Weekend photos from the Milan Bluegrass Festival

Youngsters get a chance to try out instruments at the 2018 Milan Bluegrass Festival – photo © Bill Warren

The Friday stage show at the 2018 Milan Bluegrass Festival was opened by the East Tennessee State University Pride Band. ETSU has the premier bluegrass and od time music program. Program director, Dan Boner, was on site with the Becky Buller Band, so he was able to join the Pride Band for a few tunes.

Chasin’ Steel is a band based in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. They are fishing buddies that started a band about 18 years ago. I also caught up with two of the top sound men in bluegrass. Donnie Carver has done IIIrd Tyme Out’s sound for 22 years. Jimmy Kittle has worked the sound at Milan for all 21 years of the festival.

The Lonesome River Band filled the middle slot of the day. Sammy Shelor is once again a nominee for IBMA’s Banjo  Player of the Year. LRB has brought top notch music to audiences  for many years. Becky Buller and her band are one of the most in demand today. Becky has a number of IBMA nominations this year. Ned Luberecki, BBB banjo player, is also nominated for IBMA Banjo Player. Sammy said that he and Ned would have a “cage match” to determine the winner. Russell Moore and III Tyme Out closed out the show. Russell has been one of the strongest voices in bluegrass for over thirty years. He is once again nominated for Male Vocalist at IBMA.

Saturday dawned bright and sunny. Fiddlin’ Dixie and L’il Friends kicked off the morning with musical activities and instruments. The kids ranged from 3 to 80 years young! Jeff Tuttle from FM98.3 did a live broadcast from the Milan stage in the morning.  

Sugar Creek Bluegrass is a family bluegrass band from the Columbus, Ohio area. They are maturing into a very entertaining group of youngsters. Breaking Grass followed. They are based in Mississippi, and I have heard some of the old timers say: “That young’un is eat up with the music.” Band leader Cody Farrar is all that and more. His music comes from a joyful place. The band did have a fill-in bass player in Melissa Triplett as their regular bass player is a brand new daddy as of Friday.

Michigan’s own Detour has reassembled for one of two shows they have booked. Tim Surrett said from the stage: “Missy Armstrong may well be the best female singer in bluegrass today.”

Rhonda Vincent and the Rage are a Saturday fixture at Milan. There is no harder worker in bluegrass music. There were surprise guest musicians after the supper break. Robert White and Fred Ellis were the original promoters of the festival when it started in the early ’80s when Cayce Kiger owned the campground. Robert’s granddaughters, Tamara and Kyle, gave the audience several tunes and some stories that took us back to the early days of the festival. Mark Gaynier has hosted the festival for 21 years. I caught up with him and the girls after the show. All three were emotional about coming full circle at the festival. Kyle has her grandfather’s guitar. It was on the Milan stage for the first time in over 25 years.

Balsam Range closed out the festival in high style. They captivated the audience with the breadth of their music.

A Gospel program was added on Sunday morning. Milan based One Accord played bluegrass Gospel before and after a moving message from Pastor Joe.

It was sunny enough that the stage needed sunglasses!

Please join Mark and his staff for next year’s festival on July31, August 1, 2, and 3.