Ocean Lakes survives Irene

This festival report comes from T.J. Boley, who we hope will be one of our regular correspondents when the site relaunches in September.

Ocean Lakes Family Campground in Myrtle Beach, S.C. would seem to be the perfect venue for a Bluegrass event. A mile of beachfront, an Olympic size pool, paved campsites, rental homes and an indoor, air-conditioned building to host the shows make this one of the most family-friendly places you can attend a bluegrass festival.

That is, until a hurricane comes rolling through. Hurricane Irene didn’t even have to make landfall in South Carolina to make trouble for the attendees of this event, throwing hard winds and rain squalls at everyone that happened outside.

Bluegrass fans are hardy stock however, so although some campers pulled out, the Recreation Building filled up as the evening progressed. Those that braved the storm were treated to a great evening of music Friday from The James King Band, The Bluegrass Strangers, Grasstowne and the Lonesome River Band.

The James King Band, after two hard driving traditional bluegrass sets, had to jump on the bus and chase the storm to the New England Coast. Thus is the life of a professional bluegrass musician.

Steve Gulley, one of the founding members of Grasstowne alluded to the threat of a storm in his comments between sets.

“We wouldn’t want to put the fans in harm’s way,” said Gulley, “but we always want to show up and play, no matter what the conditions.” And play they did. Gulley’s partner, Alan Bibey had to pull double duty, filling in for James King’s missing mandolin player. The crowd certainly seemed to appreciate getting to see twice as much of one of the top mandolin players in the world.

The well-traveled leader of the Lonesome River Band also took the storm in stride. Sammy Shelor, now in his 21st year with the band commented that it wasn’t the first time he had played “through the storm.” I asked Sammy about a conversation we had several years earlier about unfounded rumors that the Lonesome River Band was shutting down, rumors that ended up costing the band several bookings that season.

“That was a tough time,” Shelor commented, “and obviously we didn’t quit. In fact I think the band is better than ever now, and I am having as much fun playing with these guys as I’ve have had.”

At 48, Shelor says he is at the top of his game, and his playing reflects it. He good-naturedly deflects the comment that he is to a younger generation what Scruggs is to older generations of banjo pickers, but his playing reflects the truth in the statement, and his trademark style shone through Friday evening.

As of this writing, the sun is shining on the South Carolina coast, so even with the threat of bad weather, the Ocean Lakes Family Campground really is a perfect place to host a bluegrass event. The fun continues Saturday starting at 2:00 p.m. with Kenny & Amanda Smith, The Bluegrass Strangers, Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice, and IIIrd Tyme Out.