The 43rd annual Darrington Bluegrass Festival starts Friday, but the campgrounds at the music park already are filled with impromptu musical gatherings.
Those who camp — and bring along their guitars and fiddles — generally are loyal to the traditional focus of festival, which was started by folks who moved to Darrington from North Carolina.
The lineup at this year’s festival, however, includes some headliners who are nudging bluegrass into a more progressive realm.
That’s according to mandolinist Nick Dumas, who grew up in south Snohomish County and is a member of the nationally known, Grammy award-nominated, Chicago-based band called The Special Consensus. The band plays most of the weekend.
“We’re not talking jam-grass or new-grass, like the Infamous StringDusters,” Dumas said. “But Jeff Scroggins and his band Colorado have a pretty good progressive twist that goes beyond the traditional tunes.”
The Appalachian sound enjoyed by people of Irish, Scottish and British ancestry, bluegrass was often gospel-based and tinged with more than a little country twang.
In the past century, as people followed the timber industry out to Washington, bluegrass became one of our region’s most important musical genres. The “Tarheels” who moved to Darrington during the logging heyday got together to play their favorite old-time tunes and hold on to their Appalachian heritage.
Special C, as Dumas calls his band, is on the line between traditional and progressive, he said.
“We play a lot of traditional bluegrass festivals like Darrington, but for example this year we played the John Hartford Memorial Festival in Indiana,” Dumas said. “That’s progressive bluegrass and it was awesome.”
Now pushing 30, Dumas, currently is finishing his first solo album. Having grown up involved in the Snohomish County bluegrass scene, he considers the Darrington festival a homecoming.
“I’ve missed only two Darrington festivals since I was a kid,” he said. “And this year is one of the best band lineups ever. It’s an epic year.”
Festival spokeswoman Diana Morgan agrees.
For example, Country Current, the U.S. Navy’s bluegrass band, a festival favorite, is back again, she said. “They’re coming from Washington, D.C. What a fabulous band.”
New this year are workshops taught by member of The Special Consensus and others, Morgan said. “It’s going to be a good festival.”
Here’s the lineup:
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver: “… is one of the best bands ever,” Dumas said. “The group includes fiddler Stephen Burwell who played with me in (the Seattle-based band) North Country Bluegrass.” Lawson, a mandolinist, grew up in Tennessee listening to Bill Monroe. He incorporates gospel in all of his shows. Lawson’s award-winning band has produced more than 40 albums. The band is set to perform twice on Saturday.
The Special Consensus: The award-winning band led by banjoist Greg Cahill got a Grammy nomination this year for its 2018 album “Rivers and Roads” — a hat-tip to songwriter John Hartford. Special C plays Saturday afternoon and night, as well as early Sunday afternoon.
Jeff Scroggins & Colorado: Scroggins is a two-time national banjo champ and former Dixie Chicks sideman, whose son Tristan plays mandolin in the band. Guitarist Greg Blake has been doing some touring with Dumas’s old music partner Chris Luquette. “We’re all a bluegrass family,” Dumas said. Colorado is on stage Friday night and Saturday afternoon and evening.
Becky Buller: The two-time Grammy award-winning songwriter and fiddler, is new to the festival and sure to be a big hit, Morgan said. Her songs have been recorded by Ricky Skaggs, Rhonda Vincent, Doyle Lawson and the Infamous StringDusters. Buller grew up as a classical violinist. She performs Friday night and Saturday afternoon and evening.
Also at the festival, see regional bands including Birdsview Bluegrass, Rural Delivery, Sunny South, Lonesome Town Painters and Darrington’s own The Combinations, featuring local bluegrass queen Bertha Nations Whiteside, who is nearing 90. The Combinations open the festival Friday and Saturday.
If you go
Darrington Bluegrass Festival, July 19-21, Darrington Bluegrass Music Park, 42501 Highway 530, west of Darrington. More at darringtonbluegrass.com. Starts at 4 p.m. Friday, and about 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Admission is $30 for Friday night, $40 for all day Saturday, $30 for Sunday, or $75 for the full weekend. Half-price discounts are available for teens, and children get in free.