By Lisa Snedeker
One of Grammy award-winning Dobro player Jerry Douglas’ earliest memories is hearing Earl Scruggs play banjo on the radio in his childhood Cleveland home.“I doubt I would be a musician now if it hadn’t been for that sound,” Douglas told a group gathered at the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) annual conference and music festival in the Raleigh Convention Center on Friday, Sept. 27, for the announcement of the inaugural Earl Scruggs Music Festival set for Sept. 4-5, 2020, at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring, North Carolina.
Douglas continued, “Little did I know that later in life he would be my friend.A s far as I’m concerned this festival named in his honor is far overdue. But I also believe that’s the way Earl would want it to be. We can only hope that we can make him proud in how we perceive his legacy to the world.”
Douglas, who started his group the Earls of Leicester as a tribute to Scruggs, will act as musician in resident for the festival.Scruggs, who has deep ties to North Carolina, popularized a three-finger banjo picking style that became a defining characteristic of bluegrass music.The two-day event that will feature music from bluegrass, folk, blues, roots and Americana styles to celebrate Scruggs is a collaboration between the Earl Scruggs Center located in Shelby and WNCW radio station located on the campus of Isothermal Community College. The festival will benefit both the radio station and the college.In addition to Douglas, the initial lineup includes Marty Stuart, Alison Brown, Dom Flemons, Radney Foster, Darin & Brooke Aldridge, The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, The Barefoot Movement and Unspoken Tradition. Both Foster and Unspoken Tradition performed as part of the announcement that was made by festival director Steve Johnson, formerly of MerleFest.
Few other artists in American history have had such an impact as Scruggs, according to a festival press release. His work in 1946/47 with Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys and later with Flatt and Scruggs helped create an entire genre of music. His banjo playing was so fresh and different for the time that it was christened the “Scruggs style” of banjo and is still the most prominent banjo performance style in the world.
“Earl was my uncle, so I knew him a long time,” says JT Scruggs, a board member of the Earl Scruggs Center. “The first Earl Scruggs Music Festival presents an opportunity to bring exposure and new visitors to the Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby, North Carolina. The proceeds from the festival will also help to keep the center in good financial shape. The festival will bring great music and many different groups to the region. And I hope that people will hear things about Earl that they may have never heard before as all the artists share their personal stories. I know that Earl would be proud of what we are doing and that we are remembering him through the festival.”
Noah Wall of The Barefoot Movement grew up in North Carolina.
“I feel so lucky to have that in common with legends like Earl Scruggs,” he said. “He was such a trailblazer, not just a pioneer of bluegrass, but he also pushed the boundaries of traditional music. I don’t think he set out to be different for the sake of standing out, I think he did it for sake of the music itself. He just sought after good music, music that moved him, and that is so inspiring to me.”In October, two new acts — Acoustic Syndicate and Blue Highway– were announced. More artists, both national and North Carolina-based, will be added over the coming months. The festival will feature more than 20 artists and three stages in a beautiful setting at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, according to organizers. Camping, lodging, restaurants and other amenities will be available onsite.
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