Sonny Osborne has been to a lot of bluegrass festivals over the years, so he’s not easy to impress, but he liked what he saw Saturday (July 22) when the Grand Ole Opry presented 15 bluegrass acts in the OpryFest Bluegrass Jamboree.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing, if they’ll do it a few more times,” said Osborne, who has played bluegrass music with brother Bobby as The Osborne Brothers since 1953.
“In the last two weeks, this thing has been talked about on the Internet a whole lot,” Sonny said. “I don’t know, maybe something like this is what it’ll take to really turn it around and go in the good direction. And it looks good so far. It looked good [Friday night] at the Opry, too. And it sounded good. All that bluegrass, it reminded me of the way it was. I hope it continues.”
The outdoor festival, one of three OpryFest events in July celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Opry, went on Saturday and Sunday (July 22-23). Bluegrass also got the Opry spotlight Friday and Saturday nights. Among those performing on the radio show were Ralph Stanley, the Osborne Brothers, Jim & Jesse, the Del McCoury Band, Mike Snider and Mountain Heart.
Some 2,500 bluegrass enthusiasts of all ages turned out for the first day of the weekend festival. College-aged students in tie-dyed clothing enjoyed the music alongside senior citizens and families with young children.
In addition to longtime Opry members like the Osbornes, the Saturday lineup featured contemporary talents such as Laurie Lewis & Her Bluegrass Pals, Tim O’Brien (with Darrell Scott) and Jim Lauderdale. Mountain Heart played an inspired set, mixing gospel tunes with proven bluegrass crowd pleasers like “Sunny Side of the Mountain” and “Lee Highway Blues.” The young band performed songs from their self-titled debut album, including “Gambler’s Lament” and “Roses.” In existence for only a year and half, Mountain Heart has played the Opry three times in the past 11 months.
Mountain Heart were real crowd pleasers.
“Bluegrass music has been such a vital part of the Opry’s success,” said singer-guitarist Steve Gulley. “I think this [Bluegrass Jamboree] is a testimony to the fact that bluegrass is garnering a bigger part of the market now. The key to all that is that folks are looking at bluegrass not as country music’s stepchild but as an alternative music source. The grungers and all those people buy Del McCoury records. It’s a strange thing, but then it’s not so strange, because it’s a grassroots type of feel in the music.”
In addition to performances on the main stage, several acts appeared on the plaza including an eclectic, youthful group of old-time musicians, the Old Crow Medicine Show. Their repertoire included songs from Uncle Dave Macon, Dock Boggs and Charlie Poole, as well as traditional favorites like “Buffalo Gals,” played in modal tunings that sounded fresh while hearkening back to the sounds of the mountains. Saturday night, the Old Crow Medicine Show also played an unannounced set on the main stage, leaving the audience yelling for more.