Plans for best-ever Omagh Bluegrass festival

The Corn Potato String Band
The Corn Potato String Band

The line-up for next September’s Bluegrass Festival at the Ulster-American Folk Park in Omagh is beginning to take shape, with a bumper line-up in the offing for this most popular hoedown.

Organiser Richard Hurst is, however, still working on negotiations with several top American groups as headliners for the three day-festival on September 2-4.

Richard confirms that so far he has booked the Corn Potato String Band, from the United States; the Bluegrass Boogiemen, from The Netherlands; Red Wine, from Italy, and Sunny Side, from the Czech Republic.

“We are hoping to bring several of the biggest names in American Bluegrass as headliners for this year’s festival which marks our 25th anniversary,” said Richard.

The Corn Potato String Band has earned high praise in traditional Appalachian music, being described as “keeping old time fiddle and banjo music from a one-way trip to the dustbins of history”.

The Corn Potatoes (multi-instrumentalists Aaron Jonah Lewis, Lindsay McCaw and Ben Becher) have delighted audiences with their driving fiddle tunes and harmonious singing in gigs across the United States, Canada, Europe, Mexico, and India.

They are all instrumentalists dedicated to continuing the music and dance traditions of the south-eastern Appalachian states.

In addition to being champion fiddlers, they play banjo, guitar, bass and mandolin and deftly handle many different antiquated singing styles including ballads, “ho-downs,” country “rags” and Southern gospel, specialising in twin fiddling and double banjo.

The Corn Potatoes, with their quaint Hillybilly look, will provide a fasinating miscellany of music for Folk Park festival enthusiasts.

The Bluegrass Boogiemen, Red Wine and Sunny Side groups have all appeared at the Omagh festival before.

The Omagh line-up generates quite a unique atmosphere at the rustic, highly picturesque West Tyrone setting and expectations are for a record attendance over the three days, surpassing the 10,000 mark.

* Real Country Music is an appropriate title for a new 13-track album by Texan and honky tonk specialist GENE WATSON.

Gene, who built up a big following in Northern Ireland with frequent tours here during his 40-year singing career, includes the Kris Kristofferson song Enough For You on the album as well as Nat King Cole’s Ramblin’ Rose and a couple of Larry Gatlin songs - Help Me and Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall. He also revives a Conway Twitty chart-topper from 1980 - A Bridge That Just Won’t Burn.

* The death of Country‘n’Irish singing star GENE STUART, aged 72, last weekend was a real shock for the big Tyrone man’s many fans.

Gene, who emerged on the Irish showband scene in the late 1960s as lead singer with the Mighty Avons, was country through and through, with a deep bass baritone voice that resonantly came up to good affect on his many albums recorded at his own studio outside Dungannon.

Ballads and monologues (modelled on the singing style of American legend the late Red Souvine) were Gene’s speciality. He will be greatly missed, both on the air waves, with contemporaries recording at his studio, and for his folksy one-liners. Indeed, a big fan of Gene’s remarked to me at the weekend - “Big Gene is now up in the Grand Ole Opry in the Sky!” Gene Stuart, in my view, was one of the few Irish singers who could have made it in Nashville - Tyrone’s Brian Coll was another who could also have had mass appeal.