The 28th annual bluegrass festival in the Madison County mountains will have a new name, a new direction and an expanded musical focus.
The first event under the new Graves’ Mountain Music Festival name, which is set for May 28 through 31 at Graves’ Mountain Farm and Lodges in Syria, will make the most of its “Roots & Branches of Bluegrass” theme to present not only traditional and contemporary bluegrass, but also country, old-time, roots, Celtic, gypsy jazz, indie folk and singer-songwriter fare.
Mark Newton, who has been booking the festival’s acts since the earliest planning stages of the first event back in 1992, looks forward to seeing fans trace the connections between the bluegrass they already love and related genres of American music that share common ancestors.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,” said Newton, an award-winning bluegrass artist. “There’s nobody who has more of a passion for this music than I. We have to think about our future.”
In addition to returning favorites Junior Sisk, Seldom Scene and Ralph Stanley II and the Clinch Mountain Boys, the festival will present the indie folk of Milk Carton Kids, the Johnny-Cash-tribute country stylings of Cash Unchained and the fiddle-powered Celtic energy of The Fitzgeralds. Expect about half the music to be contemporary and traditional bluegrass and half to come from complementary genres with shared heritage. Look for time-honored dance traditions as well, including flat-footing and Irish step dancing.
“We are rejuvenating the whole thing,” said Eric Starck, Graves’ Mountain’s marketing director. “Not just the music.”
Fans can expect to find a new 32-foot Big River Stage with updated lighting and sound, Starck said. Many of the offerings fans have come to expect at other music festivals will be available, including morning and afternoon yoga sessions, face painting and a busy schedule of children’s activities, including farm visits and nature hikes, he said.
A series of 15 workshops is in the works, including a family fishing workshop with world-champion junior bass fisherman James Graves. Festival veterans who’ve enjoyed Graves’ Mountain’s great outdoors in the past can expect hiking, fly fishing, trail riding and other favorite activities to remain important parts of the weekend experience.
Other workshops during the weekend will give fans a chance to learn from the performers, including The Price Sisters’ workshop in vocal harmonies and Irene Kelley’s songwriting workshop.
Graves’ Mountain is known for its food, and in addition to the lodge’s traditional home cooking and grill favorites, this year’s festival fare will include pizza, smoked barbecue wraps, quiche and a vegetarian menu.
Cider fans can get a taste of the changes in early April, when Graves’ Mountain Squeeze makes its debut. Graves’ Mountain, home to a popular annual apple festival, is teaming up with neighbors at DuCard Vineyards in nearby Etlan to create its first-ever cider.
Beer Hound Beers in Culpeper also will be part of the local beer, wine and cider tent.
Fans will be able to start some new traditions, such as picking by the bonfire while enjoying s’mores. But Newton said that fans of the way things were will feel at home, too. He said that the input of longtime fans has been considered and respected throughout the process.
“We don’t want to alienate our loyal fans who’ve supported us all these years,” Newton said. “We want to complement that with the festival experience. There are just a whole lot of moving parts, and I am over the top over this.”
For tickets, camping information and a complete schedule of events, go online to gravesmountain music.com.