No drunk uncles

14th bluegrass reunion plays Wilmington

By Tim Smith

The arrival of milder weather in the Miami Valley usually means one thing—the return of music festivals. The Southern Ohio Indoor Music Festival, a two-day celebration of all things bluegrass, will take place in Wilmington on March 18 and 19.

This is the 14th year for the semi-annual festival and according to event organizer Joe Mullins, it gets bigger every year.

“We average 1,500 attendees each day,” Mullins says. “Always a two-day event, about 1,000 fans will buy two-day tickets. We have continually expanded, adding more concert space, more vendor and food options, bigger and better sound, lighting and video coverage. And we have grown attendance from outside Ohio continuously. We have had visitors from at least 20 states and several Canadian provinces, as well as fans from the U.K. and Japan.”

He comes to the job with a wealth of experience in the genre.

“I have a lifetime of work in bluegrass and broadcasting, performing as a banjo player and on air at our Ohio network of radio stations,” Mullins says. “Collectively known as Classic Country Radio, I manage WBZI AM 1500, FM 100.3 Xenia, WEDI AM 1130 Eaton and WKFI AM 1090 Wilmington. Our online broadcast is at myclassiccountry.com or the Classic Country Radio app. Our music mix includes bluegrass, and we thankfully have a large, loyal radio audience throughout all of southwest Ohio.”

He notes that the festival has been a boost to the local economy: “Many of our radio sponsors fill the expo hall and network with our attendees. And the Clinton County Ohio Convention and Visitors Bureau works to fill all the area hotels and restaurants. The Roberts Centre is the perfect location to bring bluegrass enthusiasts together from throughout the state and beyond—less than an hour from Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus.”

Mullins chooses the acts himself, and he’s found no shortage to draw from.

“I am fortunate to perform at dozens of Bluegrass events nationwide each year, so I see a ton of talent,” he says. “The national acts who are in demand with our vast radio audience always find a spot in our line-up. We usually have a couple of young Ohio groups. The Wayfarers are from central Ohio—college-aged musicians playing old-time music with a passion! My band, the Radio Ramblers, started here in the neighborhood. And we still do about a dozen regional performances annually, but now, tour nationwide about 80 days per year.”

Mullins says the list of performances fans will always appreciate include Rhonda Vincent, Doyle Lawson, Larry Sparks, Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out and newcomers Flatt Lonesome.

The line-up also includes The Radio Ramblers, The Wayfarers, Nothin’ Fancy, Balsam Range, Art Stevenson and Highwater, Mountain Faith, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver and Dry Branch Fire Squad.

The two-day event is family friendly, being smoke- and alcohol-free in addition to offering family-type events, including interactive sessions with some of the musicians. Mullins has used this to cultivate an appreciation for and a better understanding of this type of music.

“We want kids and grandkids to be part of the crowd,” he explains. “We have to grow the audience from coming generations, so kids 16 and under are admitted free, always. Locally, we have connected with Centerville High School’s orchestra program. Their Alternative Strings group learns bluegrass arrangements. We have had them at the festival a number of times collaborating with Rhonda Vincent, the Cherryholmes, and my band, the Radio Ramblers.”

He feels that the festival brings widespread exposure to the acts that appear, and there have been some memorable occasions: “Our event was one of the first Ohio appearances for Dailey and Vincent—popular with bluegrass, gospel and country audiences now for several years. They have the newest and best television show now on RFD-TV each Saturday night.”

“There have been many special moments,” he continues, “presenting Grand Ole Opry star Bobby Osborne with honors from the State of Ohio as a Korean War hero on Veteran’s Day was fantastic! Seeing the Radio Ramblers guitar player, Duane Sparks, in a dress hamming it up on stage with Rhonda Vincent was fun, too—and a lot less serious!”

Mullins wants audiences to share the
enthusiasm he and the rest of the organization have for the music.

“Bluegrass and acoustic entertainment is classy, exciting, a great value, appeals to all ages, is participatory and welcoming to new fans,” Mullins says. “The festival is a ton of work but a labor of love. My family, band and all of our staff, volunteers and sponsors enjoy the event each time—it’s like a big family reunion without any drunken uncles or feuding in-laws! Many attendees say ‘This event is always the highlight of my year!’”

The Southern Ohio Indoor Music Festival will be held on March 18 and 19 at Roberts Convention Centre, 123 Gano Rd., in Wilmington. Doors open both days at 10 a.m. Tickets are $35.00-$75.00, and children 16 and under are free with adult ticket purchase. For more information, please call 937.372.5804 or visit somusicfest.com.

<em>Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach Dayton City Paper freelance writer Tim Smith at timsmith@daytoncitypaper.com. </em>

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Tim Smith
Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at TimSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com

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