Remembering McAlester

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver circa 1998As this year’s festival season rolls along, one landmark festival is distinctly missing from the schedule. The Sanders Family Bluegrass Festival in McAlester, OK is no more. After running for the last 31 years, the family decided to no longer hold the festival.

Citing age, family commitments, rising gasoline prices, and busy schedules as the reason, Jo Sanders (wife of Freddie Sanders) commented in a story by McAlester News-Capital.

Age, the economy and everything all came together. Sooner or later it was going to come to this.

The family offered these words of thanks to former supporters and attendees, on the festival website.

Words are inadequate to say, but many thanks to all who have supported, attended, and promoted the Sanders Family Bluegrass Festival throughout the years.

We will cherish a lifetime of Bluegrass memories and friends and continue to promote Bluegrass music.

I also will cherish some fond memories from this festival. I first attended in 1996. I was back several times, once to run sound for Billy Joe Foster.

Who could forget Freddie Sanders taking the stage with his dobro, playing a break, and then lighting some fireworks as he exclaimed how “hot” his own solo had just been!

iiird Tyme Out circa 1997It was at McAlester that I first saw several of the bands that had influenced me to pursue bluegrass music. I saw the Osborne Brothers, IIIrd Tyme Out, Doyle Lawson, and more. I’ll remember the festival fondly, for not only the stage performances, but also the campground jam sessions I enjoyed with Phil Elliot, Dave Carney, and others.

Having moved to Southwest Virginia, I haven’t attended the festival in nearly 10 years, but I’ll still miss it.