The iconic Camp Springs Labor Day Bluegrass Festival, site of the first bluegrass festival held in North Carolina in 1969, returns to Bluegrass Park near Reidsville, September 1-3.
The three-day festival includes some heavy hitters such as Larry Sparks, Junior Sisk, Kenny & Amanda Smith, Deeper Shade of Blue, and the Gospel Plowboys to name a few, but it also is a homecoming for several of the performers. Little Roy & Lizzy close out the show on Sunday evening. The Lewis Family, Little Roy’s former band comprised of his relatives, was regularly featured on the festival’s lineup 50 years ago.
This year is also a homecoming for brothers, Terry Smith of the Grascals and Billy Smith of the Tennessee Plow Cleaners, on Saturday. The two had performed together as Billy & Terry Smith for several years in the mid-1990s, and recorded a number of albums under that name.
“I’m really excited,” shared older brother, Billy, speaking of the Billy & Terry Smith reunion show.
“You can’t get a more special place in my heart than Camp Springs. It brought people from all over the world together there. I met Bluegrass 45 from Japan. Years later, their banjo picker was best man in my wedding.
That festival meant a lot to me. I used to empty trash cans so I could get a ticket. I jammed and played on stage with the Camp Springs Boys that included our dad on fiddle, Alan O’Bryant on banjo, and Mike Auldridge on mandolin. Later, we had JB Prince and Johnny Ridge playing fiddle with us. It was a good time! I was 17 when I left for Nashville 50 years ago. I’ve wanted to come back to NC, but it just never happened.”
Billy, who grew up on Boone Road just down from the festival grounds, will be singing one of his originals, Around This Fire, based on an old house built by his great-grandfather that had the chimney built with rocks from a nearby creek.
“I wrote that thinking about family sitting around the fire. It came from my heart. My mom (Hazel Smith) is buried at Camp Springs United Methodist Church with the Boone relatives.”
The elder Smith recalled hearing Love Come Home floating through the air from a nearby jam as he climbed the hill at Camp Springs as a teenager.
“I prayed to God that I’d write a jam song like that one day,” Billy recalled.
Billy then related an answer to his long ago prayer when both James King and Lonesome River Band cut one of his songs.
“Crazy Heart was about me and my ex-wife. It has only two chords. If you want (to write) standards, you’ve got to have them where everyone can play. Ronnie McCoury told me, ‘You wanted to write a jam song. Well, you’ve done it with Crazy Heart.’ Twenty plus years after praying for a jam tune like Love Come Home, God gave me Crazy Heart. I want to praise Him for giving me that ability. Later, I heard it in a jam and they were killing it. I walked right up and stuck my head right in the middle of it, closed my eyes, and listened. It brought me such joy. They never knew I wrote it.”
A prolific songwriter, who has since penned many familiar bluegrass tunes along with his younger brother, Terry, Billy noted, “When we were writing Cumberland River Shores, it was like John Hartford was in the room.”
Terry also has fond memories of Camp Springs Bluegrass Park.
“I grew up there in my pre-teens and teens. That’s where I saw my heroes. That’s where I jammed all the time. We cut our teeth there. We got the love to pursue music as a living there. It will always hold a special memory.”
Banjoist David Talbot, who started the Grascals with Terry, and now performs with Billy, said, “It doesn’t take me long to sing the praises of Billy and Terry Smith. The Smith brothers are master musicians, singers, and songwriters. Talk about talent and soul…they always FEEL their music, which makes playing with them a fresh experience every time.”
Festival promoter Cody Johnson is pleased to have the Smiths return to Camp Springs.
“We are excited to get them together this year. There are so many friends and family members who are coming to visit them and make this homecoming special. The park is on Boone Road which is named after their mom’s family.”
Camp Springs Bluegrass Park is located at 540 Boone Road, Elon, NC. For more information, visit them online, or call 336-213-1944.