The Essentials for a Perfect Bluegrass Summer

Overton Bluegrass FestivalWell, summer is here, although bluegrass fans know summer starts when you attend your first outdoor bluegrass festival of the season. (You know I’m right!) According to Mother Nature though, today is officially the first day of summer.

Unless you’re a snowbird who thumbs his nose at nature and spends the winter in Florida, you’re going to need some help getting back in the groove of summer. (And if you don’t think you need the help, humor me and read the article anyway.) Never fear, I am here to ensure you have the PERFECT Bluegrass Summer! If by the end of summer you do not think I have helped you, you can send all complaints to Chris Jones.

No summer is complete without GEAR or TUNES. Whether you’re heading to the beach, to your favorite bluegrass festival, or to the backyard, you always need GEAR and TUNES.

Let’s start with GEAR.

1. Junior Sisk paper fan
One thing you can count on every summer is you will be hot at least once. Why put yourself through that when you can have a fan wherever you go? Whether you’re sitting in a rickety lawn chair  watching Junior perform, or in an old-fashioned revival service without air conditioning, the Junior Sisk fan is never out of style!

2. Blue Highway tank top
The rest of the world finally caught on to what festival-goers have known for decades- tank tops are cool. I believe bluegrass festivals are responsible for bringing this fad back, because a remnant of believers refused to let it die. Congrats guys! Nothing says summer like no sleeves. I prefer my official Blue Highway tank top. The classic Blue Highway logo with the open road gets me excited to blare Born With A Hammer In My Hand with the windows down. Another popular tank option is any screen-printed tank top from the old man with the funny pipe and his tie-dye wagon at Bean Blossom. (Got a “Git High On Bluegrass” tank from him last weekend!)

3. Cut-offs
Whether you can’t afford #2 above or if you need a pair of shorts in a hurry, some cutoffs, whether a shirt or pair of shorts, are essential to a bluegrass summer. This is another trend which never died at bluegrass festivals but has made a comeback in the rest of the world. Not much exemplifies the carefree attitude needed for a successful summer than cutoffs. Cutoffs should serve as a beacon, symbolizing your metamorphosis from a S.A.D. shut-in to a free man (or woman) anxious to attend your favorite bluegrass festival. Just as this piece of clothing, which was meant to look one way, broke past society’s barriers and became what it was truly meant to be, so should you! Or you can just wear them because it feels good in the hot summer sun, which is what I do.

4. A Mason jar
Every since the dawn of time (or at least the dawn of canning), Mason jars have been there to keep mankind company during the summer. Ice cold lemonade, home-brewed sweet tea, Katy Daley’s moonshine– everything tastes better in a Mason jar.

5. Tickets to your favorite bluegrass festival
Do I really need to explain this? That’s what I thought.

Now, onto the TUNES. Whether you’re on a road trip heading to the bluegrass festival to which you purchased tickets (see #5 above) or you realize you only have three badminton rackets and need a fourth so you can play doubles, you can’t have a successful bluegrass summer without some good bluegrass summer songs!

Long Hot Summer Days – John Hartford, Sara Watkins, The 23 String Band
John Hartford wrote a summer standard with this one. You can feel the sweat pouring off the workers by the time the song is over.

Ice Cream Man – Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time 
I bet you didn’t know there was a bluegrass song about ice cream!! From Strummin’ With The Devil: The Southern Side of Van Halen, count on “The Mighty Cord” to cool you off this summer.

Sun’s Gonna Shine In My Back Door Someday – Flatt & Scruggs, Lost & Found, Dave Evans
Why not enjoy what this song is looking forward to? If the sun’s shining in your backdoor this summer, you have no reason to be blue!

Georgia Peaches – Larry Sparks w/ Andy Griggs
One of my favorite parts of summer is when I get to bite into my first peach of the year. It always reminds me of this song.

Sunny Side of the Mountain – Jimmy Martin
I know Jimmy wasn’t the only artist to record Sunny Side of the Mountain, but it would be an exercise in futility to list all of the artists who have recorded this bluegrass standard. Besides, Jimmy’s version is my favorite.

Summer Winds – Steep Canyon Rangers
The more I hear this song, the more I like it. The lyrics paint a beautiful picture, and the delivery is captivating.

Sweet Summertime – Rhonda Vincent & The Rage
We got this song from the Queen of Bluegrass a few summers ago, and I honestly can’t think of one more thing about summer she could cram in there. This one will bring back some great memories.

Mississippi River Raft – J.D. Crowe & The New South, Southern Blend
What could be better than fishing on the river, sitting next to a pretty girl getting her tan on, and listening to Rickey Wasson singing? Not much.

Summer Wages – J.D. Crowe & The New South, Tony Rice
Kids, let this be a reminder to not blow your money from your summer job on blackjack.

The Bluebirds Are Singing For Me – Mac Wiseman
I don’t know who I’d rather hear singing: the bluebirds or Mac Wiseman? Either one will make your day better though.

1952 Vincent Black Lightning – The Del McCoury Band
A modern day classic from Del & The Boys, nothing says summer like riding a motorcycle with a redhead wrapped around you.

Summertime – Doc & Merle Watson, Bryan Sutton
Possibly the most well-known summer song in American music, Summertime appeared in the Gershwin musical, Porgy & Bess. Both vocally and instrumentally, this is an all around beautiful tune.

And from the “It’s not bluegrass, but it’s not bad” department, I also recommend these other great summer songs.

  • Summertime Blues – Alan Jackson
  • In The Summertime – Roger Miller
  • Denouncing November Blue (Uneasy Rider) – The Avett Brothers
  • The Swimming Song – The Earl Scruggs Revue
  • Old Dogs, Children, and Watermelon Wine – Tom T. Hall
  • Me & Jiggs – Josh Ritter
  • The Heat Is On – Marty Raybon
  • Kentucky Sunshine – Wayne Kemp
  • Sunshine On My Shoulder – John Denver
  • Homegrown Tomatoes – Guy Clark

What are some of your favorite summer songs? Did I miss any of your favorites? Let me know in the comments below. But most importantly, have a great summer!

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About the Author

Daniel Mullins

Daniel Mullins is an IBMA award-winning journalist and broadcaster from southwestern Ohio, with an American Studies degree from Cedarville University. He hosts the Walls of Time: Bluegrass Podcast and his daily radio program, The Daniel Mullins Midday Music Spectacular, on the Real Roots Radio network. He also serves as the station’s music director, programming country, bluegrass, and Americana music.