Bluegrass is centre stage in Omagh

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Organisers of the Bluegrass Festival at the Ulster-American Folk Park in Omagh are gearing up and getting in tune for yet another three-day-long festival. BILLY KENNEDY reports

The highly popular festival is now in its 25th year and, weather permitting, the 11/12,000 attendence records should be broken at the picturesque and rustic West Tyrone venue on Friday to Sunday September 2-4.

This year, award-winning American, Canadian and European groups are lined up alongside acclaimed Bluegrass acts from Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

This year’s headline act is Band of Ruhks, from the United States. The band consists of some of America’s most admired and proficient Bluegrass musicians including Ronnie Bowman, Don Rigsby and Kenny Smith. Don and Kenny make a welcome return to the festival, whilst Ronnie Bowman is regarded as one of Bluegrass music’s finest singer/songwriters.

Other North American acts include Scarlet Wool, from the ‘Dixie’ state of Georgia, as well as the Corn Potato String Band; fiddle and banjo duo Betse and Clarke, from Kansas, and Canadian band Searson.

Three of Europe’s top Bluegrass acts also return to perform over the weekend: Red Wine, from Italy; Bluegrass Boogiemen, from The Netherlands, and Sunny Side, from the Czech Republic. Whilst young, energetic Dr Bluegrass and the HiIllbilly 8 group travel from England.

Talent from from Northern Ireland the the Republic will also perform including, among others, Two Time Polka, Broken String Band, Erdini and Cup O Joe. Local singers of all ages will also be involved with the Bluegrass festival choir, which will perform on the Sunday with a varied gospel programme.

This year’s festival will also incorporate Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink theme, with demonstrations on the use of traditional methods of food preparation and presentation. Visitors will be taken on a food heritage journey on Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 1.30pm and 3.30pm each day. A food village will also be available through the weekend with barbeque and bar facilities.

Richard Hurst, visitor services manager of the Folk Park and festival organiser, said he was pleased how the programme has developed over 25 years.

“This year we are not only celebrating 40 years of the Ulster-American Folk Park. We’re also marking 25 years of the Bluegrass music festival. What started out as a relatively modest event has grown to become one of the largest Bluegrass events outside of North America.

“Each year, we’ve focussed on bringing top quality Bluegrass bands to Omagh and this year is no different. Visitors can look forward to real crowd pleasers and amazing performances.”

Richard added: “It has been wonderful to welcome visitors from across the UK and Ireland year after year, and from as far away as Alaska and Australia. We’ve also been pleased to see an increasing number of younger people coming along. The Folk Park is the perfect setting for the festival – performing arts are a superb vehicle of telling the wider story of Ulster emigration to North America.”

This year’s festival is supported by funding from Tourism NI and NI Year of Food and Drink, as well as Fermanagh/Omagh District Council. The festival kicks off on the Friday at 2pm. Saturday’s programming begins at 12.30pm and continues through to midnight. Sunday’s programme runs from 12.30pm to 6.30pm.