Organizers of the inaugural Earl Scruggs Music Festival have lofty goals.
“When people leave, they are going to say ‘best festival ever, can’t wait 'til next year,’” said J.T. Scruggs, the festival director.
After four years of planning and two delays, the Earl Scruggs Music Festival will take place Friday, Sept. 2 through Sunday, Sept. 4 at the Tryon Equestrian Center in Mill Spring.
The bluegrass festival will feature more than 20 musical acts, including Bela Fleck's My Bluegrass Heart, Acoustic Syndicate and Darin & Brooke Aldridge.
“A lot of the lineup includes artists who have direct connections to Earl in some way. Many of them played with them…all of them are influenced by Earl,” said Mary-Beth Martin, executive director of the Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby. “You’ll see that throughout the lineup. Even folks who may not have ever met Earl will be able to say they were influenced by him.”
Festival organizers announced a late addition to the festival lineup — Asheville based band Town Mountain — on Monday.
“It’s an absolute honor,” said Phil Barker, mandolinist of Town Mountain.
“Both from just starting traditional bluegrass with the revue to doing super progressive stuff, he kind of opened the door for artists to expand their sounds, which is something we are trying to do as a band," Barker said of Scruggs' influence. "To be added to a lineup honoring one of our hero’s and biggest inspirations is a good feeling.”
Zach Smith, bassist for Town Mountain, said Scruggs’ music was part of the foundation he learned to play on.
“My dad is a banjo player and he was heavily inspired by Earl, which means in turn so was I. I’m a bass player but my dad would always try to get me to learn these Scruggs songs and try to take breaks on these (Lester) Flatt and Scruggs songs. It’s was a very big part of my early bass playing and music in general,” he said.
Scruggs was born in Cleveland County in 1924 and began his musical career at age 21 when hired to play for bluegrass icon Bill Monroe.
Scruggs would create a three-finger banjo picking style, which would become a defining sound in bluegrass music and make the banjo a featured instrument across several genres of music.
After leaving Monroe's band, Scruggs' banjo instrumental called "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" became an enduring hit and was featured in the 1967 film "Bonnie and Clyde." Flatt and Scruggs' country hit, "The Ballad of Jed Clampett," was the theme song for "The Beverly Hillbillies" TV" and reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts.
The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and National Medal of Arts recipient died in March 2012.
The festival bearing Scrugg's name will include workshops on Saturday, Sept. 3. Musicians will also come together Saturday for an Earl Scruggs Revue, where they will play some of Scruggs’ music.
The festival was announced in 2019, with plans for a festival in 2020. That festival was postponed by the emergence of COVID-19 that spring. Festival organizers hoped to have the festival in 2021, but it was again delayed by the ongoing pandemic.
“There’s been a lot of changes, a lot of challenges I should say. Some of the artists we had initially couldn’t come back because they booked other dates. We hated to lose them, but fortunately we brought in some additional artists,” Scruggs said. “As I’ve said before, I challenge you to find a better festival that has a better bluegrass lineup than we’ve got.”
Martin said the added time did have some benefits. Since its initial announcement the festival has added a third day of performances and created a suite of workshops for musicians of all ages.
“Something that has been really important to us, to look at the education piece and how do we talk about Earl’s life and legacy,” she said. “We’ve been able to expand what we are doing and hopefully increase the impact of the festival.”
Tickets for the inaugural Earl Scruggs Music Festival are on sale now. People who bought tickets in 2019 and 2020 who still have their tickets will be able to use them to get into this year’s festival. To purchase tickets visit earlscruggsmusicfest.com.
Dustin George can be reached at 704-669-3337 or Dustin.George@ShelbyStar.com.
This article originally appeared on The Shelby Star: Earl Scruggs Music Festival confirmed for 2022