2021 Industrial Strength Bluegrass Festival report

Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers at the 2021 Industrial Strength Bluegrass Festival – photo by Michael Gabbard

Friday morning at the Industrial Strength Bluegrass Festival kicked off with a bang. The Doug Eyink Alternative Strings Scholarship fundraising breakfast was a sellout. The Radio Ramblers, their wives, their booking agent, and their publicist were the breakfast serving staff. Doug and his family were guests of honor. Joe announced Saturday that the matching goal was met and the fund would start with at least ten thousand dollars.

The MC duties were handled by bluegrass storyteller and humorist, Blake Williams. John Holder brought the Blue Ridge Sound crew to the festival and the sound was excellent.

The Kevin Prater Band made its first appearance at the festival. Kevin is a veteran that gives full measure of hard driving bluegrass music. Kevin spent many years singing harmony with the late James King.

Nothin’ Fancy hit the stage wide open. They always show why they have been the Entertaining Band for SPBGMA multiple times. Their high energy is always a hit.

The Quebe Sisters put Texas swing music front and center. Triple fiddles and sibling harmony make an audience sit up and take notice. This was their first appearance at the Roberts Centre.

The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys have taken the bluegrass world by storm, becoming one of the most in-demand acts in a short period of time. They often invite Tommy Brown to join them for a tune or two. Tommy fronted the Countyline Grass for a number of years. He is RRB banjo player Jereme Brown’s father. Both Jereme and guitarist Josh Rinkel were mentored by Tommy.

The highlight of the evening was the appearance of the legendary Bobby Osborne & the Rock Top X-Press. Bobby will soon turn 90 years old and still tours regularly. Bobby’s first stage and radio appearance was in Middletown, Ohio not far from the festival site. He and his late brother, Sonny, are a big part of the musical legacy of southwestern Ohio.

Bobby also appeared on Saturday morning as part of a mandolin workshop. He was joined by Jeff Parker, Alan Bibey, and Ryan Paisley. They played tunes together and answered questions from the audience. Each was asked about his mandolin. Alan told about his Loar. Jeff told about both his mandolin and the raffle prize mandolin he was using in the workshop. Ryan described his new instrument. Bobby told the story of how he acquired his 1926 Gibson in 1954. He had played it backstage at a show and offered to buy it. The owner was not interested in selling, so Bobby gave the fellow his Dad’s phone number in case he changed his mind. A year later he made that call, asking for $350.00. Bobby asked him to send it C.O.D. to the post office in Detroit where the Osborne Brothers were living and hosting the WJR Barn Dance radio show. The postal clerk called Bobby and let him know he had a package and the bill was three hundred fifty dollars AND fifty cents. Bobby picked up the mandolin and has played it ever since.

Award Winning songwriter Donna Ulisse brought the Poor Mountain Boys to Wilmington. The backstory she shared for many of the songs make the songs that much enjoyable. Her sunny smile and personality keep everyone smiling. Back home Donna hosts songwriting workshops at her “Wee Farm” with husband, Rick Stanley.

The Radio Ramblers wrapped up their weekend with an afternoon performance that included Danny Paisley and Alan Bibey singing Leaving Detroit, which both have recorded. Kati Penn Jenkins then joined the band for some twin fiddling with Jason Barie.

Alan Bibey & Grasstowne is a traditional contemporary band that features award winning mandolinist, Alan Bibey. Alan had been among the founders and early players of IIIrd Tyme Out.

Raffle drawings are a staple of this event, going back to its days as the Southern Ohio Indoor Bluegrass Festival. This year included the winner of a handmade guitar donated by Frank Howard for the scholarship fund.

The Malpass Brothers have given the bluegrass world the best of classic country music. The harmony of the pedal steel and fiddle are unmatched. The brothers provide humor playing off one another, while Taylor Malpass keeps audiences rolling in laughter.

Daniel Mullins is to be congratulated for doing an excellent job of organizing and managing the festival. His mother, Tammy Mullins, provided excellent training and established a solid base from her years at the helm.

The spring festival will be on March 24-26, 2022. It promises to be another good one.

I want to give a big thank you to Michael “Gabby” Gabbard and Kimberly Williams for contributing pictures from the festival.

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