The Daily Southerner
Not a breath of air was stirring at Indian Lake Park in Tarboro Saturday afternoon, but the sounds of bluegrass music wafted through the air like a welcome breeze.
The heat and humidity were high at the first annual bluegrass and folk music festival, but so was the enthusiasm of both the bands and audience members.
Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs’ “Salty Dog Blues” and “Doin’ My Time” were some of the songs that resonated throughout the park during Marshall Stephenson and the Bluegrass Train’s performance at noon. The band’s lead singer, Marshall Stephenson, entertained the audience by telling jokes between songs and came back for an encore performance at 4 p.m.
“I enjoy these outdoor events,” said Stephenson. “It’s a beautiful place and it could grow into a real good festival. We look forward to doing one for next year.”
High-energy banjo pickin’ and fiddlin’ intermingled with slow, mournful love songs in the traditional bluegrass style at the festival. Audience members tapped their toes to Scruggs’ “Earl’s Breakdown,” performed by Carolina Grass’ banjo player Lee Floyd, while they became immersed in the lyrics of tunes such as the Kentucky Headhunters’ “Walk Softly on This Heart Of Mine,” performed by the Tar River Boys.
Saturday’s festival was dedicated to the memory of Dr. Peter Temple, founder of the Tar River Boys. The remaining Tar River Boys played some of Temple’s favorite songs for audience members, including “Blue Ridge Cabin Home” and the gospel tune “You Go to Your Church and I’ll Go to Mine.”
“I’m glad to see them keeping up the tradition. I’m sure Peter’s here somewhere in spirit listening,” said Betty Temple. She said her late husband played with his band on several occasions at private parties at Indian Lake Park.
“This is a great venue,” she said. “You never know how bluegrass is going to go in Eastern North Carolina, but whoever’s there [at bluegrass events] is always enthusiastic.”
One of the eager audience members at the festival was Tarboro resident Sandra Harrell, who braved the heat and stayed all day.
“I think it’s wonderful. I hope they do it again,” she said.
Annette Grady, who hosts The Chester Thompson Old Time Radio Jamboree, was the emcee. Grady is Chester Thompson’s granddaughter and the show is the second-longest running old country, bluegrass and bluegrass gospel music radio show after the Grand Ole Opry (1925). Grady said the majority of bluegrass festivals in North Carolina are in the western part of the state, so she’s glad to see the establishment of a festival in the Northeastern region of the state.
“You gotta keep traditional music alive and that’s the best way to do it right here,” said Grady. “Every song tells a story. It’s just a good down-home feeling to it.”
“You feel like you’re sitting on a front porch,” said Ron Ackerman, president of the North Carolina Bluegrass Association. He said even big-time bluegrass musicians will “come out, shake your hand, do autographs, because they know where their roots come from.”
Temple was one of those down-home, friendly bluegrass musicians, Tar River Boys’ bass player Willie Nelms shared with the audience at the festival. Temple was known for hosting Wednesday evening front porch pickings at his Tarboro home.
“Peter was one of the most inclusive people you’d ever meet,” he said. “I don’t care what you brought up to play [at the front porch pickings], you were made to feel welcome.”
Steve Peters of Goldsboro, fiddle player for Carolina Grass, said the atmosphere at Saturday’s festival was a welcoming one.
“The crowd’s been responsive,” he said, adding he had a good time aside from the “heat and the gnats.”
“We’re pleased with the turnout for it to be a first-time event. We have plans to do it next year,” said Joyce Turner, festival coordinator and executive director of Edgecombe Arts. She thanked the Town of Tarboro for the use of Indian Lake Park for the festival.
Festival coordinator Carol Banks said she had a “good feel” of the atmosphere at Edgecombe County’s first ever bluegrass festival. The festival was a fundraiser for Edgecombe Arts.