By Cody Thompson

Messenger Reporter

GRAPELAND – Break out your banjos and get your dancing shoes on because the 20th Annual Memorial Day Gospel and Bluegrass Music Festival kicks off on Thursday, May 25 at Salmon Lake Park in Grapeland.

The event, located at 357 Salmon Lake Road, boasts four days of fun, clean music from bluegrass artists across the country.

“When I first took over the festival, almost all of the bands were from Texas. Occasionally we would get one from Missouri, but, for the most part they were all from Texas,” Texas Bluegrass Association president Colee Littlefield told the Messenger on Friday. “Now we’ve got bands from all over the country coming out to the festival.”

The bands that will be performing at this year’s festival include: The Baker Family, Edgar Loudermilk, Shallow Creek, Catahoula Drive, Bama Blu-Grace, Chris Henry & Hardcore Grass, The Marksmen,

The Purple Hulls, Robertson County Line and Paul’s Journey.

The Baker Family is a Missouri-based bluegrass group, comprised of four siblings and a family friend: Trustin Baker (fiddle), Carina Baker (mandolin), Elijah Baker (upright bass), Carrie Baker (guitar) and Hunter Motts (banjo). The Baker Family has won several bluegrass competitions across the country, including, but not limited to: the 2017 Tennessee Bluegrass Grand Championship and the the 2015 Gone to Texas Competition.

Edgar Loudermilk started his journey into the music world at a young age: he was only nine-years-old when he started playing in his family’s band. Loudermilk continued to play in the family band until he was 20-years-old, then joined the group, Carolina Crossfire. After developing a following in Georgia with Carolina Crossfire, Loudermilk left to pursue a solo career in 2001.

“A lot of these bands that come from out of state really enjoy the festival and fight to get a time slot and come back,” Littlefield said. “All of our slots have been booked since January.”

Shallow Creek is a bluegrass and gospel band based out of Mississippi. The band is primarily known for their songs, “One Small Miracle,” “Deeper Water” and “God is Great.”

Louisiana-based bluegrass and gospel band, Catahoula Drive, is comprised of Greg Stewart (banjo/vocals), Tres Nugent (bass/vocals), Dennis Stewart (mandolin/vocals) and Jamey Alwell (guitar/vocals).

Bama Blu-Grace’s membership is comprised of two married couples from Alabama. The band has primarily toured throughout the southeastern part of the country, and their harmonies are often described as a “family-like blend.” Bama Blu-Grace will celebrate its 15th anniversary as a band this July.

Chris Henry & Hardcore Grass are a Nashville-based band that blends the older stylings of traditional folk music with more modern genres, such as rock and hip-hop.

SLP Bluegrass Festival regulars, The Marksmen, are a based in Georgia and have been in the music business for over 40 years. The band is comprised of Earl Wheeler, Mark Wheeler (Earl’s son), Will Wheeler (Mark’s son), Darrin Chambers and Tommy Dutton.

Identical twins, Katy Lou and Penny Lea Clark, started their careers in the Piney Woods of East Texas and quickly moved to Nashville, where they started touring as back-up vocalist for a variety of country artists. The two are now on their own and have formed the band, The Purple Hulls.

Robertson County Line is a Texas-based bluegrass band comprised of Jeff Robertson (guitar/vocals), Rodney Shuffler (guitar/bass/vocals), Jonathan Trift (banjo/vocals) and David Hallmark (mandolin/vocals).

Paul’s Journey is a Texas-based gospel and bluegrass a capella group comprised of Rod Treme, Brad Davis, Matthew Esquivel and Jamie Streetman. The group has won several competitions across the country.

The festival begins on Thursday, May 25 and continues through Sunday, May 28. Admission to the festival is $15 on Thursday and Sunday and $20 on Friday and Saturday.

“People need to come out and hear the music, because it’s not what they think it is,” Littlefield said. “Bluegrass music has evolved so much since it started and the musicians are absolutely amazing.”

For more information about the festival or about Salmon Lake Park, visit www.salmonlakepark.com, or visit the frontmost building at the park and request to speak to Littlefield.

Cody Thompson may be reached via e-mail at cthompson@messenger-news.com.