As a young man just gaining an interest in bluegrass music, the bluegrass festival was almost heaven for me. One of the first festivals I can remember attending was at Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO. I grew up there in Missouri so it seems natural I would have fond memories of this festival. This is where I first encountered the mandolin playing of Danny Roberts, the flatpicking of John Chapman, and the thrill of excitement of being at a bluegrass festival.
Silver Dollar City has hosted a bluegrass festival since 1975. Back then it was called the Mountain Folks Music Festival. Over the years the festival has changed names and dates more than once. Four years ago it became Silver Dollar City’s Bluegrass & BBQ Festival. The festival is a long running one, starting on May 10 and continuing through June 1, 2008. During these 23 days, the park will be running a total of nine stages throughout each day, with over 60 bluegrass bands performing. Each performance is scheduled at 30 minutes and during the course of the festival there will be in excess of 1000 sets.
I had the chance to speak with D.A. Callaway, the festival coordinator, and he shared some interesting details about the event. With that many stages running for this length of time, the technical staff will be working hard. Callaway tells me they have 25 full time technical staff to run sound and lighting during the festival. The park hours are 9:30 AM to 7 PM each day. The shows begin in the morning and continue throughout the day.
Silver Dollar City is a large theme park that attracts a lot of tourists, but Callaway assures me that of the 10,000 attendees the park will average each day of the festival, 40-50% of them are there for the music. These are fans that might not be at the park if it wasn’t for the festival. Those are great numbers to contemplate on both sides of that equation. 4-5K people per day in attendance specifically to hear bluegrass music is a great turn out. But 5-6K people each day who aren’t there for the music, will surely hear it as they enjoy the other offerings of the park. Perhaps a few new bluegrass fans will be born next month in Branson!
With 60+ bands performing I was curious how artists are selected for inclusion in the festival.
About half of the artists performing are nationally touring acts. The other half are either regional bands, or bands local to the Branson area. Some of these bands right here in Branson are very good and deserve to be heard.
I’ve been to a lot of festivals over the years, and I’ve worn out a lot of lawn chairs. I have to say this festival is a real smorgasbord of bluegrass. We try to keep a healthy variety of both geographic and stylistic representation in the bands we choose. We’ve got bluegrass stars like Rhonda Vincent, The Grascals, Cherryholmes, and Bradley Walker, to name few. We’ve got newer bands in a very traditional vein, like Dailey & Vincent. We’ve got newcomers that a lot of fans haven’t heard before, but we like them and think they are worth hearing. And we’ve got the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band coming in on May 30. I know a lot of people will think “They’re not bluegrass!” but they introduced a whole generation, my generation, to bluegrass music by introducing us to Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson and others.
And we have several bands that have played here at Silver Dollar City for years and are returning again this year. The Chapmans are joining us again, and Rarely Herd will be here. Your uncle Rod’s band, The Blue & Gray Pickers, continue to entertain audiences, proving you don’t have to tour nationally to be good entertainers.
And it’s a real honor to have the US Navy Band, Country Current, perform at the festival this year.
We’ve got something for every type of bluegrass music fan. We feel like our pass holders are family and we want to present the best bands we can for them to enjoy.
The festival website has a complete list of scheduled performers.
In addition to the regular performances, Callaway was excited about two competitions they are holding again this year.
2008 will mark the 2nd Annual National Single Mic Championship on May 17-18. This is a fun competition open to both amateur and professional bands. Designed to represent the performance style of early bluegrass legends, the bands will perform over a single mic and be judged both on musical ability and entertainment value. Registration has already close and they have a full complement of 12 bands registered for the event.
The other competition is the Youth In Bluegrass Band Competition, held May 24-25. The competition is open to amateur entertainers 21 years of age or younger. Registration was limited to 15 bands and scheduled to end tonight at midnight, but D.A. tells me they reached the 15 band limit several weeks ago.
While you’re at the park for the festival, be sure to take in some of the other attractions, including the House of BBQ, as well as all the rides and crafts that are always present in the park.
Tickets can be purchased by calling 1-800-831-4FUN, or online at SilverDollarCity.com.