JAM and Earl Scruggs Music Festival form partnership to promote bluegrass to kids

The Clover Pickers at the 2023 Earl Scruggs Music Festival – photo © G. Nicholas Hancock

From its inception and inaugural Labor Day weekend event in 2022, The Earl Scruggs Music Festival and the Tryon International Equestrian Center located in Mill Spring, NC came together to offer the Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) organization the opportunity to integrate JAM kids and their families with bluegrass and roots music at the festival. 

The Tryon Fine Arts Center with a grant from South Arts in These Mountains program, invited JAM students and their families from the 50+ JAM programs across the Appalachian region in South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia to attend the festival for free. The 2022 event hosted 65 JAM kids.

Ms. Brett Morris, executive director of the JAM, Inc., said, “JAM kids got access to the special activities and workshops at the festival as well. This past Labor Day weekend there was a meet-and-greet with Jerry Douglas, a fiddle workshop with Kimber Ludiker (fiddle player with Della Mae), jam sessions for the kids, a music business workshop for older students pursuing music as a career or business, and a workshop led by East Tennessee State University’s Bluegrass Pride Band.”

“This type of partnership lays an important foundation for kids and their families to create a lifelong relationship not only with traditional music, but with the festival. It also provides so many with an accessible way to attend, as many would not otherwise have the ability,” Morris said.

The grant from South Arts also helped provide an historical learning component where kids investigated the life of Earl Scruggs and other legendary regional musicians such as DeWitt “Snuffy” Jenkins and Nina Simone, Morris said.

This year’s JAM integration was also supported by the IBMA Foundation which helped provide meals for kids and families throughout the weekend. Over 70 kids attended this year.

ESMF and TIEC and JAM organized, and JAM also hosted, a unique ESMF festival experience, a charity golf tournament at Cleghorn Golf and Sports Club in nearby Rutherfordton. Festival artists Darin & Brooke Aldridge helped with this event by participating as players. Morris said 100% of the golf tournament proceeds go to JAM.

“We hope to continue this tournament in the future and have more festival performers highlighted in this unique Friday morning fun,” Morris said.

Bayla Davis, 15, of the band Newfound Gap, said, “We had a great time playing at the Earl Scruggs Music Festival. I can’t think of a better place than the TIEC to have a festival. Everyone was very kind, and everything was conveniently located and very clean and very family friendly. I appreciate that the festival included many local traditional musicians like Zoe & Cloyd, Pretty Little Goat, Laura Boosinger, and Josh Goforth.”

“I also really appreciated that they allowed The Fine-Tuned Project artists to participate on the Foggy Mountain Stage. It meant a lot to represent the Junior Appalachian Musicians Program because its mission to preserve traditional music and dance is important. Diversity and inclusion are essential, and it would be awesome to see that reflected even more in next year’s lineup. Despite sound system issues, Jake Blount’s set was incredible. All in all, the entire weekend was amazing,” Davis added.

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About the Author

Nicholas Hancock

Nicholas Hancock is a former newspaper writer and editor who also played rhythm guitar in The Bluegrass Gentlemen from 1968 through mid-1974. Today, he is retired and enjoying his hobby of photographing bluegrass and other music events.