It’s hard to beat the combination of banjos and barbeque, even when the temperatures dip into the 40s and the sky gets cloudy. That’s why this past Friday and Saturday (May 16-17) found both Bluegrass Today editor John Lawless and me in Sevierville, TN for the 10th annual Bloomin’ BBQ & Bluegrass Festival. Held in downtown Sevierville around the city’s historic courthouse, the free festival included several top-notch bands, a barbeque championship cookoff, and the Mountain Soul Vocal Competition.
The festival kicked off Friday evening with performances by fingerstyle guitarist Bill Mize, the Jeanette Williams Band, Jimbo Whaley & Greenbrier, and the night’s headliner, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out. IIIrd Tyme Out was in particularly fine form, with new members Keith McKinnon and Blake Johnson seeming to fit into the lineup quite well.
The next morning, I had the privilege of serving as a judge in the Mountain Soul Vocal Competition, which honors the songwriting of Dolly Parton, a native of Sevierville. Talented vocalists of all ages from across the nation sang their own renditions of songs written by Parton, competing for cash prizes, Fender guitars signed by Parton, and a half day recording session in Nashville. Congratulations to the competition’s overall winner, Andre’ Pratt, who sang an excellent bluegrass style version of Smokey Mountain Memories.
Saturday’s bluegrass entertainment included local youngsters Emi Sunshine and Willow Osborne (a fine young banjo player), as well as Dale Ann Bradley, Bobby Osborne & Rocky Top Xpress, Chris Jones & The Night Drivers, and The Steeldrivers. All of the bands were enjoyable, but the highlight of the day was perhaps hearing Chris Jones sing a spot-on “duet” between Lester Flatt and Willie Nelson on Crying My Heart Out Over You.
Though the weather was a bit unfriendly and the lines for ribs a little long, the Bloomin’ BBQ & Bluegrass Festival was a great way to spend the weekend. I’m already looking forward to next year!