September 15, 2014

Outer Banks Bluegrass Festival
features all-star roster of performers


By PETER PAPPALARDO


Bluegrass is alive and well in North Carolina, with three events in as many weeks that will provide top-notch entertainment to bluegrass lovers.  The first of these, the Outer Banks Bluegrass Festival, will be held from Thursday, Sept. 25, through Sunday, Sept. 28 in Manteo.

The festival features an all-star roster of bluegrass greats, including Rhonda Vincent and the Rage, Blue Highway, Ricky Skaggs, Dailey and Vincent, and dozens of other local, regional, and national bluegrass and newgrass bands.

There is no denying the beauty of the venue for the festival, located at Waterfront Park in Manteo.   The water views of Shallowbag Bay serve as the backdrop for the stage, confirming the festival’s claim of bringing mountain music to the sea. Besides the music, there are vendors, a band contest, and fireworks on Friday night.

Visitors at the previous two festivals have heaped praise on the event for providing stellar lineups of bands, possible in part because the autumn months fall after the outdoor bluegrass festival circuit is finished north of the Mason-Dixon line after Labor Day, while the bigger festivals in Florida have not yet commenced. 

Headliners like the Lonesome River Band and Blue Highway are good examples of the second generation of bluegrass pickers, musicians much younger than Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, and Earl Scruggs, and the Stanley Brothers, the founding fathers of bluegrass.  

Traditional bluegrass bands are ones which utilize the configurations of guitar, mandolin and/or fiddle, banjo, and bass used by the masters, although bluegrass bands can and do use other instruments as well. The difference in the approach of newer bands is to use bluegrass instruments and conventions to play jazz, rock, swing, blues or pop tunes in a bluegrass style, to broaden the range of music considered bluegrass.

The Steep Canyon Rangers are known beyond bluegrass circles, mainly because they have toured with Steve Martin, who was a proficient banjoist before he was a comedic success.  Another band, Carolina-based Nu-Blue, centers around the vocal talent of Carolyn Routh, a self-avowed rocker with a haunting and powerful  bluegrass voice.

Routh is just one example of female bluegrass vocalists and players like Allison Krause, Rhonda Vincent, and Clair Lynch who are claiming their rightful place among bluegrass greats.  
A recently recorded Nu-Blu tribute to the late George Jones, entitled “Jesus and Jones,” is a great example of the melding of musical worlds. The recording features a vocal duet with soul star Sam Moore, who had actually spent time with Jones on tour over his long career, and by rights could be a cross-over hit on the R&B charts as well as being a superb bluegrass song. 

Nu-Blu has made appearances a little further down the beach, having performed this past year at Red Drum Pottery in Frisco.  Here, local musician Wes Lassiter hosts a Wednesday night weekly bluegrass concert along with his band, Banjo Island. 
 
The band includes Lassiter on banjo, his wife Rhonda Bates on bass, and newest Banjo Islander Lucas Wayne Raye on a variety of instruments, including guitar, mandolin and cello, another example of stretching the bluegrass envelope.  Lassiter is heavily involved in running the festival, and Banjo Island will be performing there as well.

People used to more traditional bluegrass festivals will find some features of this event that don’t fit the standard festival model.  There is no camping on the festival grounds where aspiring bluegrass pickers will stay up all night trying to steal each other’s material, although jam events at near-by venues afford the chance for bluegrass musicians to take part in impromptu jam sessions. 

Other aspects of the festival are more traditional. Like any good fair or festival, the atmosphere would not be complete unless it was encircled by vendors selling food and merchandise.  Festival-goers during the previous two OBX festivals were generous in their praise of the quality and variety of the food and happy to shop the merchandise at the festival.

While most bluegrass festivals have one price for weekend tickets, there are three different levels of weekend tickets for the OBX festival -- a four day pass for $110, a pass for $200, which includes backstage access, and a third tier of VIP tickets, which includes preferential seating in front of the stage as well as access to parking on festival grounds. 

Single day passes are $40 per day, $15 for children between the ages of 7 and 12, and children’s four-day passes are $50.

According to the festival website, “Due to the unique location of the festival, which is on a 27-acre island off downtown Manteo, parking is limited." The site says that parking on the island is reserved for wheelchair handicap, VIP's, band members and vendors only. All festival attendee parking will be located at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site (The Lost Colony Parking Lot). Shuttle service will be provided for a fee of $5 for an all day pass and will run every 20 minutes to each location. Shuttles will begin at 9 a.m.

For the daily schedule of performers and more information, go to the website, http://www.bluegrassisland.com


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