Tug Hill Bluegrass Festival expands lineup, kicks off with top act

The Grascals, one of the most popular bands in bluegrass, is the premiere act of the ninth annual Tug Hill Bluegrass Festival. The band performs two sets Thursday night. From left: Danny Roberts, Jamie Johnson, Kristin Scott Benson, Terry Smith, Adam Haynes and Terry Eldredge. KIM LANCASTER-BRANTLEY

The Grascals, one of the most popular bands in bluegrass, is the premiere act of the ninth annual Tug Hill Bluegrass Festival. The band performs two sets Thursday night. From left: Danny Roberts, Jamie Johnson, Kristin Scott Benson, Terry Smith, Adam Haynes and Terry Eldredge. KIM LANCASTER-BRANTLEY

The ninth annual Tug Hill Bluegrass Festival will kick off with a bang Thursday night to go along with its banjos.

The premiere band of the festival, The Grascals, performs at 7 and 9 Thursday evening.

Building on the success of past festivals, organizers have added more than six hours of stage performance time to the 2014 event. Bands will be traveling from New England and as far away as Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia to perform at the three-day festival held at Maple Ridge Center.

The Grascals are among the most renowned bands on today’s bluegrass scene, having won the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America’s bluegrass band of the year award in 2010, the International Bluegrass Music Association’s emerging artist of the year award in 2005 and earning the association’s entertainer of the year honor in both 2006 and 2007.

The Grascals consist of lead singer and guitarist Terry Eldredge, guitarist and award-winning songwriter Jamie Johnson, mandolin player Danny Roberts, bassist Terry Smith, fiddler Adam Haynes and four-time IBMA banjo player of the year Kristin Scott Benson.

The band’s latest album, “Life Finds a Way,” was released in 2012.

The Grascals are part of an extended lineup of entertainment at the festival this year, something that caused budgeting concerns for concert promoter Keith Zehr. But the board of directors of the Adirondack Mennonite Camping Association, which governs activities at Maple Ridge Center, told him not to worry.

“The board feels that the festival is a great showcase for the type of family activities that are described in the mission statement of the Maple Ridge Center and that the festival will be a success,” Mr. Zehr said.

The Lindsey Family also will do its part to make this year’s festival a success. The band, which has performed at six Tug Hill Bluegrass festivals, returns after an absence last year. The band, formerly of Remsen, but now residing in Kentucky, will give two performances on Saturday.

“They are probably one of the most popular bands we’ve had,” said Mr. Zehr.

The Lindseys first sang publicly in 2003 when they were asked by an Oneida County bluegrass association to play for an event called “Utica Monday Night.”

The band’s latest album, ‘What I Have,” was released last year. The band performs at 12:40 p.m. and at 6:20 p.m. Saturday.

Another festival favorite, Audie Blaylock and Redline, also returns this year and will perform two shows on Friday.

“We’ve kind of adopted Audie as our home national band,” Mr. Zehr said. “The band plays with such hard-driving force that the crowd asks them back every year.”

Jeanette Williams from Virginia was the first national act to perform at the festival, which began in 2006. Since then, she has been the recipient of a number of awards, including the 2012 and 2009 SPBGMA female vocalist of the year award in the traditional category. This year she returns with husband, vocalist and guitarist Johnnie Williams for a pair of Saturday concerts. The duo is joined by Scott Freeman on mandolin and fiddle.

The title track of Ms. Williams’s last solo album, “Thank You for Caring,” is a duet with country music legend George Jones, who died last year.

Other festival highlights:

Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers along with Darin and Brooke Alridge on Friday, the Crowe Brothers on Saturday and soloist Mike Compton on Friday and Saturday.

Barb Heller, announcer at North Country Public Radio and host of the Canton-based station’s “String Fever,” heard at 3 p.m. on Thursdays, will help to emcee the festival on Saturday.

“We’ve been trying to get Barb for the past several years to help us,” Mr. Zehr said. “We’re thrilled that it worked out for her this year.”

 

WHAT: Ninth annual Tug Hill Bluegrass Festival

WHERE: Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Maple Ridge Center, 7421 East Road, Lowville

NOTE: Organizers say many maps on the Internet do not show the correct East Road. The correct East Road is off Route 812 on the north side of Lowville.

COST: Weekend passes are $65 per person. Day tickets for Thursday are $15. Day passes are $35 each day for Friday and Saturday.

The admission price includes free rough camping at The Maple Ridge Center, which has nearly 100 acres of grounds. Gates open Thursday morning.

By Chris Brock, Times Staff Writer

ON THE WEB: www.tughillbluegrass.com