The 12th annual Aiken Bluegrass Festival this weekend promises to be the best yet, according to organizer Christian Schaumann, who has managed the festival since 2007.
“We are not only having several of the best bands touring today,” Schaumann said, “but we also are taking it a step farther.
“We have been working with the individual artists we have come to know and are having them hand-pick other great artists they want to play with,” he added.
Continuous music begins at the Aiken County Fairgrounds at 4 p.m. Friday, May 13, ($20 advance, $25 at gate) and 1 p.m. Saturday, May 14 ($30 advance, $35 at gate, gates open at 11 a.m.) Weekend admission tickets are $50 advance, $60 at the gate.
Coming all the way from Nederland, Colo., for their first Aiken festival appearance is the Gipsy Moon band featuring Silas Herman on mandolin, guitar and vocals, Mackenzie Page on guitar, tenor banjo and vocals, Matt Cantor on bass and vocals and Andrew Conley on cello.
Also traveling a great distance from Portland, Ore., for their first Aiken festival is the band Fruition, which combines rock and bluegrass music.
Members are Jay Cobb Anderson on lead guitar and vocals, Keith Simon on bass, Kellen Asebroek on guitar, Georgia-born Mimi Naja on mandolin and vocals and Tyler Thompson on drums.
Nat Keefe of Hot Buttered Rum produced the band’s self-titled album in 2009.
Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon will be coming from Medford, Ore., also for his first Aiken bluegrass music festival and will be performing with Larry Keel’s Aiken All-Star Band featuring Larry & Jenny Keel, Keller Williams and many others.
Keel has been at every Aiken festival except one.
“He loves Aiken and its people so much,” festival organizer Schaumann said. “I’ve tried to talk him into moving here from where he lives in Natural Bridge, Va.”
All of the above will be performing on Saturday.
Another new band at the festival coming from a lot closer will be Blackwater Deep from Athens, Ga.
The festival’s facebook page notes, “Blackwater Deep will be kicking off the 2016 Aiken Bluegrass Festival (4:30 p.m. Friday, May 13) with a late afternoon set showcasing their unique blend of foot-stomping bluegrass and harmony-driven folk-rock featuring Aiken’s own Drew Albenesius on banjo and vocals!”
Steve Groat, who established the Aiken Bluegrass Festival in 2004 with his wife, Jeannie, died in 2012 at 67 after battling cancer for nine years.
Since the beginning, festival proceeds have benefited the STAR Riding therapeutic program that Groat strongly supported as an avid horseman.
The festival first was held in downtown Aiken and then moved to the High Fields show facility area east of downtown Aiken where it got lost for a few years.
“That is one of those places that everyone who lives around Aiken knows where it is,” said organizer Schaumann, “but it was difficult to find for a lot of people outside the area.
“We moved in 2014 to the Aiken County Fairgrounds (1566 Columbia Highway North, Route 1 between the bypass and Interstate 20), and we’ve been growing each year ever since.”
MORE GREAT OFFERINGS:
• 11th annual Boss Hog State Championship Cook-Off: Sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society, 5 to 11 p.m. May 13, and 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m. May 14, at Boss Hog Cook Off Grounds, Schwank Way off Georgia Highway 56 in Waynesboro, Ga. Admission Friday is $11.43 with the Walker McGuire Band performing at 7 and 9 p.m., a Queen of the Wing Reverse Beauty Pageant and fireworks; Saturday, get in for $6.43 and hear guitar pulls featuring Trey Cowart and Phil Wilson from 10:30 a.m. to noon, with Jason White from noon to 1:30 p.m., and with Todd Cowart of the Hushpuppies Band from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Visit bosshogcookoff.com.
• Country Music Party in the Park: Friday, May 13, at Evans (Ga.) Towne Center Park, 7016 Evans Town Center Blvd., free show hosted by Columbia County Exchange Club, gates open at 6 p.m., music starts at 7 p.m., acoustic guitar pull-style concert featuring Drew Baldridge, Jacob Bryant, Luke Combs, Ray Fulcher, Faren Rachels and Cole Taylor.
• Sunday in Pendleton King Park: Concert featuring Bethany (Davis) & The Southside Boys, playing a variety of hit songs, 3 p.m. Sunday, May 22, at Pendleton King Park, 1600 Troupe St.; the concert is free thanks to the generosity of Cranston Engineering.
• Seventh annual Papa Joe’s Banjo-B-Que Music Festival: May 27-28, Memorial Day weekend, at Evans (Ga.) Towne Center Park. Friday: gates open 4 p.m. with music until 11 p.m., $35 or $250 VIP pass; Saturday: gates open 10:30 a.m. with music until 11 p.m. Two-day tickets are $60 or $325 VIP. Visit banjobque.com.
• Third annual Augusta Music Fest: 3:30 to 10:30 p.m., Saturday, May 28, at Augusta Common, 800 block of Broad Street; family fun free event includes a Kids’ Zone; VIP tickets $50; AugustaMusicFest.com.