2018 Mansfield JamFest report

The 2018 Mansfield Jamfest in Mansfield, OH appears to have been one for the record books. In two short years promoter Chris Smith, and his crew, have built one of the fastest growing festivals in the country. We had expected that Bill Warren would be covering the event for us this year, but a family emergency necessitated him missing the festival. Thanks to Chris we were able to piece together this report.

The Richland county fairgrounds were busting at the seams last weekend with camping nearly sold out. With almost 300, 30 amp hookups, there were only 10 empty spots. Smith had a lot of early arrivals last year, so the activities started on Tuesday with bingo, Wednesday with a bluegrass euchre tournament, and Thursday with a ‘singing all day and dinner on the ground’ style pig roast, pot luck dinner, with the stage shows following after the meal.

Thursday saw a host of local bands. Anthony Prater and the Ramblers, The Grassholes, The Smith Brothers, and a performance by one of bluegrass’ most notable sidemen, Dana Cupp and his barstool boys. Dana was Bill Monroe’s last banjo player before he passed. Dana also spent time with Jimmy Martin, The Osborne Brothers, and several others.

On Friday, the big Prevost bus from Ferrum, VA pulled in with Junior Sisk and the band aboard. A beautiful day brought beautiful music. A host of local Ohio bands performed. The highlight of the day came towards the evening with a tribute to the Stanley Brothers, and a tribute to Dave Evans by his two sons, The Evans Brothers, and band. Junior and Chris are die hard, hard core Stanley fanatics, and with the help of Joe Robinson on bass, Randy Leab on guitar, and Jamie Harper on fiddle, took the audience back in time with their scarf ties and cowboy hats. Chris was wearing a cowboy hat that Ralph Stanley had given him in 1988. He says that it was a magical night. More Stanley tributes are in the works at festivals that Caney Creek and Junior Sisk will be at together in the near future.

Saturday kicked off with Chris’ kids bluegrass show. For 6 years now Smith has gathered kids together at noon to get on stage and get some exposure, hoping maybe a few of them will catch the bug. It has worked! The day saw a few sprinkles but stopped just in time for Hammertowne to take the stage. It was smooth sailing from there on out. The Band of Ruhks performed along with Caney Creek and a host of others. 

The Ruhks and Hammertowne mingled with fans all day. Don Rigsby and Brian Fesler even wandered off into the campground and jammed! Folks were quite impressed with the chance to pick and sing with them. Smith says, “Thats what I want Mansfield to be about. A comfortable atmosphere for bands and fans alike. I want this festival to have a warm, welcoming feel.”

Folks came from as far as Ontario and Colorado to attend this year. On the evening show, Caney Creek performed a song called From The Foothills of the Bluegrass to the War in Vietnam that will be on their next album. The song was written about Larry Cordle’s cousin Don, and a young man by the name of Ellsworth Swan, who lost his life in service during the Vietnam war. To the band’s surprise Ellsworth’s sister Linda was in the front row that evening. Not many were without a tissue.

Smith credits the success of Mansfield to all the fans, the volunteer help, and all the bands that provide the best of music. Next year’s dates are slated for August 20-24 2019. The 2019 lineup will be released soon online.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.