Grass strains

Paddle faster, hear bluegrass at Tipp City’s Canoegrass

Photo: Listeners float near one of the two stages where bluegrass will blast at Canoegrass in Tipp City

By Joyell Nevins

Paddle faster, I hear bluegrass!

So goes the tagline under the unofficial music video for the annual Tipp City festival, which this year goes from Aug. 3–7.

Canoegrass has been bringing nature and bluegrass lovers together in one big celebration for four years now. The collaboration between Tomfoolery Outdoors and Adventures on the Great Miami has grown in enthusiasm, but stays intimate in number.

“We want to make sure the event maintains a backyard family reunion feel,” says Tom Helbig, founder of Tomfoolery Outdoors and Canoegrass originator.

The idea came from a similar festival Helbig attended at Hocking Hills in 2013. He loved the music and positive energy, but saw a quarter of the people leave during the event to go canoeing on the river.

“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if everything could be at one place?’” Helbig recalls. “On the way back home, I called Chris [Jackson, owner of Adventures on the Great Miami] and we decided to make it happen.”

The event takes place on Adventures’ 17-acre property on the Great Miami River. The property boasts camping sites with picnic tables and fire rings, rope swings, volleyball courts, hiking trails, and even a 150-foot slip ’n’ slide.

Food trucks like Chicory Juice Bar, S&S Meat House, Caravaso’s, and Son of a Biscuit will be making appearances throughout the weekend. Dayton Beer Company is sponsoring a nightly “canoe cooler happy hour”—literally using an iced-down canoe to serve their craft brews.

Over the weekend, Canoegrassers can canoe, kayak, tube, and stand-up paddleboard down the river. They can enter the “canoe jousting” tournament or just show off their unique floats.

“The last couple of years it’s become a question of who can have the craziest float,” Helbig laughs.

He’s seen giant rubber duckies, unicorns, and some very interesting rafts people use on the river. Now, they’re starting to coordinate their outfits as well.

And throughout the weekend, you can hear the strains of bluegrass on two different stages. One stage is on the campground, and the other is right on the river.

The musicians come from all over Ohio and even as far as Memphis, Tennessee. The roster boasts a range of artists and sounds, including The Goldsberrys & Friends’ old-time bluegrass, Fox Valley Harvest eclectic Americana band (yes, they might bust out a washboard), and the folk strains of Buffalo Wabs & The Price Hill Hustle. 

Enjoy the three-part harmony and pickup instruments like accordion, kazoo, and an iron skillet with Blue Caboose. They and Troy locals Sugargrove, string band The Repeating Arms, Dayton favorites OldNews, and frontwoman Erika Hughes have been with Helbig and Canoegrass since the beginning.

“These bands believe in the festival,” Helbig says. “They told me as long as I produce Canoegrass, they will always be at the event.”

But on stage isn’t the only place music occurs. Since most of the bands camp right along with the concert attendees, it’s not uncommon for an impromptu jam session to break out.

What is uncommon is for the party to go from fun “tomfoolery” to obnoxious behavior.

“It’s a party scene, but it’s very family friendly. We want people to feel comfortable bringing their kids,” Helbig stresses. “Our No. 1 rule is no jackasses allowed at the event. The culture stays positive.”

The positive culture and sense of family is one of the reasons Helbig looks forward to Canoegrass every year.

“I love the sense of community,” he says. “Each year, I take the time to sit on the riverbank and take it all in.”

This year, Helbig and sponsor Son of a Biscuit are adding a Sunday “Farewell Breakfast” to bring everyone together before they pack up and head out.

“The positive energy that is generated all weekend is off-the-charts good,” Helbig says. “This is a chance for us to share the gratitude.”

Canoegrass takes place Thursday–Sunday, Aug. 3–6 at 1995 Ross Road in Tipp City. Tickets are $100. For tickets or more information, please call 937.417.2228 or visit

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Joyell believes in the power of the written word, a good cup of coffee, and sometimes, the need for a hug (please, no Tommy Boy references). Follow her on her blog “Small World, Big God” at or reach her at

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