Big Lick kicks off North Carolina festival season with a bang

Jasper Lorentzen and Jereme Brown with The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys at the
2024 Big Lick Bluegrass Festival – photo © Laura Tate Photography

Big Lick Bluegrass Festival in central North Carolina celebrated its 20th year with the most campers and largest attendance in the festival’s history. Music fans came from all across the nation: New Jersey, Minnesota, Florida, and Alaska, to name just a few. One gentleman even came from Germany, making a four-week bluegrass tour of the US. Big Lick was his first stop.

Festival promoter Jeff Branch reflected at the close of his event, “It’s a wrap! Big Lick Bluegrass Festival in its 20th and best year had a fabulous festival with new improvements to the park and more to come next year. The weather was great, the music was fabulous, and the best way to kick off the outdoor Bluegrass season for 2024!”

On Friday night, Branch took the stage to say, “Thank you all for being here again this year. What a wonderful festival!” After asking the crowd how they were enjoying the event, the weary promoter admitted, “I think I’ll enjoy myself more on Sunday when I can finally rest.”

Returning to the microphone on Saturday, Branch shared, “I’ve heard a lot of great comments on how much you are enjoying the development of the park. I want to bring on co-owner of the park, Phillip Austin.”

Austin took the stage and expressed, “I want to thank all you guys and ladies for coming out. This wouldn’t be possible without you supporting us. I love this music. It’s part of our heritage and our country. We’re here for the long term. As long as you keep coming, we’re going to keep this 20 more years at least.”

The three-day festival had several special moments. On Friday, Lincoln Hensley, banjo picker with the Tennessee Bluegrass Band, invited John Atwater, Branch’s friend, helper, and retired highway patrolman – plus a banjoist himself – to the stage and presented him with a pair of two-tone shoes, explaining that Atwater had bragged on them the year before.

“Thanks! I will wear them with pride,” Atwater exclaimed.

Hensley, a young bluegrass connoisseur of vintage instruments, also pointed out that he was picking the late Sonny Osborne’s 1966 Vega Pro-II that was used on the Osborne Brothers’ album, Up This Hill and Down.

Deeper Shade of Blue’s dobroist, Frank Poindexter, polled the audience to see who had been in attendance at the first Big Lick Bluegrass Festival in 2004. Then in Superman-style, he unbuttoned his shirt to display his t-shirt from the first festival.

Also during their set, bassist Scott Burgess had an emotional moment when he shared that their banjo picker, Chad Day, was playing his late dad, Walt Burgess’ mid-1930s RB-11 Gibson banjo.

“It hadn’t been out of the case in 40 years,” Burgess said. 

On Saturday, as The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys stepped on stage, mando man C.J. Lewandowski, was definitely impressed with the upgrades. “I got off the bus and didn’t recognize the place. Such beautiful improvements!”

All three days offered above average temperatures and sunshine with only a couple brief passing showers. Rain and lightning were approaching on Saturday afternoon about the time the Parlor House Band was to take the stage for their second set. Instead of delaying the show, the band moved into the large barn on the grounds and performed their entire show acoustically to an appreciative packed house. 

“Rather than feeling like we missed our second set on the big stage, we were blessed with the most awesome intimate audience experience. It was so much fun,” shared Parlor House Band guitarist Gary Hatley. “I really appreciate all the folks who came in can helped us make lemonade out of lemons!” As the rains moved out, a rainbow appeared over the park.

Sideline served as the host band for the second year at Big Lick. Steve Dilling announced that they would be returning as 2025 host. MC, Sherry Boyd, was ecstatic. “A bigger than ever Big Lick Bluegrass Festival! Onward to the 21st year. Good job, Jeff and Joan Branch. Thanks for a great time.”

Branch concluded, “Next year’s date will be moved due to Easter occurring on the third weekend. We will move back one week to April 10-12, 2025. Work has already started for next year.”

So mark your calendars now. 

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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.