By Cheril Vernon
Messenger Copy Editor
GRAPELAND – Bringing in a ton of tourists who love bluegrass music from all across Texas and neighboring states, the four-day 41st Labor Day Bluegrass Music Festival will kick off Thursday, Aug. 31 at Salmon Lake Park in Grapeland and continue through Sunday, Sept. 3.
“This is one of the best lineups I’ve ever had. We have some great bands playing for this year’s festival,” festival organizer Colee Biller-Littlefield told The Messenger on Wednesday, Aug. 23. “I know it brings in a lot of people from all over the country. It’s very good for local tourism.”
The festival will hold its opening ceremonies at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 31 with performances continuing throughout the evening. On Friday and Saturday, Sept. 1-2, performances start at 1 p.m. and continue throughout the day and evening. The Sunday, Sept. 3 schedule starts with an 11 a.m. devotional with bands scheduled to start at 1 p.m. and ending around 5 p.m.
The Grapeland Area Chamber of Commerce will serve free ice cream and cobbler on Thursday, Aug. 31 during the festival.
“We are more than happy to be part of the community. This has been going on for 41 years. We think it’s great and want to welcome everybody here to Grapeland, Texas. The Chamber is proud supporter,” Grapeland Area Chamber of Commerce Event Chairperson Naomi Perryman told the Messenger.
Headlining this year’s festival is up-and-coming North Carolina bluegrass band, The Malpass Brothers. Other bands and performers on the schedule include Trinity River, Kristy Cox, Buffalo Nickel, Southern Style, The Baker Family, Gary Waldrep, Remington Ryde, Mark Phillips and III’d Generation, The Marksmen, Lone Star Drive, and Karl Shifflett and The Big Country Show.
“This will be their first time to Texas for the Malpass Brothers. They opened for Merle Haggard for seven years. I’ve seen them on ‘Larry’s Country Diner’ (a RFD cable variety show) and a couple of bluegrass cruises. If I didn’t get them this time, I wasn’t going to get them,”Biller-Littlefield said. “I’m really excited about bringing them to this festival. People will get a few chances to see them perform at the festival.”
The Malpass Brothers have toured with the late Don Helms, former steel guitarist for Hank Williams, and have opened for Haggard on multiple tours. They have played with artists ranging from Ray Price, Willie Nelson, Doyle Lawson, Rhonda Vincent, Marty Stuart, Doc Watson and others. The title cut video from their “Memory That Bad” album hit CMT Pure Country’s Top Ten. Their most recent self-titled recording was released by Crossroads’ Organic Records in 2015..
Dan MacIntiosh from Roothog Radio was quoted saying “George Jones once recorded a song called ‘Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes’ which wondered if great country singers would come along in the future to take the place of the great old ones from the past…Well, George, maybe your prayer’s been answered. These guys don’t just sound retro. They are retro.”
Discussing all the talent coming to perform at this year’s event, Biller-Littlefield said fans won’t be disappointed.
“Everyone that goes on stage is really exceptional. Kristy Cox is from Australia. She’s got a great voice, phenomenal. And she doesn’t sing with an accent,”Biller-Littlefield said. “Trinity River is a national group coming from Florida. They are on the Bluegrass channel a lot – so is Kristy Cox.”
The Baker Family from Missouri is a fan favorite for the local festival.
“I’ve had them for about two years at every festival I have. They were on ‘America’s Got Talent’ recently (season 12). Their son Tristan plays the fiddle and he has won all kinds of awards. The daughter sings like Loretta Lynn – she’s a dynamic singer. The other brother, Elijah, plays bass. He has so much character,”Biller-Littlefield said describing The Baker Family.
Other fan favorites making a return visit to the festival include Waldrep, from Alabama, and two-time Dove-nominated bluegrass band, The Marksmen from Georgia.
“Remington Ryde has never been here before. They are from Pennsylvania. They have been all over performing,”Biller-Littlefield said. “Karl Shifflett is from Groesbeck. His show is fun to watch. He has really good, talented musicians.”
A Salmon Lake Park Tradition
The Bluegrass Festival began at Salmon Lake Park in 1976 on Labor Day, the dream of longtime Grapeland residents Floyd and Fannie Salmon. In 1960, the Salmons began to transform the land into a nostalgic park complete with a swimming lake, historic buildings he moved to the property – some that date to the early 1900s, that are now used for cabins and reunion halls and mule-drawn equipment. The idea for the festival came to fruition after talking to an Elkhart bluegrass fiddler named Earl Garner, who Floyd Salmon moved a house for.
“At one time, I was moving houses, running bulldozers, had a billboard sign business and I was grasping at straws to do anything that might bring in a little money. Then, this (the idea for the Bluegrass Festival) came along in 1976,” Salmon said during a Messenger interview in 2016 for the 40th anniversary of the festival.
The Salmons invited Garner to a hamburger cookout one night by the lake in 1976, and when the night was over, the first bluegrass festival came to life.
Salmon Lake Park currently features 22 cabins and more than 500 camper hookup with lots of trees and shade.
“Floyd (Salmon) has been on the tractor all week preparing for this,”Biller-Littlefield said. “He’s the energizer bunny. He will be 84 lin September. His wife, Fannie, just turned 85. This is the 41st Labor Day Bluegrass Music Festival. If you think about that, that’s a long time ago, started by Mr. and Mrs. Salmon. They also just had the 20th Memorial Day Bluegrass Festival in May. That’s two festivals for 20 years. It’s a lot of work.”
Best Kept Secret
“This is Texas’ best kept secret – to see this old town Floyd (Salmon) put together out here. The cabins are rustic but nice. There’s a swimming lake and pavilion – really just a sight to see. A lot of local people haven’t seen it,”Biller-Littlefield said. “This is one of the largest parks in the United States that does a bluegrass festival. There’s not very many that are bigger than this. I feel pretty special and grateful to put our bluegrass festival on here and they allow us to continue it.”
Biller-Littlefield encouraged local residents to come out to the festival to experience it first hand.
“We have a lot of people from all over the country coming to follow some of these bands including Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas and all over Texas,”Biller-Littlefield said. “People just count on this. They treat it as a family reunion. Some of them come in two or three campers and park together, across from each other. They make a nice four-day weekend of it. Some of them won’t see each other until next year.”
Information about the two Salmon Lake Park bluegrass festivals are mailed to about 1,800 people from all over, Biller-Littlefield said. About 100 to 200 new names are added to the list each year.
“Most bluegrass festivals are outdoors. They are the friendliest festival that you go to. There’s no alcohol here. Bluegrass people are down-home people who want to hear good, original music. They love country-western, they love old country-western,” Biller-Littlefield explained.
In addition to the music lineup, the festival features several food vendors featuring everything ranging from barbecue, corn dogs, funnel cakes, etc.
“You name it, we got it. The park store also has snow cones, Bluebell® ice cream, popcorn and sodas,”Biller-Littlefield said.
A small array of arts and crafts vendors selling items such as t-shirts, jewelry, leather items, etc. also will be set up during the festival.
For the kids, Floyd Salmon has added to his unique creations at the park – this time a Batmobile they can sit in and pretend to drive, while their parents take pictures.
A four-day festival ticket pass is $65. One-day festival ticket passes are $15 for Thursday, $20 for Friday, $20 for Saturday and $15 for Sunday. Children 15 and under get free admission with their parent’s ticket.
(subject to change)
THURSDAY, Aug. 31
6 p.m. Opening Ceremonies
6:30 p.m. Southern Style
7:15 p.m. Remington Ryde
8 p.m. The Baker Family
8:45 p.m. Kristy Cox
9:30 p.m. Trinity River
FRIDAY, Sept. 1
1 p.m. Remington Ryde
1:45 p.m. Kristy Cox
2:30 p.m. The Baker Family
3:15 p.m. Trinity River
4 p.m. Buffalo Nickel
4:45 to 6:30 p.m. supper break and open stage
6:30 p.m. The Baker Family
7:15 p.m. Kristy Cox
8 p.m. Remington Ryde
8:45 p.m. The Malpass Brothers
9:30 p.m. Trinity River
10:15 p.m. Gary Waldrep
SATURDAY, Sept. 2
1 p.m. The Baker Family
1:45 p.m. Mark Phillips & 3rd Generation
2:30 p.m. Karl Shiflett & Big Country
3:15 p.m. Gary Waldrep
4 p.m. The Malpass Brothers
4:45 p.m. The Marksmen
5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Supper Break
6:30 p.m. Karl Shiflett & Big Country
7:15 p.m. Gary Waldrep
8 p.m. The Marksmen
8:45 p.m. The Malpass Brothers
9:30 p.m. Mark Phillips & 3rd Generation
SUNDAY, Sept. 3
11 a.m. Devotional
1 p.m. Lone Star Drive
1:45 p.m. Southern Style
2:30 p.m. Buffalo Nickel
3:15 p.m. Mark Phillips & 3rd Generation
4 p.m. The Marksmen
Salmon Lake Park is located at 357 Salmon Lake Road in Grapeland. For more information about the festival, visit txbluegrassmusic.com, the Texas Bluegrass Music at Salmon Lake Park Facebook page or call the park at 936-687-2594. For more specific information about the festival, call Biller-Littlefield at 936-697-5949.