2022 Willow Oak Festival – biggest, best yet!

Sunset at the 2022 Willow Oak Bluegrass Festival – photo by Doug Whitley

Always held Father’s Day weekend, the Willow Oak Bluegrass Festival in Roxboro, NC continues to grow, and celebrated its largest turnout this year despite the absence of promoter, Mike Wilson, who underwent emergency triple bypass surgery the week prior to his event. Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road returned as the host band.

“Willow Oak Fest was a great success. Mike Wilson had everything organized and his son did great overseeing things. It was a great time had by all. I’m proud to be the host band of such a well-run family style festival. Enjoyed talking to folks from all over the USA, and a few from France and Canada,” Jordan said on Sunday.

The Lady of Tradition got to the share the stage with her 92-year-old father, Royce Jordan, who also served as MC and kept the show running smoothly. “I am so glad to have gotten to spend Father’s Day weekend with such a great dad. Proud of you, Dad!”

Mike Wilison had worked so diligently to present the festival in his beautiful rural 60 acre campground, and his son, Barrett, was present making sure the event came off successfully. 

The senior Wilson spent Saturday nearby at Hyco Lake recuperating from his recent heart surgery. “I’m just hanging out here, walking and trying to keep parts moving so the other parts don’t rust ’til I get back my strength. Pick one for me and we’ll see you at the next show somewhere down the road,” he shared via text message.

Friday’s show featured Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, Sideline, Deeper Shade of Blue, Starlett & Big John, and Carolina Road. Another round of storms rolled in around supper break as had happened the previous day, but they proved to not be as severe.

“The show was only delayed by a few minutes,” shared Barrett Wilson. “We were ready this time, and had the merchandise tent secured.”

Deeper Shade of Blue’s Troy Pope mentioned between sets on Friday, “It’s always fun playing Willow Oaks Bluegrass Festival…bluegrass music, seeing old friends, making new friends, fun and food! What else would you want?! Also, wishing a speedy recovery to Mike Wilson from them DSB boys.”

Both Thursday and Friday, the music resumed as soon as the skies cleared and the storms brought cooler temperatures from summer heat. Saturday’s show ran smoothly with no rain, but with cooler temperatures and a light breeze that kept festival-goers comfortable.

The third day of the festival brought the Malpass Brothers, Terry Baucom’s Dukes of Drive, the Gospel Plowboys, Drive Time, and host band, Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road to the stage. A highlight from the festival’s last day was an impromptu reunion between two former Quicksilver alums, Terry Baucom and Randy Graham. The latter joined Bauc and his band on stage to perform their classic rendition of Julianne.

“It’s a special moment,” said Knee Deep in Bluegrass host and Terry’s wife, Cindy Baucom.

For young Peden Williams, banjoist with Gospel Plowboys, another highlight was to have the Duke of Drive pick his new Prucha banjo on stage. As Baucom struggled to keep his banjo in tune during their evening set, Williams offered his instrument to his banjo hero. Bauc accepted the five-string and picked it the remainder of his show.

“Wow! That’s definitely a memory I will treasure forever,” Williams said afterward.

Baucom was gracious and stated, “Going to get mine worked on before the next time we play somewhere!”

Another guest appearance occurred during the Gospel Plowboys’ second set, when Backline’s mandolinist, Milom Williams, filled in with the band for Andrew Brown who left early to join his family for an Outer Banks vacation. Williams, who had performed with the Plowboys in the past, did a seamless job.

The Malpass Brothers missed their afternoon set due to problems returning from Ohio with their bus (that once belonged to Barbara Mandrell), but arrived safely in time to perform a double set to end the evening and the music festival.

“Fuel kept getting into the oil causing the safety switch to engage, which is a good thing,” explained Malpass fiddler, Johnny Ridge. “It kept the motor from burning up. It will be repaired next week.”

Chris Malpass joked as they took the stage, “Anybody want to buy a bus?”

They closed the festival with high energy, humor, and classic country music.

Jordan was pleased with weekend of music, but regretted its promoter not being at the helm. “Mike did a lot of work. It’s really sad that he’s missed it,’ she concluded.

All in attendance wish Wilson a speedy recovery and look forward to his return next year.

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.