like NBC's Tonight Show with Jay Leno and on the floor of the Tennessee State Senate with Jimmy Fortune. He's young and able, and surely deserving watching. 

All told, Dumplin Valley has a fine lineup. But lineup is hardly all there is to this middlin' size, mostly traditional bluegrass festival in East Tennessee, only a few short miles from exit 407 on Interstate 40. Here's the rest:

The Details

Jamming: Plenty of jamming at a number of levels can be found at Dumplin Valley. You can always find Johnny Adams and his moderately paced jam under the pavilion before the festival and out beside the silos every morning of the festival. This jam is always welcoming, a great place for the beginner to wet his or her jamming feet and the somewhat more skilled to continue their progress. Other jams pop up all over the grounds, and you'll be able to find one to your liking at almost any hour.

Potluck Supper: There's no longer a Wednesday evening Pot Luck Supper, but sometimes folks get together to share. Make enough!

Open Stage: On Wednesday evening, there's an open stage for groups that have been around the jam for a couple of days or pickers newly arrived to play on stage, often with host and freaquent guest Joe Soward, half of the promoting team of Mitzi and Joe Soward that make this such a popular festival. 

Nearby Shopping and Attractions: Located just north of the tourist destination towns of Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg, Dumplin Valley provides a myriad of shopping and touring chooices within only a few miles. A Bass Pro Shop is only a couple of miles away. There's an outlet mall just down route 66, and other popular tourism and shopping destinations are quite convenient. When you shop or eat out, the Sowards ask that you save your receipts to deposit them for an annual drawing. They use these receipts to show potential sponsors and supporters of the festival its annual economic contribution to the region, while you stand a chance to win four-day tickets to the event. The Great Smokey National Park is within sight about fifteen miles to the east. September is always a good time to drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are restaurants to suit nearly every taste near Dumplin Valley, so come early and stay late to enjoy early autumn in East Tennessee.

Tickets: Prices for tickets to Dumplin Valley Bluegrass Festival remain unchanged from last year. The period to purchase advanced tickets has passed, but you can call to purchase tickets at the gate price and to arrange camping:
To order advance tickets call 865-397-7942
Gate Ticket Prices*
Weekend pass: $75 (in advance)
Thursday: $25 (adv) $30 (gate)
Friday: $25 (adv) $30 (gate)
Saturday: $25 (adv) $30 (gate)
**children 12 & under are free**
No Refunds

Camping: Dumplin Valley is a commercial campground as well as the location of this fine festival. In recent years, the Sowards have made strides toward increasing the number of full hookup sites and making the facility more attractive to transient campers and tourists. You can get more information here. For reactions of general campers who use the park at other times, check here

How to Get To Dumplin Valley
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Joe and Mitzi Soward are thoughtful planners and delightful hosts. The result of this is one of the most enjoyable small to medium sized festivals you could choose. They have carefully grown their festival and continued to improve it at every level: lineup, campground, vendors, and amenities. Come out and experience it for yourself.

Joe Soward

Mitzi Soward

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