2024 Denton Bluegrass Festival report

Cutter & Cash & Kentucky Grass at the 2024 Malpass Brothers Festival – photo © Sandy Hatley

This past Wednesday night through Sunday morning, Denton FarmPark in central North Carolina was the place to be for great music, good fellowship, and fun times at the third annual Malpass Brothers Bluegrass & Country Music Festival over Mother’s Day weekend. The festival was originally hosted by Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, and the Malpass Brothers accepted the baton following Doyle’s retirement. 2024 was a record year.

Karen Loflin Miller, co-owner of the FarmPark, shared, “We had 500 campers and people from 15 states and one foreign country (Germany). Our attendance continues to grow.”

The weekend of music kicked off with an open mic featuring local bands on Wednesday evening, followed by three full days of some of the best musical acts in the business. The festival concluded on Sunday morning with a church service in the “model church” on the park grounds. Music was provided by the Malpass Brothers, their drummer’s wife Kelly Riggins, and Doug and Stacey Stuart. The sermon was delivered by Mel Winstead, pastor of Mount Moriah Baptist Church of Marshville, NC  and brother of the Malpass Brothers’ former bassist, Paul Winstead. 

The family-style festival exhibited examples of musical lineage both on stage and off. During Friday’s show, Kenny & Amanda Smith invited their nine-year old daughter, Annabelle, to sing America the Beautiful for all the veterans. As she sang, the entire audience stood to their feet and joined in singing to show their support.

Obviously moved by their gesture, Amanda stated, “I’ve never seen this (standing and singing along) done before. God is good. He lets us play bluegrass. Denton is the first place I played after Annabelle was born. She was four weeks old.”

Debuting on the FarmPark stage was Cutter & Cash & Kentucky Grass (formerly called Classy & Grassy). The young band featured two sets of siblings: Cutter and Cash Singleton (guitar and mandolin) and Noah & Lily Goebel (fiddle and guitar).  Their hard-driving traditional bluegrass music was a huge hit with the audience.

A special treat with multiple family ties occurred during Friday night’s finale with a reunion of the Bass Mountain Boys. Mike Wilson, Mike Aldridge, Steve Dilling, Mike Street, and Johnny Ridge were joined by Aldridge’s son, Brian, on guitar and some banjo. Another Aldridge son, Nathan, had been on stage the day before, fiddling with IIIrd Tyme Out. Ridge’s daughter, Laura Tate, was on hand to photograph the iconic assemblage. Lots of other Bass Mountain Boy family members were in attendance.

Another family example was during the Malpass Brothers’ sets, three-year-old Arlen, who remained faithfully beside his dad, bassist Jake Riggins. Sometimes the child sawed on a miniature fiddle or strummed a small guitar, but often he just hugged on his father’s leg.

Deeper Shade of Blue’s Scott Burgess shared with the audience that he was married at the Denton FarmPark during the festival. Stephen Burwell, fiddler with Authentic Unlimited, reflected from stage, “This is where I met my wife. [Pointing] She was sitting right back there. Now there’s some dude sitting there!”

The performing artists played lots of requested tunes and recognized fans from the stage. During Authentic Unlimited’s second show on Saturday, Burwell fiddled an original number, Benfield Line, from their latest album, So Much For Forever, and dedicated it to a fan who was his inspiration for the title.

Stephen explained how he named the tune.

“Years and years ago, we have a friend, Harold Benfield, that would come to a lot of Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver shows. He came early while we were setting up one day and offered to help tape down a cat5 cable line from front of the house to the stage. That’s where I came up with the title. It just sounded like a good name for a tune.”

There was plenty of humor, too. During the Malpass Brothers’ Friday night session, while they were singing Merle Haggard’s Motorcyle Cowboy, they had a special dancer take the stage. In his own unique garb, 82-year-old Little Roy Lewis stole the show with his crazy antics.

Saturday night’s show concluded with an extended set by beloved country music artist, Gene Watson. He ended his show with two of his biggest hits, 14-Carat Mind and Farewell Party.

The festival ran like a well-oiled machine. Superb sound was provided by John Holder of Blue Ridge Sound and his hardworking staff, Jackson Bethune and Mike Ford. MC duties were split between Sherry Boyd and Jeff Branch. Numerous vendors were on hand with concessions, instruments, crafts, and more. Springer Mountain Farms offered fresh cooked chicken samples, coupons, and daily drawings for prizes. WPAQ Radio of Mt Airy, NC, manned a booth and offered watermelon give-aways.

Plans are already underway for the fourth annual Malpass Brothers Bluegrass & Country Music Festival for Mother’s Day weekend 2025.

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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.