The Aiken Bluegrass Festival entered its 15th year with a bang. Headlining the festival was the legendary Del McCoury Band, who wowed attendees with a performance like none other that weekend. Members of the band grouped themselves around one microphone and crooned gorgeous tunes, which, even in bluegrass, is a rare and welcome sight.
The lineup also featured names like Keller and the Keels, Billy Strings, The Larry Keel Experience, Lindsay Lou, Circles Around the Sun, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, Brad Parsons & Starbird, Zebulon Bowles, and Town Mountain, who gave us another great set and an amazing version of “I’m On Fire.”
Also on the bill was the performer of one of my favorite sets of the weekend, the Cris Jacobs Band. With a rock flair and rich lead voice that has a color of its own, their Friday show was a popular one of the weekend. Their set featured impressive ballads and jams that you could really get into. I legitimately gasped audibly when I saw, for the first time in my life, an electric dulcimer, which was played by Jacobs himself.
Billy Strings returned to the festival for the third year in a row and revived his Psychedelic Circus for the second. Perhaps one of the most talked-about performances of the weekend, the Psychedelic Circus, led by Strings, served as the finale to the the festival and featured whichever artists decided to come onstage. The show began at 1 a.m. and lasted until around 4. I have to confess that I did not make it all the way through before the weekend caught up to me and I had to go to the comfort of my bed, but I later heard the music hall was packed the whole night.
The Psychedelic Circus was a perfect end to the weekend not only because it was just such a pure joy to experience, but also because it was just so fun, which is why people return to Aiken Bluegrass year after year – it’s just so fun. The Larry Keel Experience brought us an hour of what I liked to call “Silly Songs with Larry,” which included a rousing rendition of The Presidents of the United States’s “Peaches.” People dancing throughout almost the entirety of the festival, and, as the festival is family-friendly, that meant there were plenty of very cute moments of kids dancing with their families.
Aiken Bluegrass is also a dog-friendly festival, and I owe my favorite picture I have ever taken – a small, skateboarding bulldog puppy named Tinkerbell meeting a curious old Saint Bernard – to that fact.
The family- and dog-friendliness of the festival has to be another one of its appeals. Anyone at any stage of their life feels welcome on the grounds of the festival. People of all ages were up and grooving the whole weekend.
I have never been to another festival quite like ABF. From the artists to the guests and even to the people working, everyone seemed to be having just pure, unadulterated fun. I couldn’t find a single person who would have rather been somewhere else. Other festivals have their moments, but the Aiken Bluegrass Festival had the whole weekend.