Since taking full stewardship of the Festival of the Bluegrass six years ago, Roy and AnnaMarie Cornett have let change takes a natural, gradual course. There was never an intent to come in and radically alter what has long been a Lexington institution representing not only bluegrass music but outdoor festivals in general.
Still, there a few defined differences in the music lineup for the 45th Festival of the Bluegrass, which is Thursday through Sunday at Kentucky Horse Park Campground. The first was unavoidable and should prove to be temporary. The other is a product the festival’s patient evolution.
First up is the artist roster. Longtime patrons will notice the absence of acts that usually headline the Thursday and Friday schedules — respectively, the Lonesome River Band and Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out. Both are simple casualties of logistics.
Lonesome River Band is touring Western Canada this week with no available routing to get the group to Lexington in time for the festival. IIIrd Tyme Out will be a no-show because group leader Moore is tending this weekend to the marriage of his daughter. Both acts will return to the festival in 2019.
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“Russell was like, ‘Oh, it’s not a big deal, I’ll skip the rehearsal dinner so I can do the festival,’” Roy Cornett said. “His wife was like, ‘Uh, you can’t skip your daughter’s rehearsal dinner.’”
“These young folks, they just don’t have their priorities straight,” added AnnaMarie Cornett jokingly. “They want to get married on the weekend of the Festival of the Bluegrass? I just don’t understand it.”
The other change was planned and should be permanent. It takes the festival away from a schedule that had all acts playing 45 minute sets in the afternoon and evening to a single extended set.
“That’s something that the bands have been requesting for years. From the artists’ perspectives, it is much, much nicer to play an hour-and-a-half set as opposed to two 45 minute sets,” said Roy, grandson of festival founders Bob and Jean Cornett. “With 45 minute sets, right when you feel like you’re getting in the groove, it’s time to get off the stage.
“Most bluegrass festivals have moved toward this. I’ve been resistant for really no other good reason other than it’s change. But sticking with a format just because that’s the way we’ve always done it is not necessarily the right call.”
The absence of Lonesome River Band and III Tyme Out also allows for the entrance of a few new acts and some long-absent favorites. Among the former are The Cleverlys, the popular Arkansas family band with strong comedic overtones, and the Nashville-based Hogslop String Band, a quartet of youthful players from Georgia and Tennessee with a penchant for old-time music. The veteran artists include Larry Sparks, whose career extends back over 50 years to the first lineups of Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys without brother Carter Stanley, and East Kentucky native Larry Cordle
“The reality of the situation is we’re really in a great time for bluegrass, specifically traditional bluegrass music, because there are so many great bands,” AnnaMarie said. “When one can’t come, there are a dozen others that we can look at, experiment with and bring in. So it’s really kind of a golden age of bluegrass.”
If you go
Festival of the Bluegrass
What: Four-day bluegrass festival
Thurs.: 6:30 p.m. Kids Camp, 7:15 p.m. Whiskey Bent Valley Boys, 9 p.m. Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice, 10:45 p.m. Flatt Lonesome
Fri.: 2 p.m. True Life Travelers, 3:45 p.m. Hammertowne, 5:30 p.m. Darin and Brooke Aldridge, 7:15 p.m. Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time, 9 p.m. The Cleverlys, 10:45 p.m. The Wooks
Sat.: 2 p.m. Moron Brothers, 3:45 p.m. Sideline, 5:30 p.m. Larry Sparks, 7:15 p.m. Seldom Scene, 9 p.m. Hogslop String Band, 10:45 p.m. Town Mountain
Sun.: 9 a.m. True Life Travelers, 10 a.m Sideline, 11 a.m. Dry Branch Fire Squad
Where: Kentucky Horse Park Campground, 4089 Iron Works Pike
Tickets: $100 four days ($120 at the gate), $20 Thurs. only, $50 Fri. only, $55 Sat. only, $10 Sun. only.Primative camping $115 ($135 at the gate).