“It’s been the most amazing weekend that I’ve had in 18 years,” said Jeff Branch, promoter of the central NC-based Big Lick Bluegrass Festival.
“The enthusiasm from the bands and fans and the perfect weather has made it even more enjoyable.”
Branch was due a successful weekend after having to endure cold temperatures and monsoon-like weather in previous years, then having to put the event on hold for two years due to the pandemic. Everyone was overjoyed to return to live music, and you could feel the appreciation from both the performers and the audience.
“A big thanks to Jeff Branch,” Lonesome River Band’s Sammy Shelor expressed from the stage. “We are glad to be back. We went too long without it.”
On Saturday, the last day of the festival, things ran smoothly even though Branch received a call late Friday night warning that The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys would be unable to perform due to a health emergency. That afternoon, emcee Sherry Boyd offered the microphone to the festival’s organizer.
“The problem (of filling their slot) was fixed in 15 minutes,” the promoter shared with the audience.
As band leader Steve Dilling headed home from playing the festival on Friday, Branch called the banjoist and explained his dilemma. Dilling and ensemble readily agreed to return for a command performance. The promoter introduced Sideline as they took the stage for a second day.
“I’m thankful for good friends,” he stressed.
“We have to help each other out,” guitarist Skip Cherryholmes stated after their afternoon performance.
During Sideline’s sets, they had several guest appearances including founding Sideline member, Darrell Webb, who joined the band for a crowd favorite, Pipe Liners Blues, with Bob Barnes on harmonica. Caroline Owens also sang a number, as did Big T Lassiter.
A highlight on Saturday was a presentation during Appalachian Road Show’s performance. Bluegrass First Class promoter, Milton Harkey, accompanied by rising star, Olivia Jo, took the stage during the band’s performance to present a new Eastman mandolin to Tyler Abernathy, ARS’s banjoist, Barry Abernathy’s seven-year-old son. Barry and his wife, Beverley, recently adopted Tyler and his sister, Zoey.
The senior Abernathy explained. “Tyler is special. He came to us almost three years ago. Our hands are just alike. (They held their left hands together to reveal that both had only a thumb and a stub of an index finger.) It was a gift from God.”
Off stage, Barry Abernathy continued to express his appreciation. “It’s wonderful to be back playing in this area. These people are special. This was such a good surprise. We appreciate Jeff Branch, Milton Harkey, and Eastman mandolins. They made Tyler’s week. He said, ‘Dad, I want to be a cowboy,’ so we had to get him a new outfit.”
Also performing on Saturday was Terry Baucom and his Dukes of Drive.
Boyd introduced him. “Anytime banjo pickers’ names are mentioned, this man’s name comes up.”
During Bauc’s performance, Knee Deep in Bluegrass’ Cindy Baucom shared some of her husband’s heritage. “Terry grew up so close to here. Jeff Branch’s grandfather played fiddle in the same band with Terry, the Rocky River Boys.”
Other bands appearing on Saturday included Spartanburg, SC’s Backline, performing mostly original material written by lead vocalist, Katelyn Ingardia, and the Parlor House Band, featuring musicians and vocalists associated with one of the festival’s sponsors, Ron’s Pickin’ Parlor of Stanfield, NC.
Ingardia stated, “I grew up with bluegrass. I can’t tell you how glad I am to be back. I’ve missed you guys,” then she sang an original, Bluegrass State of Mind.
Branch concluded, “I’ve got Big Lick to the level I’ve been wanting for 18 years. It’s been a long time coming and I’m ready for next year!”