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Good Thing Going

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Fourth annual bluegrass festival another success

By Stephen Lega

"Y'all make some noise," Ricky Stroud said as he and the rest of the Hager's Mountain Boys took the stage at Marion County High School Saturday evening, "and we'll try to make some, too."

The noise from the crowd was applause and cheers of appreciation. The noise from the Boys was bluegrass music.

This was the second year the Hager's Mountain Boys have performed at the Kentucky Bluegrass Music Kickoff, and both the band and Brad Lanham said they hope it won't be the last time.

Lanham is the president of the Kentucky Fellowship of Musicians, which has hosted a bluegrass festival in early January each of the last four years in Lebanon.

Every year, the event has attracted bluegrass fans from throughout the state and around the country. Lanham didn't have exact attendance figures Monday, but he felt comfortable saying more than 300 people attended the Friday evening performance at Centre Square and more than 500 showed up for Saturday night's show featuring Rhonda Vincent and the Rage.

"I was pretty thrilled with it," Lanham said.

Based on the crowd's reaction after the final song was performed, Lanham wasn't alone. Vincent was swarmed by fans seeking an autograph, a photo or a moment to say how much they enjoyed her show.

She enjoyed playing for an audience of bluegrass fans, but she also enjoyed the meal provided by Swan's Landing before her show, Vincent said.

"I went back for seconds," she said, "and then I went back for seconds of the peach cobbler."

And for good measure, she added that she would love to return to the KBMK in the future.

"It's been wonderful," Vincent said before reboarding her Martha White tour bus. "What a wonderful event."

The event offers more than just bluegrass performances, however. Visitors had the opportunity to sit and jam together and to take workshops from accomplished musicians like three-time national banjo champion Gary "Biscuit" Davis and Kevin Moore, who plays regularly in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

Fittingly, Davis held his advanced banjo workshop in the music room at the high school Saturday afternoon. During the session, he was encouraging all the up-and-coming pickers to take chances and explore what works and what doesn't when they are playing music.

At one point, he was encouraging Olivia Kirkland of Green Hazel, Ala., to take one of the breaks during a song.

"You've got to go through that painful process or you'll never get there," he said.

"You're helping with the pain," Kirkland replied.

Without missing a beat, Davis added, "That's what my wife says."

Kirkland has made the nearly five-hour drive to Lebanon each of the last two years for the festival. She said she enjoys the workshop with Davis, and she's made friends with some of the performers, including the Hager's Mountain Boys.

She also intends to come back next year.

"The local community is very welcoming and accommodating," Kirkland said.

Davis and Moore have been part of the event since it started in 2006.

Davis said he enjoys seeing how musicians have improved from year to year, while Moore said he's been impressed with the quality of the musicians and the improvements he's seen each year. As an example, Moore mentioned one particular moment during his set with Davis Friday night.

"Brad [Lanham] singing," he said, "that's a step up."

Ben Helson, a native of Edmonson County, led a guitar workshop Saturday afternoon. He spent last year touring with Ricky Skaggs, but he joined Vincent and The Rage at the beginning of the year. The Lebanon show was just his fourth performance as a member of Vincent's band.

Saturday night, his father, grandmother, aunts and uncles drove down to see him.

"We had a great time," Helson said.

Lebanon native Dan Malone performed again this year, this time with the band Shady Creek. He has played at the festival every year.

While he was listening to a jam session Saturday afternoon, he praised the Kentucky Fellowship of Musicians for their work putting the festival together and complimented the acts they brought in this year.

"They probably couldn't have done any better," Malone said.

Lanham said he's already had requests for next year (such as bringing back the Hager's Mountain Boys). He added that the planning for the 2010 KBMK is already under way.

"It's a really great thing for our community," he said.