By Cheril Vernon
Messenger Copy Editor
GRAPELAND – Despite the possibility of rain from Hurricane Harvey, the four-day 41st Labor Day Bluegrass Music Festival will still kick off today at Salmon Lake Park in Grapeland and continue through Sunday, Sept. 3, rain or shine.
“While we still have people coming, we’ve lost a lot of attendees because of the flooding in Houston, but we are going to turn this into a refuge of sorts and give people a chance to take their mind off things for a little while,” festival organizer Colee Biller-Littlefield told The Messenger on Tuesday, Aug. 29. “We are not insensitive to what’s going on. My daughter’s family lives in Cypress and they have had to stay put since Friday. They have had water come up to their door, but thankfully the rain has slowed down and given them a reprieve for now. We are very much aware about what southeast Texas is going through. We will be praying about it and doing what we can every day during the festival.”
Organizers hope to be able to collect some items for hurricane victims – such as bottled water and batteries – asking attendees to bring what they can on their way to the event.
A full lineup of bluegrass bands from across the nation — including the Malpass Brothers, The Marksmen and The Baker Family, among others – are on tap to perform during the four-day event. Opening ceremonies will start at 6 p.m. today 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.
“This is one of the best lineups I’ve ever had. We have some great bands playing for this year’s festival,” Biller-Littlefield said.
Even though the forecast calls for a 40 percent chance of rain today, the chances of rain at this point drop between 10 to 20 percent for the rest of the weekend in Grapeland.
“We have an indoor facility that will hold everybody comfortably. If it continues to rain, we have professional sound people and they know exactly what to do,” Biller-Littlefield said. “If we have sunshine and beautiful skies, everyone will be very happy and we will keep everything outdoors. It really depends on what direction (Tropical Storm) Harvey goes. Once the weather moves through and leaves Texas, we will be fine.”
In fact because of the rainy conditions, Biller-Littlefield said the bluegrass festival would be a great weekend activity for those in the area this weekend looking for something to do.
“We would love for everybody to come out, especially the local people,” Biller-Littlefield said.
Only one band scheduled to perform had to be canceled due to the hurricane.
“Remington Ryde was scheduled to land at Hobby Airport, but their flight was canceled. We have replaced them on the schedule with another band, Jeff Robertson and Friends from Bastrop,” Biller-Litltefield said. “This is a first for me to have a festival during a hurricane. So far it seems like everyone else will be able to come, so we will be fine. All of my talent is coming mostly from the north.”
Biller-Littlefield said they will have to determine whether the events will be held inside or outside, depending on the weather.
“We have a lot of die-hard bluegrassers that will sit in the rain, that bring umbrellas and rain slickers. We don’t like to put the sound equipment in the rain, so if it’s dry we will set up outside, and if not, we will stay indoors,” Biller-Littlefield said.
In fact, Biller-Littlefield said her daughter’s family is currently staying put due to nearby flooding in Cypress, which is 25 miles northwest of downtown Houston.
“The rain has slowed down but it got up to their door. Their streets have been flooded since Friday so they have been cooped up, but they have only lost power a few times. Thankfully the rain has slowed down and they have had a reprieve, so maybe it won’t get into their house,” Biller-Littlefield said.
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, Jeff Robertson and Friends, 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.
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,” Biller-Littlefield said.
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.
“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 said.
Local residents are encouraged 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 snowcones, 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.
The Grapeland Area Chamber of Commerce will serve free ice cream and cobbler during the opening ceremonies today 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.
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. Jeff Robertson and Friends
8 p.m. The Baker Family
8:45 p.m. Kristy Cox
9:30 p.m. Trinity River
FRIDAY, Sept. 1
1 p.m. Jeff Robertson and Friends
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. Jeff Robertson and Friends
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, interested parties may call Biller-Littlefield at 936-697-5949.