Malpass Brothers Bluegrass & Country Festival slated to become annual event

Aynsley Porchak with Tennessee Bluegrass Band at Denton FarmPark – photo Laura Tate Ridge

As the new host band for this past Mother’s Day weekend music festival in Denton, NC, The Malpass Brothers worked overtime to make themselves approachable and the event fan-friendly. Masterminded by brothers, Chris and Taylor Malpass, daily fun activities included a scavenger hunt, a dunking booth, bus tours, and nightly jams. W can assure you that a good time was had by all.

“Everyone was so receptive to the Malpass Brothers! We are so thankful to all who came and supported their first annual festival,” shared Denton FarmPark co-owner, Karen Loflin Miller.

On Sunday afternoon, Chris Malpass reflected, “This was one of the highlights of my music career. We felt like we became part of a huge family, and we look forward to making more and more great memories for many years with all our bluegrass friends. Truly an honor!”

“We had the time of our lives and can’t wait for many more years to come meeting new folks that love good music,” chimed in brother, Taylor.

Malpass Brothers’ fiddler, Johnny Ridge, added, “The crowd and reception was good. I feel mighty blessed that we were offered this and that folks have faith in us. It’s a great honor to take over one of the greatest institutions in bluegrass music.” Until this year, the event had been known as the Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver Bluegrass Festival.

The three-day music festival contained many memorable moments.

Authentic Unlimited, which includes three former members of Quicksilver, wowed the crowd with their debut performance at Denton.

“Welcome back to your home place, guys,” announced emcee Jeff Branch from the stage.

Their show consisted primarily of original material.

As guitarist and lead vocalist, John Meador, introduced another original tune, he stated, “Jerry Cole has a portfolio of unlimited material.”

 Each of their performances ended with enthusiastic standing ovations, which garnered them two consecutive encores after their evening set.

Lawson’s three former band members weighed in on revisiting their old stomping grounds.

“It’s been our pleasure to return to Denton, NC, and play for all. It’s a good feeling to still do what we love to do,” shared AU’s banjoist, Eli Johnston.

Stephen Burwell, fiddler, agreed. “It’s like coming home. I’ve come full circle and I am glad to be here.”

“It’s always been an honor to come to Denton. This was the biggest time of the year when I was with Doyle. I am glad the Malpass Brothers are running a good, clean festival like the ones we always loved,” stressed bassist, Jerry Cole.

During Larry Efaw & the Bluegrass Mountaineers’ Saturday morning set, Adam Burrows broke out an eight-string fiddle to play an old Benny Martin number, Me and My Fiddle.

After his performance, the fiddler talked about the unique instrument. “It’s a different animal. (The pairs of strings are tuned in harmony.) The fiddle was built for Michael Cleveland. It has mandolin tuning pegs. I bought it (in Raleigh) at IBMA.”

A longtime Denton FarmPark entertainer, Russell Moore, reflected on his years playing the iconic bluegrass festival, recalling his first appearance there in 1984 with his Texas-raised band, Southern Connection. The award-winning lead singer went on to perform with original host band, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, and then started his own band, IIIrd Tyme Out, which are celebrating their 30th year in the music industry.

Moore’s former band mate, Steve Dilling, was present to perform with his band, Sideline. The powerhouse banjo picker, too, has many fond memories, recalling he first attended the festival as a spectator, watching such greats as Tony Rice and J.D. Crowe perform.

When Deeper Shade of Blue took the stage, emcee Bob Webster declared, “These guys are festival favorites.” As they sang their rendition of the classic Alabama tune, Old Flame, the crowd heartily joined in to sing along. Troy Pope whipped out his lighted cell phone to wave along in time with the music as they harmonized.

As originally established, the festival continued its tradition of being family-friendly. During the Malpass Brothers’ Saturday afternoon set, the audience was given a chance to meet the host band’s family members when Chris invited his wife and two children to the stage. The son of bassist, Jake Riggins, also made an appearance. Johnny Ridge had his two children stand and wave to the crowd.

Plans are already underway for the second annual Malpass Brothers Bluegrass & Country Festival on Mother’s Day weekend in 2023.

Miller concluded, “We can’t wait for next year!”

Photos by Gary Hatley and Laura Tate Photography.

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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.