2024 Willow Oak Bluegrass Festival report

Hunter Berry at the 2024 Willow Oak Bluegrass Festival – photo © Laura Tate Photography

Willow Oak Bluegrass Festival 2024 in Roxboro, NC is now history. Its fans, performers, and promoter all left happy and looking forward to 2025.

“We’re carrying on the tradition of southern hospitality,” stressed Willow Oak Park Owner and Festival Promoter, Mike Wilson.

The three-day Father’s Day weekend music event saw beautiful weather, a wide variety of talent, and some nice surprises. On Friday, during Junior Sisk’s set, rising songstress, Olivia Jo, took the stage to sing I’ll Stay Around.

Lorraine Jordan also had several special guests including a number of youngsters. She invited 15-year-old mandolinist JoJo Murphy to play Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Breakdown with her. 

“I taught her this song and she’s done learned it better than me,” Jordan confessed into the microphone.

JoJo was then joined by her brothers. 10-year-old Jacob sang Are You Walking, while Landon, 13, accompanied on the upright bass.

“Isn’t it great to see these kids on stage?,” Jordan happily asked.

In keeping with the family-style festival, Jordan’s dad, Royce, whom she stated “is 94 in ’24,” joined her host band, Carolina Road, on Friday to pay a tribute to all military personnel in attendance. The senior Jordan also served in the US Army. Lorraine paid homage to her mom singing Mama’s Cross, one she wrote with Donna Ulisse about her mom. She invited Teresa Morris, her lead guitarist’s wife, to sing Donna’s part in the song. Closing out her portion, Jordan had her guests join her in singing Will the Circle Be Unbroken.

Wilson, too, had family and close friends assisting him with the proceedings last weekend. Even some of his grandchildren ran an ice cream stand. Former members of his band, the Bass Mountain Boys were present: fiddler, Johnny Ridge; mandolinist, Mike Aldridge; and bassist, Mike Street.

There were reflection moments, too. Remembrance was given to the bassist, Jason Moore, who passed away unexpectedly in 2021. He would have turned 50 during the festival and is sorely missed in the bluegrass community. His widow, Molly, along with Lorraine’s daughter, Susanna Langdon, worked the Carolina Road table throughout the festival.

Two workshops were held. Little Roy & Lizzy and their band held one on Friday morning, fielding questions and demonstrating the workings of a successful band.

“You have to feed off each other’s energy,” stressed Lizzy Long. “And though he’s 82 years old, Little Roy still has plenty of energy.”

Saturday morning, the Gospel Plowboys conducted a vocal workshop. 

High lead and tenor singer, Michael Jenkins, explained, “David Murph (founding member who passed in 2017) said we are going to build this band on vocals. The words to the songs tell a story and when we put harmony with that, it really touches people.”

Plowboys guitarist, Kris Miller, added, “We all went to the school of Doyle Lawson (listening and learning from his material).”

Wilson was in attendance and spoke directly to the band members at the conclusion of their 90 minute session. “I personally want to thank you. I’ve enjoyed it myself!”

During one of the Gospel Plowboys’ Saturday sets, they invited a special guest, Angel Paez, a talented young blind mandolin player, to join them on stage. He picked and sang Go Rest High on that Mountain.

Other bands appearing on the festival included Authentic Unlimited, Lonesome River Band, Kody Norris, Dave Atkins Band, Kevin Prater Band, Larry Efaw & Bluegrass Mountaineers, Drive Time, and others.

The festival concluded on Saturday with a 90 minute set by Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out. Buddy Michaels, North Carolina Bluegrass Radio DJ and former festival MC, surprised everyone by stepping out to wrap up the festival and goad the band into an encore.

Plans are already underway for another great festival next Father’s Day in 2025 at the beautiful Willow Oak Park in Roxboro, NC.

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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.