he third annual Miami Valley Bluegrass Heritage Festival was unlike either of the previous two. For two years, Mother Nature picked the same Saturday in September to unleash wind and rain on the bluegrassers gathered, but this year, she was in a pleasant mood. Sunny skies and a light breeze were welcomed proving that the third time is the charm.
Downtown Miamisburg, at the beautiful riverfront park, found a stellar line-up of local and national bluegrass bands. Opening ceremonies were followed by The Vintage Ramblers, a group of veteran musicians known in the Miami Valley for their vintage sound and spot-on takes of bluegrass standards.
Cincinnati's Slippery Creek brought great high lonesome vocals and enough energy from The Queen City to pass out to everyone. Branded Bluegrass made the short drive from Indiana to the stage and pleased the crowd with fiery instrumentation, especially on a blazing 'grassed up version of "Proud Mary."
Batting cleanup were the Surly Gentlemen. The trio of Tim Shelton, Clay and Brennan Hess added an intimate dynamic to the festival with songs ranging from Bill Monroe's "Toy Heart" to the Allman Brothers' "Midnight Rider." Lingering effects of a summer full of performances aided The Gents, proven by a tight vocal and instrumental presentation.
Hammertowne drove the dynamic back into high gear. Hot off their newest project "Hillbilly Heroes," the band blasted through with high energy doing songs like "The Roof is Coming Down" and "Rainy Old River Town." In what seemed like no time, they had finished their set having played nearly everything from the new album.
Clay and Brennan Hess were back for double duty when The Clay Hess Band took the stage. Being slightly more traditional than The Surly Gentlemen, the band was in top form, and neither Hess showed any sign of fatigue.
Day changed to evening as Bluegrass Hall of Famer Larry Sparks made his way to the stage. Sparks' band consisted of two young men and a young lady on bass who probably did not combine to reach Sparks in age, but the age gap didn't stand out at all to the ear. Sparks and the young set of Lonesome Ramblers played flawlessly on hits like "John Deere Tractor." With a story or two in between songs, Sparks was able to connect with the audience in a way that only a seasoned veteran can, and for his effort, he was rewarded with a standing ovation.
Nightflyer had the honor of following the bluegrass legend. Well known for their hard driving instrumentation and powerfully soulful vocals, Nightflyer started off hot. The band set the joint ablaze with "Train, train" and "Coos County Jail" before finally slowing things down to a sizzle on "Old River."
The final band of the evening, The Repeating Arms, took the stage to close out the festivities with fun and catchy tunes and a memorable vocal performance from lead singer Harold Hensley.
The third annual Miami Valley Bluegrass Heritage Festival was a perfect blend of new and old, traditional and progressive, and local and national music. Each band brought something special and memorable to offer and seemed to have as much fun playing the music as the crowd did listening.