Pulling a few strings

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Bluegrass Kickoff has become a community draw

By Stephen Lega

What could bring visitors to Lebanon from as far away as Canada and Texas in January?


If you said the Turtleman, you’re probably right.

But if you said bluegrass music, you would be right, too.

In spite of the icy road conditions that affected Marion and surrounding counties Friday, hundreds of people made it to Marion County High School for the 2013 Kentucky Bluegrass Music Kickoff.

The Kickoff has become one of Marion County’s biggest community events since it started in 2006, thanks to the efforts of the Kentucky Fellowship of Musicians and the support of local businesses and the Lebanon Tourist and Convention Commission.

In just a few years, the bluegrass festival outgrew its old home in the Centre Square Convention Center. Today, the main show takes place in the Roby Dome, but classrooms and the cafeteria serve as venues for music lessons and impromptu jam sessions.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that Gary “Biscuit” Davis, the four-time national banjo champion, has also been a champion for this festival since its beginning. 

Many of Davis’s workshop students have return to every year. His encouragement has inspired many amateur musicians to take the stage with him for the jam session that has become a regular feature of the Kickoff’s Friday night show.

Davis’ talent is undeniable, but he’s just one of many first-class musicians who have graced the stage in recent years. Rhonda Vincent, The Grascals (twice) and The Travelin’ McCourys have enthralled the crowd as headlining performers.

Likewise, the Kickoff is becoming a regular stop for The Hagar’s Mountain Boys, Flatt Lonesome and The Moron Brothers, all of whom have inspired fans to request their return.

The festival also provides a showcase for area musicians like the Honeysuckle String Band, Bluegrass Express, and Dix River Crossing. A new feature — a singer/songwriter competition — also gave more artists an opportunity to be heard.

Unfortunately, the weather did cause the cancellation of a few Kickoff-related events, but we are hopeful that won’t discourage people from participating again next year.

It’s hard to say why hundreds of people travel to Lebanon for two days every winter to listen to live bluegrass music. Some come for the camaraderie. Others come to rub elbows with bluegrass aficionados, and still more come for the experience. (The dinner doesn’t hurt, either.)

A bluegrass festival may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who enjoy it, it’s pretty sweet.