Though there are bluegrass bands -- and variations of the bluegrass music -- planned for venues all over town all weekend, the headliners of the festival are two standouts from the so-called "Newgrass" movement, or what some would classify as alternative country or Americana that's played on traditional bluegrass instruments over jazzed-up bluegrass-based rhythms.
For a complete schedule of city-sponsored festival events this weekend, click here.
To find out what other bluegrass bands are playing around town this weekend in support of the festival, visit Kristal's Northwest Arkansas Live Music Blog, which is typically updated every Wednesday evening.
The first band to perform at the Bluegrass Festival's big event Saturday night at The Aud will be Dread Clampitt, based in Grayton Beach, Fla.
Their music, dubbed "hipbilly" by mandolinist/vocalist Balder Saunders, combines bluegrass, blues, rock 'n' roll, and Louisiana bayou funk-and-swamp music, all with a heavy reliance on jazz rhythms. The group's lyrics combine humor with a realistic outlook at the world and the people and places around them.
To be sure, Dread Clampitt cooks up one-of-a-kind Gulf Coast music, says guitarist and vocalist Kyle Ogle: It's a tasty sonic gumbo of varying influences complete with three-part harmonies and a pinch of Southern attitude thrown in for good measure.
"I'd classify us as folk-country-rock with some bluegrass thrown in," Ogle said Monday in a phone interview with Carroll County News. "To say we're bluegrass would be disrespectful to the genre. We're more Newgrass, Americana, I'd say. Sort of old-school country-rock with a kind of swamp feel to it."
The group, which first formed a decade ago, has toured extensively and was a featured performer at the International Newgrass Festival in Bowling Green, Ky., last fall; that same festival also featured a music legend and the widely respected "king" of Newgrass, Sam Bush.
"He has always been one of our heroes, and we got to meet him, and we had lost our fiddle player who'd moved back to Australia, so we asked Sam to play on our record and he did," Ogle said. "He is the right man to be the anointed king of Newgrass -- he's such an ambassador to all the younger bands. When you meet your hero and find out he's one of the nicest people in the world, it's pretty special."
Any band that can hang with Sam Bush has to know how to really throw down on stage, and Dread Clampitt is no exception.
The band, which also includes basis Kenny Oliverio and drummer John Reinlie, performs a mix of originals and covers ranging from tunes by The Band and Bob Dylan to The Beatles, Waylon Jennings and a 10-minute extended-jam version of the Stones' "Can't You Hear Me Knockin'" that Ogle says always brings the house down.
A sample listen to a few of the group's originals goes like this:
"Redneck Coozie" has a Louisiana-dance-hall feel to it, with a heavy but singsongy fiddle lead and comically fun lyrics. "Suite Pain" is slightly more traditional bluegrass in nature and in rhythm, opening with the fiddle and mandolin beautifully carrying the melody, which blends well with a nontraditionally composed lead vocal. The mandolin solo on this track is exceptional. "Bayou Country" is aptly named, as it is sort of a Cajun-flavored, country-blues waltz pumped full of attitude with a strong fiddle melody leading the way.
The main act at The Aud Saturday night, Folk Soul Revival is a harmony-drenched, boot-stomping, rowdy, rootsy Americana band from the Appalachian mountain region of Virginia and Tennessee. The band will appeal to fans of Corey Smith, Cross Canadian Ragweed and other similar alt-country / Americana rockers as well as to fans of Old Crow Medicine Show, The Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons.
The group features multiple talented vocalists among its members, who number five: guitarist/vocalist Daniel Davis, Justin Venable on vocals and banjo/"guitjo", upright and electric bassist Brandon Sturgill, lead guitarist Daniel Vanover who also plays harmonica and dobro and sings, and drummer Dan Witt.
FSR has just this month released its newest album, "Prompting the Dapperness," the band's first effort since the tragic death of band member Allun Cormier, who died in a house fire in December 2010. Cormier was a principle member whose guitar prowess and virtuosity could only be outshone by his raspy, soulful vocals and on-stage charm.
Following the tragedy, Folk Soul Revival regrouped, refocused and with "Prompting The Dapperness" returns to the formula that has continued to make the band so endearing: strong songwriting, sing-along melodies, impassioned vocals and, most of all, honest music that resonates deep within the listener. There's a reason the band has such a loyal fan base (dubbed "The Congregation") and garners accolades wherever they travel.
In fact, the band's second album "Words Off The Tongue" was ranked among the Top 15 Albums of the Year by No Depression magazine in 2010; the new record, on its day of release (Aug. 3), hit No. 12 on the iTunes country charts and No. 99 on the overall iTunes charts, and it already has hit No. 10 on Billboard's Heatseekers chart.
Last year, the Virginia Tourism Board named Folk Soul Revival the state's Band of the Year, and earlier this year, readers of Virginia Living Magazine voted the group among the Top Three Bands in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Helping garner all this success is the band's distinct vocal approaches, back-porch instrumentation, haunting four-part harmonies and enthusiastic talent. It's also helped earn them respectable tour-mates: Folk Soul Revival has shared the stage with such high-profile acts as Jason Isbell, Justin Townes Earle, John Cowan, The Felice Brothers, Goose Creek Symphony, Dr. Ralph Stanley, and Jessica Lea Mayfield, among many others.
The band has also been featured on the syndicated radio program Music City Roots, based in Nashville, Tenn., and on Sirius/XM's "Outlaw Country" show. Recently, FSR was honored to be asked to perform at Mumford and Sons' Gentleman of the Road Stopover Festival; they've also performed this past year at Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion Festival in Virginia, FunFest with Travis Tritt in Tennessee, and Second Chance Rocks the Two Virginias with Lee Brice, Jake Owen and Eric Church.
Folk Soul Revival's ability to perform everything from toe-tapping, jug-band type jams to touching ballads about love and loss to traditional folk-type and bluegrass songs -- and even the occasional long-lost Top 40 classic -- are what keeps the seats filled and the audience members smiling. As one critic wrote, FSR is "just the right mix of rowdy and roots."
They should fit right in in Eureka Springs, which is a new tour stop for them, the band members told Carroll County News this week.
"This will be one of our furthest ventures west," said Witt, the drummer. "We're humbled and completely excited to have been asked to play so far from home. We're gonna have a blast and we just hope everyone has as much fun as we plan to."