Bluegrass festival draws fans from near and far

Posted: May 6, 2013

The Winchester Star

Teri Bartnicki of Star Tannery and Kevin Welch of Clarke County dance to the sounds of the SteelDrivers on Sunday afternoon at the Battlefield Boots Bluegrass Festival in the Sprint Tent on the grounds of Winchester Medical Center. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Gary Nichols of the SteelDrivers sings a tune. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
The Grascals take the stage at the bluegrass festival. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — It’s tough to find good bluegrass in Fairfax.

So Dave Cosaboon and Leanne Dery made their way west Sunday to hear some mountain music at the Battlefield Boots Bluegrass Festival. It was the 24th year the event has been held as part of the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival.

“I’m trying to get her into bluegrass,” Cosaboon, 30, said of his 27-year-old girlfriend. “She likes it. She just doesn’t know it yet.”

The couple was part of a crowd that approached 650 in the Sprint Tent at Winchester Medical Center. The SteelDrivers, The Grascals and the Stony Point Quartet — which included local musicians Linda Lay and David McLaughlin — each played two one-hour sets, and the audience seemed to enjoy every note.

Dery said she already likes the music.

“It’s very pleasant to listen to,” she said. “The atmosphere is very happy.”

Cosaboon said he learned about the event by checking out the website for The SteelDrivers.

“I’ll come every year now,” he said.

Terry Eldredge, a guitarist and vocalist for The Grascals, said the three-time Grammy nominees were appearing in Winchester for the first time, but he hoped it wouldn’t be the last.

“This crowd was into the vocals. They were into the instrumentation,” he said. “Crowds need to remember that we’ll put out our best, but what they give back to us is going to make us even better.”

Eldredge noted that he saw familiar faces in the audience as well as newcomers. He was encouraged by the number of younger fans like Cosaboon and Dery.

“We’ve got to have them,” he said, “to carry this music on.”

One of The Grascals went above and beyond for the crowd. Kristin Scott Benson stayed on her feet despite having a torn meniscus and “playing that 900-pound banjo,” guitarist and vocalist Jamie Johnson informed the crowd.

The day started with an hour of gospel from Stony Point Quartet, which followed later with a set of mostly bluegrass and country cover songs.

They literally tipped caps to the late George Jones before adapting a cover of his hit “He Thinks I Still Care” for Lay (the song was sung from a woman’s perspective). By popular request they closed their performance with a repeat from their first set — “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”

Though they were performing together for the first time in what Lay said was six or seven years and only practiced once before the show, the four bluegrass veterans didn’t seem to miss a beat.

“We made a few mistakes,” McLaughlin said, “but it was all in great fun and great spirit. I really think we could’ve gone on stage and done just as well without practicing.

Lay, who performs with McLaughlin regularly in Springfield Exit, said playing in front of such a big local crowd was a treat.

“It’s really great to play this close to home and get this kind of support,” she said.

While the crowd seemed pleased with all the groups, many favored The SteelDrivers.

“The music is fantastic,” said Garland Lewis, 77, who lives in Frederick County just west of Winchester and played guitar in the country cover band the Country Rockers in the 1960s. “All of it’s good, but The SteelDrivers stood out for me.”

Sue and Barry Runkle and several family members trekked from Harrisburg, Pa., Sunday morning because of The SteelDrivers, too.

Music wasn’t the only entertainment. Fiddler and vocalist Tammy Rogers got big laughs introducing the tune “Good Corn Liquor.”

“It’s not illegal to make it,” she told upright bassist Mike Fleming. “It’s illegal to sell it.”

Gary Nichols, guitarist and vocalist for The SteelDrivers, said he could “see from their faces” that the crowd enjoyed the band, and he enjoyed hearing the other bluegrass acts.

“I’ve been playing various genres of music all my life,” he said. “This is such a tight-knit group, not just the bands but the fans.”

That’s one of the things that draws Cosaboon to the music.

“There always seems to be really nice people (in the crowds),” he said, “and the bands are nice when you talk to them and they’re really great musicians.”

— Contact Vic Bradshaw at vbradshaw@winchesterstar.com