Bluegrass, a truly American style of music, emerged in the 1930’s and shows no signs of fading in popularity anytime soon.
“I think bluegrass is here to stay,” said Joyce Turner, executive director of Edgecombe Arts, coordinator of the 2nd Annual Bluegrass Festival in Tarboro.
For locals, the tune of bluegrass music harkens back to the days of Wednesday evening jam sessions on the front porch of the late Dr. Peter Temple’s house. Temple’s Tar River Boys will keep the sound of bluegrass alive in Tarboro, at Saturday’s festival at Indian Lake Park, along with four nationally known bluegrass groups.
“A lot of them are moving up on the charts, so we’re getting them when they’re hot. We’re lucky to have them in little Tarboro,” Turner said.
The sound of Rose Hill bluegrass band will greet visitors upon arrival, between 9 and 10 a.m., The 10 a.m. opening headliner, the Malpass Brothers, has previously opened for the likes of Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. The other three headliners — Sweet Potato Pie, Kevin Richardson & Cuttin’ Edge, and The Grass Cats — will delight audiences the rest of the day until the festival wraps up at 6 p.m.
Carol Banks, co-coordinator of the festival, envisions a tranquil scene Saturday at the park, with people lying on the grass and listening to the melody of the banjo, mandolin, fiddle and bass.
“I like the old-timey music,” Banks said. “It’s very relaxing and it tells a story.”
Turner said she and Banks are excited, and hope the weather “continues to be beautiful.” Broiling temperatures kept down crowds at last year’s festival. This year, a large tent will be set up to shelter festival goers from the sun. Saturday’s long-range forecast calls for a high temperature of 89 degrees.
The bluegrass festival has also expanded this year, and will offer more food vendors, arts and craft vendors, and children’s activities, including a bounce house.
“It will be more of a festival feel to it. I think it will be more family-friendly, too,” Turner said.
The festival features bands with a wide range of musical styles, and brings young, fresh talent to the stage. The Malpass Brothers, who hail from Goldsboro, are young in age but old in spirit.
“Malpass Brothers has this kind of Elvis/ Conway Twitty when he was younger look to them,” said Turner, with a laugh.
Christopher Malpass and younger brother Taylor bring to their audiences the sound of country music’s most well-known performers, including Johnny Cash, Ernest Tubb and Jimmie Rodgers.
“We’re trying to keep country music alive…The older stuff is what we really are carriers of,” Christopher Malpass said, in a description of the band’s mission to Country Stars Central.
The all-female band “Sweet Potato Pie” from Cary is charting its own musical style – “sweetgrass” – combining elements of country, classic, blues and bluegrass. The homegrown group was featured in the November 2012 edition of “Our State” magazine.
Sweet Potato Pie’s 2012 CD “Brand New Day” held steady at No. 1 at AirPlay Direct for two months. One of the songs the group will perform at Saturday’s festival is “Sweet Potato Jingle,” an ode to North Carolina’s “state vegetable.”
Kevin Richardson & Cuttin’ Edge, a group from the Piedmont Triad, in recent months has had two No. 1 songs on the Bluegrass Today charts – “He Better Run” and “What Kind of Love.”
Richardson, guitarist and lead vocalist, was nominated as Songwriter of the Year for the 2013 Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music Association Awards.
The final headliner, The Grass Cats, hail from various towns throughout North Carolina.
The Grass Cats are the only group on an independent recording label to have had singles reach No. 1 on Bluegrass Unlimited’s national chart, first with “Bluegrass Man” in 2003, and then again with “A Good Way to Get the Blues” in 2010 and “The Mountains My Baby and Me” in 2013.
A returning act, the native Tar River Boys, is known for tunes such as “Engineers Don’t Wave From the Trains Anymore,” that transport people to an era gone by.
“For some people, it takes them back to a time when life was simple,” Turner said. Bluegrass takes her back to her childhood, when her father picked tunes on his banjo by ear.
Listening to bluegrass, or any type of music for that matter, is a unique experience for each individual.
“It’s going to be something that everybody can appreciate in their own way,” Turner said.
The Town of Tarboro, The Daily Southerner and Edgecombe Cultural Arts Council are sponsoring Saturday’s festival. Limited seating is available, so festival goers are urged to bring a lawn chair or blanket. Golf carts will be on hand for those who are unable to walk from the parking area to the stage.
Tickets are available through Edgecombe Arts (call Joyce Turner at 252--823-4159) or at the door. The cost is $20 per person. Children ages 12 and under will be admitted free. Checks and cash will be accepted. All proceeds from the festival will benefit the arts in the Edgecombe community.
Indian Lake Park is at 3202 Western Blvd. in Tarboro.
(Portions of this story were taken from the websites of the various groups.)