SamJam 2019 report

Sideline with Styx Hicks after their set at SamJam 2019 – photo by Mike Sullivan

The SamJam 2019 bluegrass festival was one for the record books! The energy at this festival is something rarely seen at bluegrass events these days.

Sammy Karr and Rick Greene’s story goes back to the days of the original location of The Festival of The Bluegrass, Masterson Park. Sammy’s dad and friends attended the festival back in the prime of the JD Crowe years. The young boys would wonder off at the festival, and hours would go by with the boys father’s trying to find them. Sam Karr, Sr. decided to tear a piece of cloth and tie it to their heads to better locate the boys. Thus began the birth of the Ragheads, and a bluegrass revolution was born.

This year’s festival started on Wednesday with a shuttle service going to four different locations in Piketon and Waverly, with bands performing at each stop. It was called the SamJam Hop and provided early camper arrivals with a taste of what was to come for the week.

Thursday brought acts The Kody Norris show, Lacy Creek, Billy Droze and Kentucky Blue, The Junior Sisk Band, and Russell Moore & Third Time Out with special guest Lou Reid. It was one of the best Thursday shows at a bluegrass festival I have ever seen. Junior Sisk brought his newly configured band to SamJam for the first time, and they did not disappoint. Russell and Lou’s version of Till the Rivers All Run Dry was off the charts!

Friday saw acts Nathan and Chesi Arnette, Ricky Wasson and a JD Crowe tribute, Seldom Scene, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, and The Appalachian Road Show. It was also the day for the Pinecastle band competition which was held in the multi purpose building. Pinecastle teamed up with SamJam this year to offer a band studio time. I had the pleasure of judging the competition and it was not an easy one. 6 bands entered and they were all terrific. Three finalists remained going into the evening. Echo Valley, Coal Cave Hollow Boys, and The Sour Mash String Band. The Coal Cave Hollow Boys took the competition and were offered a spot to play at the main stage on Sunday.

Saturday brought in the Caleb Daughtery Band, The Band of Kelleys, Turning Ground, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, and Sideline. The evening portion of the day was one that will long remain in my memory. Ricky was in rare form and came to pick. Sammy got on stage and made Ricky an official Raghead. Sideline followed. This was the last show that Troy Boone, long time mandolin player for Sideline, was slated to play before turning the reins over to Claybank’s Zack Arnold. The intro was made, fog machines went off, and Troy Boone walked to the stage with a police escort, lights and all, the band Burst into Thunder Dan.

Sunday started with a prayer service from Christy Mullins, Coal Cave Hollow Boys, Hammertowne, Wildfire, Lonesome River Band, The Cleverlys, and to close, a show from The Barnlizards. Some rain moved in, and the afternoon show was moved into the multi-purpose building.

It was a great week of bluegrass. Plenty for everyone to do, and jamming all over the fairgrounds. I want to personally thank Sammy and Rick for working with my wife and I at The Mansfield Jamfest. Both of our festivals are back-to-back weekends and we offered discount tickets for folks that were going to both festivals. It was quite amazing to see how working together can benefit us all.

Next year’s dates are slated for September 2-6. You don’t want to miss this one. Keep an eye out at