Willow Oak Bluegrass Festival is in full swing

The Kody Norris Show at the Willow Oak Bluegrass Festival (6/16/22) – photo by Gary Hatley

Willow Oak Bluegrass Festival in Roxboro, NC, is successfully in full swing despite overcoming numerous hurdles. Promoter, Mike Wilson, suffered a heart attack and underwent triple by-pass surgery last week, but is home recovering.

Via phone, the longtime guitarist/vocalist with the Bass Mountain Boys, stated, “I really miss being there.”

Wilson’s son, Barrett, said, “It’s been an interesting year with him not being here. Luckily, he had a system in place.”

In addition to the 74-year-old patriarch’s emergency surgery, the weather played havoc with the Thursday program. Sweltering heat dominated the afternoon until late day thunderstorms rolled in five songs into the Lonesome River Band’s 4:00 p.m. set, temporarily halting the show.

During the course of the storm, winds toppled the merchandise tent, damaging a piece of sound equipment. Staff responded quickly, returning the tent to its original location while Virginia-based JMP Productions replaced a speaker. Once the storm threats passed, the show resumed, ran smoothly, and was enjoyed by all.

Emcee, Royce Jordan, welcomed all back to the stage area, explaining changes in the order of the line-up due to scheduled flights and distances to travel for the entertainers.

First up was the Kody Norris Show. “Is everybody high and dry at Willow Oak tonight? Thank you for hanging with us and visiting our record table before it blew away. It puts a hamburger in these musician’s mouths,” Norris said as he took the stage. 

Next was The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys who delivered a powerful, fast-driving set, closing with Smokey & the Bandits East Bound and Down as they headed out to catch a plane in Raleigh.

Dewey & Leslie Brown followed, performing lots of original tunes, penned by the powerhouse bluegrass couple.

Closing out the evening was Lonesome River Band, playing an extended set since their first show was cut short by the thunder and the lightning.

“We want to dedicate this show to Mike Wilson,” shared LRB bandleaderr, Sammy Shelor. “Keep him in your prayers. We want to get him headed up and back amongst us.”

Their show featured material from their newest release, HeyDay, and their all-Gospel project paying homage to the Easter Brothers.

“They wrote over 300 songs and we picked 10 of our favorites for this project,” the banjoist relayed.

Host band, Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road, was on site preparing for their Friday and Saturday performances.

“Mike Wilson’s done an outstanding job putting together a great line-up. It’s easy to walk in with him already having everything in place.”

The hostess continued her praises, “I’m proud of my 92-year-old father, Royce Jordan. He had lots of different situations going on yesterday to deal with. He handled it all and kept the show flowing and staying on time.”

“The crowd is large as I’ve seen, and many fans we talked to while out at other festivals have attended this year. Lots of Kentucky, Ohio, Florida, and Michigan folks in attendance. Jamming is in full swing.”

Longtime North Carolina bluegrass performer and UNC Bluegrass Ensemble instructor, Russell Johnson, was in attendance. “I’ve had a great time. This was a super strong Thursday line-up. I’m glad to see the show back, and thanks to the production staff, the people, and the bands.”

John Maness’ widow, Shelia, who assisted her late husband in running the Bass Mountain Bluegrass Festival for years, stressed, “Fun times. Great people. Good music. It’s like a family reunion. Mike’s done wonders with this festival.”

Friday’s line-up includes Sideline, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, Deeper Shade of Blue, Starlett & Big John, and Carolina Road.

The show continues on Saturday beginning with a fiddle and banjo workshop at 11:00 a.m., with later performances by the Malpass Brothers, Terry Baucom’s Dukes of Drive, the Gospel Plowboys, Drive Time, and host band, Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road to follow.

Willow Oak Music Park is located at 895 Blalock Dairy Rd, Roxboro, NC. For more information, visit their website, or call (336) 229-9055.

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.