Weekend at the Milan Music Fest ’22

Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out at the 2022 Milan Music Fest – photo © Bill Warren

Friday dawned sunny and bright at the 2022 Milan Music Fest.

Campground owner/promoter Mark Gaynier and I had a few minutes to chat about the history of the festival. Many people know that there was a Milan Bluegrass Festival when Cayce Kiger and his wife owned the campground. There was a hiatus of a number of years after Ruth Kiger passed. Mark purchased the campground, and he along with promoters Jerry Yates and the late Jim Wilder started the new festival in 1997. Mark said, “Jim and Jerry set the standard for the talent level at a festival.” Mark devised the “5 for 25” marketing slogan for this year’s event. He is still amazed that the festival is going strong after 25 years. “5 for 25” featured 22 bands.

The other part of our discussion revolved around Jeff Tuttle. Jeff spent something over thirty years in Nashville and returned home to the Monroe, Michigan area about ten years ago. He has hosted a Sunday gospel radio show since 2016. He started a Saturday bluegrass radio show in 2018 that is sponsored by the Milan Music Fest and the KC Campground. Jeff was recently diagnosed with cancer. He begins treatment this week. He continues his radio shows from his home studio that was set up during the pandemic. Mark knew that the bluegrass community would support Jeff in his time of need. To that end, Mark set up a fundraiser at the festival. The fundraiser started off with a 2023 Milan Music Fest package with tickets, a week’s camping, festival merchandise, and meals. Every band made a substantial donation of merchandise – CDs, hats, shirts, Little Roy and Lizzy suspenders, pictures, Malpass Brothers festival tickets, and Rhonda Vincent gave an autographed mandolin.

People bought tickets all week and many made extra monetary donations. A Navy veteran who stated that he had never won anything before was the winner of the fantastic prize package.

The Friday stage show was kicked off by Deeper Shade of Blue. They are one of the most in-demand bands today.

Larry Stephenson is in the 33rd year of leading his band. He is one of the hardest working band leaders around. I consider it a privilege to have watched and listened to Larry for the past thirty years.

The Amanda Cook band rolled into Milan with Amanda wearing a sling on one arm. She had pulled a shoulder muscle. She removed the sling and soldiered through her sets. Her comment, “It’s only 45 minutes!” She has become very popular in Michigan.

The Malpass Brothers have been given a home by the bluegrass community. Everyone enjoys their classic take on country music. Chris’ son, Barrett, traveled with the band this weekend. He will be a showman like his Dad. He did receive some tips from the audience. He stuck them in his boot. He told his Dad he had “stinky feet” and nobody would try to steal his money! He did sing a tune with his Dad as did Larry Stephenson.

Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out once again closed the Friday show. Russell has done that for many years. Russell is in the 31st year of leading his band. Wayne Benson has played mandolin and Donnie Carver has rune sound for many of those years. On a personal level, I would like to thank Russell for singing Rose of My Heart to my wife for our 53rd wedding anniversary. It is a special song.

Jeff Tuttle spent a little time at the festival on Friday afternoon. He did get up on stage and thank everyone for their support and prayers during this time.

Dave Adkins exploded onto the Milan stage to open the Saturday show. Dave is a big guy with an even bigger personality. The fans love him. Long-time bass player, Bobby Davis, keeps things on an even keel. Davis has three new, young members in his band. All are in the bluegrass program at ETSU. They are gelling into a really good band.

Breaking Grass has become an every year band at Milan. Cody Farrar leads the band with energy that most can only wish to have. This is a must see band.

Crandall Creek made their Milan debut. They are a West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Maryland bluegrass band. They do hard driving music.

Rhonda Vincent once again brought the Rage to the stage. She was singing in a slightly lower key due to catching a cold from grandson Titus, but she pushed through as she always does. Every person that wanted a picture or autograph got it. Jeff Tuttle wanted a picture with her. She said to me, “Get ready. I’ll hold my breath and step in so I don’t breathe on Jeff and you get the picture for him.”

Alex Miller of American Idol fame closed out the show. Many people had come to the festival just to see him because of his TV appearance. That included a young man with cancer. His family drove two and a half hours so he could see Alex live. Alex went into the audience and introduced himself to Devon!

The grand prize drawing was held prior to Alex’s last set. Jeff Tuttle and Mark Gaynier took pictures with the winner. Mark also introduced his staff to the crowd. A very dedicated bunch made the festival run smoothly.

Next year’s dates are August 3, 4, and 5.

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