Musings on folk, Americana, country, bluegrass and newgrass

Steep Canyon Rangers, Marty Stuart headline fifth HoustonFest on May 1-2 in Galax, Va.

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GALAX, Va. — Didn’t get enough of Steep Canyon Rangers or Blue Highway at MerleFest 2015? Well, you’re in luck because both bluegrass bands are back in the Piedmont on May 1-2, this time performing at the fifth annual HoustonFest along with Marty Stuart, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Sierra Hull and The Church Sisters, among others.

And they are going to make history later this month with the release of “Orthophonic Joy: The 1927 Bristol Sessions Revisited” album on May 12. Eleven of the 17 artists performing on this historic recording project will be appearing at HoustonFest 2015.According to the Birthplace of Country Music release, the re-creations of the original Bristol Sessions also includes narration of the 1927 Bristol Sessions history by famed Opry host Eddie Stubbs. Also known as the “Big Bang of Country Music,” the legendary recordings by Ralph Peer took country music to a new level and produced pioneers of the genre, such as Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. When it was finished, 19 artists recorded 76 songs during the 12-day Bristol Sessions. Johnny Cash referred to this event as “the single most important event in the history of country music.”

Now, more than 85 years later, some of Nashville’s top recording artists have hit the studio with Grammy Award-winning producer Carl Jackson and veteran songwriter Rusty Morrell to capture the magic of those songs. With support from the Virginia Tourism Corporation, Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, Bristol Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Birthplace of Country Music, the album was created and produced throughout 2014 and early 2015.

Galax has long been known for making furniture as the home of Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Co. (and the soon-to-be subject of an HBO mini-series starring Tom Hanks), but it’s also the home of the historic Rex Theatre and the annual Galax Fiddlers Convention.

Nestled in the hills of Appalachia just about an hour north of Winston-Salem, N.C., HoustonFest has grown each year since its inception in 2011 but seems to have really hit its stride this year with 45 bands playing on three stages over two days in Felts Park.

“There’s no more fitting place than Felts Park in Galax to kick-off and showcase this soon to be released project that pays tribute to the music pioneers from our region and sparked commercial popularity of country music,” said Debbie Robinson, HoustonFest executive director, at a press conference announcing the festival.
“HoustonFest organizers and the Galax Volunteer Fire Department (GVFD) are delighted to have the opportunity to collaborate with Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC), Tennessee Tourism, The Birthplace of Country Music Alliance (BCMA), and all those involved in this incredible project.”

Similar to its much larger cousins MerleFest and Memorial Day weekend’s RoosterWalk, HoustonFest is a memorial to Houston Caldwell, an 18-year-old banjo prodigy, died in a motorcycle crash in 2010. According to the website, “his musical legacy, passion for the continued growth of our musical heritage and his spirit of community service will live on as we continue to fulfill his vision. Join us as we use the power of music and community service to transform lives as well as provide inspiration and avenues for regional youth to pursue their artistic endeavors preserving the musical heritage of this region.”

Festival proceeds go to the Galax Volunteer Fire Department with discretionary contribution to be made to local youth music education programs, according to organizers, who say, “Artists in Galax and surrounding communities are often referred to as a “family” of musicians, and they are always ready and willing to gather in support when one of their own is in need.”

Regional tourism organization Blue Ridge Travel Association of Virginia (BRTA) selected HoustonFest 2011 as the Best New Event of the Year.

The festival features camping and food vendors as well as nonprofits and local artisans at the festival selling their products and demonstrating the arts and crafts of this region. There is also a special area designated as Camp Houston dedicated to youth music, workshops and jam sessions, among other activities focusing on continuing the musical tradition of the region.

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