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Volume 26, Number 6 — June 2019

Get Ready for Song of the Mountains Festival

Jesse McReynolds will be honored during the Song of the Mountains Festival in celebration of the musician's 80th birthday.
Jesse McReynolds will be honored during the Song of the Mountains Festival in celebration of the musician's 80th birthday.

Variety-Packed Lineup Slated for June 25-27


*** Published: June 19, 2009 in the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier. ***

Loads of music innovators converge upon this year's Song of the Mountains Festival.
Scheduled for June 25-27 at the Davis Valley Winery in Rural Retreat, Va., the 3rd Annual Song of the Mountains Festival includes Dan Tyminski, Jesse McReynolds, John Cowan, the Goose Creek Symphony and Wayne Henderson.
Innovators all.
Among them there's a legend, edge, creation, relative youth and contemporary.
"I consciously tried to do that," said Tim White, executive director of and booker for Song of the Mountains. "John Cowan and Goose Creek have that edge. Curly Seckler, Paul Williams and Jesse have the tradition."
Then there's comedy, which will be supplied by the wonderfully whacky Moron Brothers.
"If they don't like the Moron Brothers," White said, "they're dead."
Likewise McReynolds.
He alone satisfies aspects of legend, tradition, innovation and edge. He and his late brother Jim emerged from the hills of Coeburn, Va., during the 1940s with a sound built on pristine vocal harmonies and Jesse's wickedly creative cross-picking style on the mandolin.
No one sounded like Jim and Jesse.
"We just wanted to do something that didn't sound like anybody else," McReynolds said on Tuesday by phone from his home in Nashville, Tenn. "I try to do my own thing."
Did he and does he ever. Take when Jim and Jesse recorded an album of Chuck Berry songs, "Berry Pickin' in the Country." That may seem tame by today's standards, but in 1965 that album shook asunder the conservative bluegrass world.
"Some people said we'd drive out the bluegrass fans," McReynolds said. "But we did "Memphis' on the Grand Ole Opry and got a standing ovation. When I look back on it, I would have gotten Chuck to play on it."
That's McReynolds for you. Even at nearly 80 years old, he's still thinking about ways to tweak his music in ways not done before.
"Jesse at age 80 is still in good voice, and he's still picking the mandolin really well," White said.
McReynolds, Tyminski, the entire lineup and fans included should certainly appreciate the festival's location. Way too many festivals are staged on barren eyesores for grounds and offer little by way of amenities for pickers and patrons alike.
Not so with Davis Valley Winery, White said.
"It's striking," he said. "When you go up and over the big hill there, up the winding road to the winery and top the hill where the amphitheater is, the first time I did it the hair stood up on my arms."
Spread out for all who attend the festival is a sight backed by the Appalachian Mountains and complimented by the winery's grapevines. The well-groomed grounds are impeccable.
"It's a setting like I've not seen anywhere else in the bluegrass world," White said.
The same could be said of McReynolds, whose style is unlike anyone else's in bluegrass or elsewhere. Credit talent but also an open-minded approach. After all, this is the man who 40 years ago recorded with rock's The Doors on their "Soft Parade" album.
"Some of the bluegrass people asked Jim about me when I went out to record with The Doors," McReynolds said, "like, "What's Jesse doing, going out to play with those dope fiends?' "
Didn't faze him. He laughs about it now and ploughs forth despite turning 80 on July 9. To wit, he has finished another eyebrow-raising and envelope-pushing album.
"I just finished an album of Jerry Garcia tunes that I hope to get out this year," McReynolds said.
That's Jerry Garcia, as in the late founder of rock's Grateful Dead.
"It's different," McReynolds said. "I don't expect it will get played on bluegrass stations."
That doesn't bother the forward-thinking bluegrass legend one bit.
"I look up. I don't look back," McReynolds said. "I like to experiment with new sounds. I'm still looking for new things to do, new challenges."
And that fits the bill of the Song of the Mountains Festival to a genre-stretching T.
"There are a lot of good festivals out there," White said. "Ours is as tall as any of them."

What: 3rd Annual Song of the Mountains Festival
When: June 25-27
Where: Davis Valley Winery, 1167 Davis Valley Road, Rural Retreat, Va.
Admission: $25 per day, $70 for a three-day ticket, children ages 12 and under admitted free with a paying adult
Info: (276) 645-0035, (276) 783-6093 or (276) 686-8855
Jim and Jesse video:

June 25

3 and 6 p.m.: Carolina Travelers
3:45 and 7:30 p.m.: Farewell Drifters
4:30 and 6:45 p.m. : Wayne Henderson
8:15 p.m.: Dan Tyminski Band

June 26

1:45 and 4 p.m.: Michael Reno Harrell
2:30 and 4:45 p.m.: Hillbilly Gypsies
3:15 and 6 p.m.: Lou Reid & Carolina
7 p.m.: John Cowan Band
8:30 p.m.: Goose Creek Symphony

June 27
1 and 5:20 p.m.: Bill and Maggie Anderson
1:40 and 7:15 p.m.: Big Country Bluegrass
2:20 and 5:45 p.m.: Paul Williams & the Victory Trio
3 and 6:30 p.m.: Moron Brothers
3:40 p.m.: Jesse McReynolds & the Virginia Boys
7:45 p.m.: Curly Seckler and Willis Spears with Big Country Bluegrass
8:40 p.m.: Jesse McReynolds & the Virginia Boys birthday celebration.