Aiken Bluegrass Festival 5.13 & 5.14.16
Words & Photos By Bain Stewart Media
One word I would use to describe this festival would be “euphoric.” Music festivals always tend to give attendees a surreal experience to escape the realities of the “real world.” This festival throws all these feelings at you and more. Everyone at this close-knit festival is a part of what some would call a big family. While there is good music, food, craft beer, and various venders to be enjoyed by the adults in attendance, there are also various activities and food catering devoted to the kids. At ABF, there isn't an age cap, nor is there an age too young to attend. There are outlets to give every single person a safe and enjoyable time. We all love good music; we all love a good time, and its safe to say that in majority, we all love dogs. This festival is dog friendly. So while the little ones are running around and the adults are dancing to good music, anyone can take a break to say hello to the first dog in sight. In all honesty I’m curious of a better sounding occasion.
Black Water Deep kicked off the festival on Friday with some originals to get the crowd going. This Athens, GA native band brought smiles to everybody’s face with their classic approach to bluegrass. As the festival opener came to the close of their set, they paid tribute to Merle Haggard with a soothing “Mama Tried” cover. From there it’s safe to say that the people were ready for a weekend of music. Following Black Water Deep was Doug and the Henrys, a band based out of Augusta, GA featuring Henry Wynn Jr., guitarist Doug Johnson, and mandolin/violin player Henry Wynn III whom covered a variety of songs spanning multiple genres, including an homage to Bob Dylan with a cover of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” A festival full of heartfelt covers only grew from here. The Josh Daniel & Mark Schimick Project, known for playing with the Larry Keel Experience and The New Familiars kept the show rolling with their soulful blend of Appalachian rooted rock and bluegrass.
With all of the talented musicians performing, there was also incredible collaborations/sit-ins with artists such as Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon and his son, Silas Herman of Gipsy Moon alongside members of Greensky Bluegrass, Fruition, and many more. The big superjam of the weekend, “Larry Keel’s Aiken Allstar Band”, or as Vince Herman called it: “The Fruitsky Gipsy Salmon Experience-Grass” kept the crowd on their toes with heavy hitting unexpected turns. The jam featured Larry and Jenny Keel, Keller Williams, members of Greensky Bluegrass and Fruition, the two Hermans and more. They showed you how much the music is supposed to be about the fun. Keller brought in his rendition of “Pumped Up Kicks,” but changed the lyrics a bit singing: “Better run, better run, faster than my banjo.” Right when you thought the superjam was over, they all collectively sang “Wake and Bake” with a clever play on words for the chorus: “Wake and Aiken.” These bands came from Oregon, Colorado, and other various places nationwide making the conscious decision to travel to the small town of Aiken, SC to perform at this festival. To me and probably to most, that says a lot.
As if the performances couldn’t get much better, Fruition blew it away with an extended set followed by a multiple song encore fueled by the thunderous crowd that wanted more. The band went on to play multiple original works as well as several covers such as “Lifes Been Good” by Joe Walsh. Their encore came to a close as they welcomed other artists, staff members, and friends on stage for a heartfelt “Meet Me On The Mountain.”
It really is such an incredible feeling to walk away from a music festival and say to yourself, “Wow, that didn’t seem real.” The friendships that are born, the musical experienced, and the all around atmosphere of this camping festival really makes an impact on those in attendance. All in all Aiken Bluegrass Festival is truly one of a kind.
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