Grayson County got a taste of good-time, country music this week thanks to the Melody Ranch Deep Summer Bluegrass Festival.
The concert series, now in its 11th year, ran for five days and was held at the Chrystal Opry House in Tom Bean. The event drew local residents, listeners from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and even some musicians from as far away as Georgia and Kentucky.
“We've had the best attendance that we've ever had,” festival organizer and bluegrass musician Bill Hayes said. “I can't say for certain but people seem to be having a pretty good time.”
Hayes said Bluegrass is steeped in country music, but it is largely defined by Appalachian roots and the presence of several key instruments, including the banjo, the mandoline, the fiddle, the acoustic guitar and the resonator guitar. He said authentic bluegrass typically boasts all acoustic instruments but musicians have made an exception for the electric bass because it's so travel-friendly.
“It's a family-oriented show,” Hayes said of the festival. “There really isn't a whole lot more I need to say than it's just good, clean, enjoyable music.”
As he prepared to head on stage with his band, the Melody Ranch Ramblers, Hayes said Bluegrass typically attracts older crowds and the most dedicated listeners and musicians tend be 60 years of age and older. But he added that a good turnout this year and the participation of some young musicians.
“The older folks are the ones that really enjoy all this, but you're starting to see, on stage, younger folks getting involved.”
Hayes said the high attendance was also likely driven up by the appearance of longtime Bluegrass musician Little Roy Lewis.
Lewis, who grew up in what he called “America's first family of Bluegrass,” said he first started playing the banjo when he was just six years old but spent 58 and a half years touring with his three sisters, two brothers and his parents.
“The reason I like bluegrass music is because it was the first thing that I ever heard that I really liked,” Lewis said. “When we were little kids we had to go over in the Model A Ford to my aunt's house. She was religious and we had to take piano lessons over there. But my grandma would be over there in the next room with the Grand Ole Opry on. I wasn't listening to no piano. I was listening to Earl Scruggs.”
Lewis said he has lived his life on the road and estimated that he has traveled more than 5 million miles during his career. And in between all those miles, Lewis said he's stood on many big stages, but the lineup and friendly venue offered at this year's Melody Ranch festival make it a memorable one.
“Boy there are some good groups out here,” Lewis said. “And this is one of the finest building's I've ever sung in.”
Bridget Perry attended the festival to see her husband Mark Phillips and the III Gen. band perform. She said the Bluegrass music community is closely knit and that adds to the fun of festivals.
“Bluegrass people are a family of their own and they're just wonderful,” Perry said.
She added that a good Bluegrass tune is the result of musicians' hard work on stage and one that gets people moving.
“When you hear a good Bluegrass song, it's the musicians that are putting their heart and soul into it,” Perry said. “That reflects back to the audience and the fans. And anything that gets my toes tapping makes me feel real good.”