Taking it home this summer will be the toe-tapping rhythm and harmonies of mandolins, guitars, fiddles and banjos, of course, as the 28th annual bluegrass festival returns to the Ulster American Folk Park.
Now dubbed Bluegrass Omagh, the festival takes place from Friday, August 30 – Sunday, September 1 and will bring together award-winning bands and performers from North America and Europe with the very best bluegrass acts from across the UK and Ireland.
This year’s headliners, bringing their popular and growing brand of bluegrass music to the festival, is industry and fan favourites Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers. Led by banjo playing Bluegrass veteran Joe Mullins, the band boasts a symphony of instrumental and vocal talent with Jason Barie on fiddle, Mike Terry on mandolin and vocals, Adam McIntosh on guitar and vocals, and Randy Barnes on upright bass and vocals.
Joining them from across the Atlantic will be Chris Jones & The Night Drivers. Led by a soulful Chris Jones, a multi-talented singer-songwriter and instrumentalist, the band produces some of the most elegant yet driving music to be heard on the scene today. Comedy icon and bluegrass maestro Steve Martin described the Night Drivers as “some of the best players in bluegrass! Chris Jones' voice is there with the great masters.”
Asheville, North Carolina guitarist Mark Kilianski and fiddler Amy Alvey, otherwise known as Hoot & Holler, draw inspiration from wordsmiths such as Townes Van Zandt and authentic mountain musicians, including Ola Belle Reed, for their unique blend of storytelling that has seen them release an EP and full-length studio album to date, with a second in development.
Described as “a hybrid of rugged Americana and purposeful pop”, Front Country, a Californian band fronted by powerhouse singer-songwriter Melody Walker, infuse contemporary bluegrass with pop, Americana, country, blues and jazz influences.
With a distinctive sound that lies somewhere between old-time country and vaudeville, Bill and the Belles also join this year’s line-up following the release of their debut studio Dreamsongs, Etc. last summer.
Fresh from a tour following the release of her new album, Keep the Flame Alight, in October 2018, Scotland’s Martha L. Healy, likened to Nanci Griffith and Gretchen Peters, will make her festival debut.
Local acts who will take to the stage during the three-day festival, include fan favourite Geordie McAdam, from County Down, who will mark his 28th year performing at the festival. Fellow County Down musicians The Broken String Band, another pillar of the bluegrass community in Ireland and festival regulars for many years, will also make a welcomed return.
From Lurgan, County Armagh, Northern Exposure, made up of twin brothers Pete and Patsy Toman, Pete’s son, Jonathan Toman, and Brendan Hendry, return to delight fans for another year, as will Omagh’s very own Knotty Pine String Band.
It’s not only the musicians that will be bring the energy to the festival this year. Making a welcome return all the way from Mars Hill University, in the mountains of North Carolina, the Bailey Mountain Cloggers, an American folk-dance ensemble, will bring their high-energy and personality-filled brand of dance to the Ulster American Folk Park.
Bringing the 2019 festival to a close will be the Spirit of Bluegrass concert, with a performance from Joe Mullins and his multi-talented band of bluegrass brothers.
Richard Hurst, Visitor Services Manager at the Ulster American Folk Park, said: “It’s fantastic to be able to welcome such distinguished international bluegrass talent to the Ulster American Folk Park and in doing so we’re also shining a light on the quality of homegrown bluegrass musicianship from across the UK and Ireland that will take centre stage at the festival.
“This year, we’re delighted to see some returning faces but also to host some festival debuts by musicians making waves in the industry, including Front Country, Chris Jones and the Night Drivers and our headline act, Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers. Alongside these, we’ll see some regular faces from our own circuits, including Northern Exposure and Geordie McAdam – both of whom have been festival regulars for over two decades now.
“We’re showcasing one of our most diverse line-ups ever this year with acts whose music is steeped in Appalachian music and others with their own brand of modern country. From traditional bluegrass to contemporary Americana there’s an act for everyone.”
The event is part funded by Tourism NI and Fermanagh and Omagh District Council.
Aine Kearney, Business Support and Events Director, Tourism NI said: “We are delighted to support the Bluegrass Music Festival and now in its 28th year, this is a well-established event, attracting both local and international visitors. Events such as the Bluegrass festival are firmly established within our tourism fabric, adding value to the positive perceptions and profile of our destination and have been recognised as having an important role in contributing to the economy.”
Speaking about the festival, the Chair of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, Councillor Siobhán Currie, said “The Bluegrass Music Festival at the Ulster American Folk Park is one of the most popular festivals of its type in Europe and over the years, the organisers have ensured that the festival patrons have been regularly exposed to the best exponents of bluegrass music from across the globe. The festival has always attracted large crowds to the Ulster American Folk Park and to the district and I am confident that this year’s line-up will prove equally popular. It has also been a hugely significant contributor to the local economy and Fermanagh and Omagh District Council is once again delighted to be a festival sponsor.”
Bluegrass Omagh kicks off from 2.00pm until late on Friday, August 30. On Saturday, the music will start earlier, running from 12.30pm until late. Sunday’s programme will run from 12.30pm until the closing Spirit of Bluegrass concert at 8.00pm.
For more information about this year’s festival and to purchase tickets, call +44 (0) 28 8224 3292 or visit nmni.com/BluegrassOmagh.