Lonesome River Band at the 2021 Willow Oak Park Bluegrass Festival – photo by Sandy Hatley
Wonderful weather, a pristine park, and marvelous music make a perfect combination for a great weekend of bluegrass music. Willow Oak Music Park, a 60 acre farm located in north central North Carolina, is just what the bluegrass community needs after more than a year on hiatus due to the global pandemic.
“You guys are just having too much fun,” Lonesome River Band’s Sammy Shelor teased from the stage. “It’s time for us all to get close again.”
Lorraine Jordan, hostess for the weekend’s festivities, stressed, “We’ve got beautiful weather with perfect bands. We’re off to a great start and looking forward to a great weekend.”
On Thursday, Lorraine’s 90 year old dad, Royce, aptly served as the festival’s emcee. Sherry Boyd mans the mic for the remainder of the festival.
Sponsoring the festival for 19 years, promoter and former guitarist/vocalist with the Bass Mountain Boys, Mike Wilson, expressed, “We sold out of electrical hook-ups June 1. There’s still plenty of room for camping in the rough. It’s a good crowd for a Thursday, and it not being a holiday weekend.”
Campers gathered under the shade trees from many states, including North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Alabama, and Florida to jam, break bread, and just enjoy one another’s company. The festival features a permanent stage with quality audio provided by Doug Crabtree of Crabtree Acoustic Sound in Chesterfield, VA. Adjacent to the stage is a large pond stocked with fish. Behind the stage is a concession area with a variety food trucks to feed hungry attendees. With a comfort station featuring clean restrooms and spacious shower stalls, Willow Oak Music Park seems to have it all.
Eighteen year old mandolinist, Liam Purcell from Deep Gap, NC, brought his band, Cane Mill Road, made up of power pickers from Appalachian State, to perform for their first time at the music festival. “This is one of the most beautiful outdoor festival parks I’ve been to. Some of the best professional bands are here. I’m impressed with how dedicated the promoter has been, and continued to work to put this on even during the pandemic. Everyone should come and support this event.”
“It’s great to be back out playing music,” Seth Mulder of Seth Mulder & Midnight Run, the house band for Gatlinburg’s Old Smoky Mountain Distillery, chimed in. “This is our first time playing the Willow Oak Music Festival and we’ve had a blast. The crowds are die hard bluegrass fans and really make you excited to play. It’s nice to see folks coming back out for the music, and if you’re thinking about coming out, do it, you won’t regret it!”
LRB’s Jesse Smathers said it all when he asked the appreciative crowd, “Haven’t you guys missed this?”
Thursday’s line-up was LRB, Seth Mulder & Midnight Run, Dewey & Leslie Brown and the Carolina Gentlemen, and Cane Mill Road. Friday’s show features Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road, Sideline, David Davis & the Warrior River Boys, Kevin Prater Band, and Starlett & Big John. The bluegrass continues on Saturday with over 12 hours of entertainment (10:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.): Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, The Malpass Brothers, Drive Time, Caroline & Company, and host band, Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road.