RenoFest to close after 20 year run

RenoFest, which ran successfully in South Carolina in honor of banjo legend Don Reno, is shutting down operations after a 20 year run.

It would seem that the festival, which launched with a volunteer staff in Hartsville in 1998, the brainchild of Russ Jordan, along with his wife Billie and brother Rob, has been the victim of its own success. After that first year, the Hartsville Downtown Development Association came onboard, seeing the tourism possibilities, and soon a large number of community leaders in Hartsville and Darlington County were singing its praises.

But with continuing growth year to year, the management of RenoFest went from a passionate pursuit for the founders to a major undertaking, and it became clear to the organizers that they would have to either scale back the offerings at the festival, or shut it down completely. The decision was made to go out on top and make the 2017 edition the final event.

The biggest issue seems to have been the loss of their non-profit partner when the Downtown Development Association dissolved in 2013. Since that time, they were assisted by the Black Creek Arts Council, but they informed the organizers that they would be unable to do so following this year’s event.

Management tasks had become a year round exercise, and without a full-time staff, running a festival on a national scale was simply beyond the scope of the small team managing RenoFest.

Russ Jordan tells us that he is most pleased of the band and instrumental contests they hosted, which have helped launched a number of acts into prominence in bluegrass.

“I’m so proud of three recent band contest winners that things are going so well for – Carolina Blue, Claybank, and Backline – in addition to last years 2nd place band, The Trailblazers. We were lucky to have many great guitar and banjo contestants too, and of course all the great touring bands. I’m sure gonna miss it.”

Don’s son, Ronnie Reno, had been involved since the start, and shared in a recent letter to organizer Marty Driggers the pride he takes in his association.

“Words can’t express my gratitude and heartfelt thanks to you, Russ, Billie and Rob for all the wonderful years we have spent together in Hartsville SC during RenoFest. As I told Russ, I’m so proud of the great success we have had just knowing how much we have done with our festival and how much was done for us.

I also want to personally thank you and the great people of Hartsville for our long run and I want you to know it is one of the highlights of my career.

Thanks again my friend and hope to see you sometime in the near future. I will always be thinking in March about our friends and our wonderful times at RenoFest.”

Well done, RenoFest! Everyone involved should take a bow. You put together a first-rate event that demonstrated to community leaders how bluegrass could be used as a tourist attraction, and how to satisfy fans and residents alike with a quality product.

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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.