Aiken Bluegrass Festival has some strong momentum going into their 14th year, as Greensky Bluegrass returns to headline alongside Leftover Salmon, with Billy Strings (x2), Larry Keel Experience, The Lil Smokies (x2) , Lindsay Lou (x2), Jon Stickley Trio, Grass is Dead, Love Canon, Brad Parsons Band (x2), Greg Burns & Friends, Rumpke Mountain Boys, and more. Whether it’s the flock of four-legged friends (yes, dogs are allowed!), the easy-going campground full of Campers and their ilk, or the unrivaled collaborative jams that seem like they were taken right off a bucket list, this is not your ordinary music festival. Most impressively, the founding mission of Aiken Bluegrass Festival has been to support Great Oak, a local therapeutic horseback riding program, and for the first time this year, they are also working to raise money and awareness for the Albrecht SPCA. The festival will take place May 11-12, at the Western Carolina Fairgrounds in Aiken, South Carolina.
Many of you may know Greg Burns as the Production Manager and Sound Engineer for Greensky Bluegrass, and some of you may even be lucky enough to know him as the frontman of Greg Burns & Friends, the rarest of supergroups, which was founded in the fun of Aiken back in 2016. Well now Burns has come on the ABF team to join Christian Schaumann as Co-Director, and he was nice enough to talk with The Poke Around about what we can expect in Aiken this year, including some juicy new additions and improvements.
Greensky Bluegrass plays at festivals all around the country, and y’all even have your own now (Camp Greensky 2018). I’d love to hear what sets Aiken Bluegrass Festival apart for you, and what makes you excited to be involved on an organizational level this year?
Aiken, South Carolina, for the last six years has felt like a home away from home for me, and for the Greensky team. From the moment Greensky first played Aiken, we’ve been treated like family by the Schaumann’s. We consider them part of our inner circle. We make stops at their house for meals on days off when touring nearby. Paul [Hoffman] has occasionally sung their names as alternative lyrics in his song “Demons.” Christian, with his easy going and comfortable vibe, just sets your heart at ease whenever he is around. This festival’s pace and tone is set by his attitude towards being a host. Audience, volunteers, artists and staff alike are drawn to this event because of the welcoming and comfortable vibe that emanates from the management of the festival all the way throughout every facet of the organization. From being one of the only pet-friendly festivals around to our focus on fun for the whole family, this festival has something for everyone. Being more involved as the Co-Director this year means that I’m attempting to bring a slightly more focused business attitude and accounting method to the festival without taking away from the welcoming and comfy vibe that has become our calling card.
Greg Burns & Friends will find you in yet another role this weekend, performing on stage. I know you’ve only done this a couple times before, including the debut at ABF ’16, can you talk about how it all came together, and possibly share a little of who/what we can expect this time around
Another part of the reason I’m so involved in the festival this year is because of the hopefully annual tradition of getting to perform! I love performing, even if in my own brain I’m more of a karaoke singer. I’m lucky enough to have a vast assortment of incredibly talented musicians that I’ve become close with over the years working in the industry, as my past performances have proven. The debut performance in ’16 was actually kind of a dare from Christian and Anders Beck (of Greensky Bluegrass). They were having some fun with me and I called them out on it. That set was so much fun I can’t even put it into words. Kellen Asebroek, Tyler Thompson, and Jay Anderson of Fruition, as well as Anders [Beck], were my backup band for that set. This year I’ve got another amazingly talented group of musicians that you may have heard of. They are:
Dave Bruzza of Greensky Bluegrass – Drums
Anders Beck of Greensky Bluegrass – Dobro
Billy Strings – Electric Guitar
Matt Rowland (Mr. Jimmy) of Rayland Baxter – Keys & Organ
Greg Burns – Electric Bass & Vocals
There will also be some special guest appearances on top of this all star band!
What else is new at Aiken Bluegrass Festival this year?
I would love to tell you about our new second stage this year! Steve Groat, the founder of the Aiken Bluegrass Festival, passed on a few years ago and we are honoring his legacy by naming our new performance space as “Steve’s Beer Hall.” Providing live music throughout the weekend as well as a 70′ bar with liquor service and several beer options provided by sponsors New Belgium Brewing and Hi-Wire Brewing, who is a new beer sponsor for 2018. This stage will host our ABF Super Jams as the last performances of each day, following the headlining sets at the Main Stage. Friday will feature an ensemble cast with Vince Herman at the helm, including members of the Jon Stickley Trio, The Lil Smokies, Lindsay Lou, and Billy Strings. Saturday evening will be a special set from Billy Strings featuring Mr. Jimmy of Rayland Baxter, as well as members of Lil Smokies, Larry Keel, Lindsay Lou and more!
We will also be providing new services available for the campers! We have added a Walk-In Camping-only area with no vehicles, in addition to our regular car camping. This will be right near 24-hour access to real bathrooms, as well as a campfire area for acoustic jams and late night hangs. There will also be pop up performances during the afternoons at the campfire. The Feel Good Food truck will be serving up 24-hour tasty food bites, as well as New Moon Cafe selling baked goods and coffee, juices, and other drinkables. Late night activities include Bocce Ball, Corn Hole, and Glow in the Dark “Top DiscGolf” course which will have prizes from sponsor Innova Disc for highest scores throughout the weekend.
You can find tickets and more information for Aiken Bluegrass Festival on their site, www.loveabf.com.
Article by Richard Oakley
Photograph by Eric Rayburn Photography