July is Virginia Bluegrass Festival Month

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has issued a proclamation declaring July 2011 as Virginia Bluegrass Festival Month.

It, and six others recognizing Virginia natives who have profoundly affected the development of bluegrass music, will be read from the stage during the Oak Leaf Festival in Luray, VA (July 2-4). McDonnell’s proclamations will honor Mac Wiseman, Ralph Stanley, Bill Clifton, Tom Gray, Eddie Adcock and Bill Emerson. All but Wiseman will be performing on the festival.

Oak Leaf is promoting itself as the 50th Anniversary of the first bluegrass festival ever held in 1961, a full four years prior to the festival in Fincastle, VA more widely granted that distinction. The original Luray event occurred on July 4, 1961, and was organized by Bill Clifton.

I spoke this afternoon with Gary Reid, proprietor of Copper Creek Records and noted bluegrass historian, about this “who came first” question. He suggested that since Luray was not billed as a festival in ’61, but as a one-day outdoor concert, Carlton Haney’s Fincastle festival in 1965 should be secure in its distinction.

“Luray was an important precursor to the familiar bluegrass festival format we know so well today, and it surely had an impact on what Carlton would do a few years later.

There was another similar event held in 1960 in the DC area that probably caught Carlton’s eye as well. It featured Bill Monroe, Reno & Smiley, Mac Wiseman and The Osborne Brothers on a one-day show.”

But without regard to this chicken-or-egg conundrum, the Oak Leaf Festival deserves credit for commemorating this important piece of bluegrass history, and for taking the initiative to see these seminal artists recognized by the Commonwealth.

Oak Leaf will be held at Luray Caverns, a top tourist attraction, and will especially highlight music, crafts, food and beer from the Shenandoah region of Virginia. The festival will also mark the official opening of the Shenandoah Music Trail, which sets out to provide easy access to important historic music sites in northwestern Virginia, much as the popular Crooked Road has down in the southwest.

Full details on the Oak Leaf Festival can be found online.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.