The 40th Annual Everglades Bluegrass Festival took place during the first weekend of March in North Miami Beach, Florida. Flatt Lonesome and Junior Sisk & Rambler’s Choice headlined the festival, and did not disappoint. Tellico, a four piece band out of Asheville, North Carolina, and the Trinity River Band from northeast Florida gave standout performances, but it is the location of the festival in historic Greynolds Park and the South Florida Bluegrass Association’s long standing bluegrass history that make the festival one to add to your winter destinations.
The South Florida Bluegrass Association began holding monthly concerts the first Sunday of the month in 1970, and continue to do so today. They have also held an annual three-day festival since 1978 and their roster of A-listers has included Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, Jim & Jesse, The Osborne Brothers, and many more. Charlie Hudson and his wife Barbara have been active in the association from the beginning, and remember one year when Chubby Wise pulled up for a show, and played a set while his wife waited for him in their station wagon. Bertha McKenzie, President of the South Florida Bluegrass Association, says that SFBA is a non-profit organization that funds the festival with grants, and runs it with a crew of volunteers.
The festivals location in North Miami is both its strength and McKenzie fears, its greatest weakness. She explained that when out of towners see the location of the festival, they often balk, thinking that it must be in a crowded urban setting. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Greynolds Park sits just a mile from Interstate 95 and is a natural beauty. The branches of its live Oaks and Black Olive trees create a perfect canopy for the audience, and at the beginning of March the temperatures hover in the mid-70s.
First time festival goer Chris Schuler from New Jersey said that Greynolds Park reminds him of Central Park in Manhattan – an oasis of natural beauty. Even Flatt Lonesome commented on the location’s surprising beauty and mild temperatures. During their set, which transfixed the audience, their mandolin player and singer Kelsi Harrigill looked out on the festival grounds and remarked with pleasant surprise, “Is this really North Miami?”
SFBA organizers hope to draw a bigger crowd next year which will spread the word that this gem of a festival is still alive and well, and bringing bluegrass greats to South Florida. McKenzie is eager to see the festival draw a wider audience. One audience member reflected, “We weren’t sure what to expect but we loved it and will be back again next year.” That rang true for us and for everyone we ran into under the live Oaks.