Festival Report: The Palatka Bluegrass Festival
by John and Katie Brutcher

John & I started off by traveling up to Bushnell, Fl., where we met up with our friends, Dave and Donna Willson, who would be our hosts to this year's festival.  Dave Willson, of course, is the fiddle player for our very own "Lake Effect" bluegrass band.   They graciously accommodated us in their beautiful 5th wheel camper. 

Having arrived a day early, we had plenty of time to set up, relax and scope things out.  During our first Happy-Hour, we enjoyed watching the parade of campers file in along with a few band buses.  John naturally had to go and investigate who's buses they were and reported back.

The 9th annual Palatka Bluegrass Festival got under way on February 21 under perfect Floridian skies with the James King Band opening this three day festival. 

The James King Band played such numbers as, "When The Sun Goes Down", "Echo Mountain", and a fantastic rendition of "Wait A Minute". 

The Bluegrass Brothers, with Robert on banjo, who joined just a few weeks ago, was showcased with "I'll Save My Love for You".  Steve, the son and guitar player, sang a beautiful song, "What has happened to Me", along with some smooth guitar pick'in.  Chris Hart played the dobro.  This group from Salem, VA even threw in my favorite, "Might be poor and We're Country Proud".  A standing ovation brought them back with a rip roaring version of "Shading Grove".

In their evening performance we were treated to such numbers as, "Got A Do My Time" and "John Deere Tractor".  Another ovation brought them back and they played, "I'm Working On A Building".


The program continued with The Grascals out of Nashville, TN.  Darrell Webb was the substitute guitar player, for their regular player who had gotten sick and also helped out on vocals.  They opened with "Tear Drops in My Eyes" and sang their hits, "Me & John & Paul" and "Where The Corn Don't Grow".      

During The Grascals evening performance, Darrell Webb, who was nominated for a Grammy, entertained us with imitations of Jon Anderson, Johnny Cash and others.  What a hoot that was!

Nothin' Fancy, who won the STIGMA entertainer of the year award, played "Cheap Whiskey" & "Darkness & Dirt".  Their 5-string fiddle player, Chris Sexton, was showcased on "Whiskey Before Breakfast". 


Of course, the highlight of the evening was a 90-minute show by Dailey & Vincent.  Performing to a full house, with overflow will past the sides of the pole barn and beyond, they were nothing short of spectacular.  They sang plenty of gospel in 4-part harmony, which was simply beautiful and then their Grand Olde Opry segment that included imitations of Lester Flatts, Marty Raybon, Johnny Cash & the Louvin Bros.  They ended recognizing all the veterans, which was a very touching moment. 

Under the same warm weather and blue skies, the second day was equal to the first. 

The Marksmen opened followed by Alecia Nugent who sang her hit song, "Hillbilly Goddess". 

The Goldwing Express was entertaining as ever and they too recognized all the veterans.


The much anticipated arrival of The Gibson Brothers came and did not disappoint.  Clayton Campbell was just awesome on the fiddle.  Right off the bat, they played their  very successful number, "Ring The Bell" and the crowd applauded enthusiastically.  They played a great instrumental of "Tennessee  Blues" and then "Walking West To Memphis".  John & I and Dave & Donna did our best as the cheering section from central NY. 


The Seldom Scene were up next and did "110 In The Shade".  We haven't seen Dudley Connell, who is in the Hall of Fame, in some time and he did a great job as the front man to the group.  With his relaxed manner and easy presence, he took this grateful audience down memory lane.  But to me, it was clearly Ben Eldridge, who is the backbone of this band.  With 40 + years in the business, Mr. Eldridge is also a founding member since 1971  and the banjo player.  It was his ever so subtle antics, like switching his baseball cap from one place to another that was unexpected and made them enjoyable to watch. 

The Dry Branch Firing Squad ended the second day with leader Ron Thomason doing his "hand-boning" technique.

The last day finally arrived and we were still pumped up for yet another day filled with all national acts. 


The Wildwood Valley Boys, my personal favorites, opened on Saturday and much to my surprise and everyone else's, out walks Michael Cleveland!!!  I said, "OMG", what is he doing here?  He wasn't on the program, he was unannounced and just casually walked out on stage.  It was simply AWESOME!  As if listening to Tony Holt and Aubrey Holt, who is like one of the best song writers ever, wasn't enough.  They played, "I Wonder How The Old Folks Are At Home", "Big Time Johnny", and my favorite, "Forever True".

The Little Roy & Lizzy Show was as comical as ever.  If you have never seen them, try and catch one of their performances.  His energy is unbelievable.  Lizzy is soooo talented.  She played a real show stopper of "Orange Blossom Special".

We have never seen the Moron Brothers before, so we didn't know what to expect.  All I can say is that my ribs hurt from laughing so hard.  It was a great set. 

The "Queen of Bluegrass" gave two "foot tapping" performances.  Rhonda Vincent and The Rage were on their A-game. However, Rhonda had a tough time in the first 5 minutes of the evening performance when a bug flew up her nose and as gracefully as she could, she hacked and wheezed, asked for tissues and water, all the while still singing and playing!  Although we all laughed, at her expense, we were a very forgiving audience and applauded her perseverance. And if that wasn't enough, a big moth then landed in her hair!  Here we go again!  Way to go Rhonda for keeping it together. 

Josh Williams is back in the band to the delight of everyone.  Rhonda played several  instruments including fiddle, guitar and her mandolin. The band played a great instrumental number entitled, "Sun Drop In" featuring her son-in-law Hunter Barry on fiddle and Josh Williams on mandolin.

They sang the original "Martha White" theme song, along with audience participation, past out a cast iron skillet to some lucky winner and tossed t-shirts out into the audience.  We had a blast.

And still there is more! 

Gene Watson & The Farewell Party Band was the final act. 

Earlier, John & I approached his bus to get John's vintage t-shirt signed.  We thought for sure he would want to come out and meet the persons who had such a tee, but he did not avail himself.  However, he did sign it and we still think he is an all around great performer.

He came out and sang a lot of his hits like, "Love In The Hot Afternoon", "Paper Roses", "I Don't Need A Thing At All", "The Old Man And His Horn", and "God Gave Me A Mountain To Climb". 

The true highlight, was when Rhonda Vincent came back out on stage and sang "Together Again" with Mr. Watson. 

We walked away knowing that we just experienced the best bluegrass festival that we have ever attended.  You just can't beat three days of nothing but national acts. 

Next years festival is scheduled at the Rodeheaver Boys' Ranch on February 20, 21, and 22, 2014.

Again, a special thanks to our hosts Donna & Dave Willson.  We had a great time.

See you out in the fields,

John & Katie Brutcher