Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

June 26, 2011

Pickin’ & Grinnin’

11th Rudy Fest ‘biggest and best ... so far’

Kenneth Hart
The Independent

GRAYSON — Bluegrass music lovers descended in droves on Carter County for three consecutive days of some of the most down-home, toe-tapping sounds around.

Despite stiff competition from the three other bluegrass festivals this weekend — in Owensboro, Renfroe Valley and  Summersville, W.Va. — the 11th annual edition of Rudy Fest still managed to pull in about 4,000, Rudy Burchett, the event’s chief organizer and namesake, said Saturday.

“It’s the biggest and the best one we’ve had so far,” he said.

Rudy Fest started as a fundraiser for the Grayson Junior Football League. Now, the event provides about $4,000 a year for various local civic organizations, mostly youth sports, Burchett said.

The festival stated out at the old Jaycee Fairgrounds on U.S. 60 east of Grayson and later moved to the Carter County Old Time Machinery and Antique Association’s showgrounds near Grayson Lake. Since 2006, the event has been held at the Carter County Fairgrounds off U.S. 60 just west of city limits.

Also, the event was originally in late May, but Burchett said the date was pushed back after late spring rains caused problems several years in a row.

In addition to providing a financial boost for civic groups, the event helps bring significant tourism dollars to the county.

“I’d say every hotel in town is full right now,” Burchett said.

As of Saturday evening, the weather had been cooperative, making life easier for those who chose to camp at the festival grounds. A brief, but powerful storm that moved through the area Thursday evening mostly bypassed the event and didn’t cause any serious problems, Burchett said.

A lot of people who were at this year’s Rudy Fest were at the very first one, Burchett said. Asked what it is that keeps people coming back year after year, he replied “The bands. They always bring their “A” games. And, they really enjoy playing here.”

Bluegrass great Melvin Goins, a Boyd County resident who performed two sets on Saturday with his group Windy Mountain, was quick to vouch for the latter part of Burchett’s statement.

Goins — who plays dozens of festivals a year and who arrived in Grayson after playing Summersville the previous day — said Rudy Fest is one of his favorite events.

“It reminds me a lot of the old days, back when the festivals were first getting started,” he said.

Goins said he’s played some festivals “where it felt good leaving” due to the unruly, obnoxious and even occasionally violent behavior of the fans. Rudy Fest isn’t like that, though, he said. Organizers have done an outstanding job of keeping the event family friendly, he said, adding he believes that’s the kind of atmosphere all bluegrass festivals should have.

Duane Kennedy of Athens, W.Va., who said he attends some three dozen bluegrass festivals every year, agreed. In fact, in his eyes, Rudy Fest “is the type of festival others should take reference from.”

Kennedy said he believed the principal reasons for the festival’s laid-back and friendly vibe is that the type of fellowship shared by fans of bluegrass “breeds nothing but harmony.

“If you’re going to act like a butt-head you’re going to stick out in this audience,” he said.  

Kyle Burnett of Sandy Hook attended his first Rudy Fest last year as spectator. He was back this year as a performer, playing guitar for Billie Renee and Cumberland Gap.

So, how much different was it for him?

“Not that much,” he said. “I still got to hang out with a bunch of great musicians, just like I did last year. It really is a family here.”

Burnett said he believed the efforts of Burchett and his crew were what had made the festival such a success.

“They’re just a great bunch of guys,” he said. “Everyone in the community knows them.”

Billie Renee Johnson, lead vocalist of Billie Renee and Cumberland Gap, said Rudy Fest was one of her favorite events to play because “it’s right here in the heart of bluegrass county, in Eastern Kentucky.”

“We also like it because Rudy is a friend of ours and we want to see him do well,” said her father, Bill, also a member of the group.

Other performers on the festival’s final day included Ernie Thacker and Route 23, the Grascals, Tony Rice, Russell Moore and the Lonesome River Band.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.