By Cheril Vernon
Messenger Copy Editor
GRAPELAND – Fortunately for those who attended the 41st Labor Day Bluegrass Music Festival, the sun came out and stayed – making for four fun-filled days of bluegrass music for fans who came to Salmon Lake Park in Grapeland from across Texas and neighboring states in cars and RVs for the annual event.
“Everybody was real pleased with the new talent. They stayed until the very end each night. I was worried about keeping them up late, but if there’s good music, they won’t leave,” festival organizer Colee Biller-Littlefield told the Messenger. “This is one of the best lineups I’ve ever had.”
The festival kicked off on Thursday evening with the Grapeland Chamber of Commerce providing free cobbler and Blue Bell™ ice cream to those in attendance for the evening performances, which included Southern Style, Jeff Robertson and Friends, The Baker Family, Kristy Cox and Trinity River.
Other bands performing throughout the weekend included The Malpass Brothers from North Carolina, The Marksmen from Georgia, Mark Phillips & 3rd Generation, Karl Shiflett & Big Country, Gary Waldrep, Lone Star Drive and Buffalo Nickel.
On Friday and Saturday, the bands started at 1 p.m. and continued late into the evening. On Sunday, the festival wrapped up, opening with a devotional and bands performing from 1 to 5 p.m.
Hurricane Harvey’s aftermath in Southeast Texas – especially in the Houston area – affected the attendance of the festival overall. A few days before the festival was to start, forecasters were predicting Tropical Storm Harvey to bring rain to the local area, but instead Harvey went farther east towards Louisiana before it dissipated over the midwest.
“The weather has been gorgeous. We had some people call and say they couldn’t make it out at first, but many were able to come after all. Some of these people come year after year. If they could get out, they came here,” Biller-Littlefield said.
A few of the bands had Harvey-related issues making it to the festival.
The opening band on Thursday night was Southern Style from League City.
“I was real pleased they made it. They had been cooped up for a week due to the storms,” Biller-Littlefield said.
Another band originally on the schedule, Remington Ryde, was unable to make it to the festival this year because their flight was schedule to land at Hobby Airport in Houston right when the flooding was at the worst.
“The Jeff Robertson and Friends band from Bastrop filled in for them and did a great job,” Biller-Littlefield said.
When bluegrass artist Kristy Cox of Nashville, Tenn. performed Friday afternoon at the festival, she sang a song called “This.”
“It’s been used in a few weddings,” said Cox, with her Australian accent, as she began the song.
Her next number featured more of the musicians in her band.
“Bluegrass is not just about singing. It’s about the band as a whole. We are going to feature some of these pickers,” Cox said on stage.
Sherry and Forrest Robertson of Jacksonville brought their Shitzu mix, Bingo, to Salmon Lake Park for the festival.
“We absolutely love it here. It’s beautiful, historic and scenic. We brought our grandchildren here years ago and they had a blast. They love swimming in the lake and jumping off the diving board. They swam and they loved it,” Sherry Robertson said. “We enjoy staying in the RV. We are RV campers and we take our dog wherever we go.”
The Robertsons are good friends with one of the bluegrass musicians, Johnathan Thrift, who played with one of the bluegrass bands during the festival.
“He plays all kinds of instruments – banjo, guitar, mandolin, bass cello, you name it,” Sherry Robertson said.
While this wasn’t their first time to the Labor Day Bluegrass Festival at Salmon Lake Park, it’s been a few years since the last time they were able to make it.
“We love bluegrass music and gospel bluegrass. We come from a very musical family – we all sing in our church,” Sherry Robertson said.
For Gayle Shifflett of Denton, it was her third trip to the Labor Day Bluegrass Festival.
“I just thoroughly enjoy it. It’s wonderful. I love bluegrass music. All the bands have been super good,” Shifflett said as she sat in her lawn chair Friday afternoon during the festival. “I met the Fraziers here – Jimmy and Charlene – we usually come with a couple of groups. This time it was only two groups and myself, due to the weather.”