Bluegrass at the Nevada County Fairgrounds, a Father’s Day weekend tradition |

Bluegrass at the Nevada County Fairgrounds, a Father’s Day weekend tradition

Hollie Grimaldi Flores | Special to Prospector

Bluegrass music had its first run as a definable genre in the mid-1940s with the likes of Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs and The Stanley Brother.

Rick Cornish, director of operations and retired board chairman of the California Bluegrass Association, said the second wave of pioneers came about 10 years later.

Some of those leaders of bluegrass will be among the featured headliners June 15-18 at the Nevada County Fairgrounds for a bluegrass festival tradition that continues into its 43rd year this weekend.

Bobby Osbourne and The Rocky Top X-press will take the main stage Saturday afternoon and evening and will perform again Sunday afternoon. Osbourne began performing in 1949 and became a member of The Grand Ole Opry 15 years later. Some of his hits include the bluegrass anthem, "Rocky Top" and "Kentucky." A highly regarded mandolin player and vocalist, Osbourne is still recording today. He was inducted in the International Bluegrass Music Hall (IBMA) of Honor in 1994.

Another legend in the world of bluegrass, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver will also be returning to the festival performing both Friday and Saturday. Having recorded nearly 40 albums and winners of multiple music awards including seven-time winners of IBMA's Vocal Group of the Year, the band is consistently one of the most popular with regular attendees to the festival.

Cornish said he stumbled into the second annual bluegrass festival in the mid 1970s quite accidentally, when the blues guitar player and his harmonica-playing buddy heard about what they believed to be a blues festival happening in a town called, "Grass Valley."

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"You could have bowled me over when the first act came up, it was a kind of music like I had never heard in my life," Cornish said. He's been coming back ever since and has found himself on the leadership team in some capacity for decades.

"Every year we put this festival on it is quite different from every other year," he said, "but for the 43rd rendition, the committee decided it was important to bring back some of the pioneers of bluegrass."

The weekend festival offers camping, workshops, and over 30 bands performing on three separate stages. The Pioneer Stage and Vern's' Stage which have acts playing when the Main Stage is dark.

Vern's stage is named after World War II Veteran Vern Williams, who Cornish said is the undisputed "Father of California Bluegrass."

Every artist performing on Vern's stage operates out California and this year includes the likes of Nevada County's own Banner Mountain Boys, Cornish says this year's lineup of acts on Vern's Stage "will be far and away the best and most represented and clearly the most polished and entertaining of any of our Vern's Stage lineups."

Approximately 20 groups featuring musicians from all over the Golden State will play 30-minute sets over the four-day festival. Nevada County Fairgoers will know Vern's Stage as the "Loadin' Chute" and it does also serve as the beer and wine garden.

The Pioneer Stage also offers a wide range of entertainment keeping live music going pretty much continuously throughout the weekend. Many of the main stage performers will also take a turn on the smaller stage for a much more intimate experience.

Camping is encouraged and Cornish says about 75 percent of attendees will camp, with well over half of them being pickers or singers. After the organized music end for the day, groups often get together informally to make music of their own.

Cornish says for the first 30 years The California Bluegrass Association was known for presenting traditional bluegrass music with at least one old time band. For the past decade or so, that has changed.

"We now include more varieties of the music which means over the course of the weekend, you will hear really good examples of music that were the building blocks of what later became bluegrass," Cornish said. "You will hear bands that play the early traditional bluegrass music that was built on mountain music and you will hear modern bluegrass music. Bands that are both youthful in terms of the ages of the members of the band but also who have evolved into a slicker and in some ways a more out of the box type of bluegrass. We are doing a much better job of presenting a broader spectrum of what bluegrass is all about."

In addition to music, there are a variety workshops and a wide selection of quality crafts, apparel, jewelry and food selections.

Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire. She can be reached at


WHAT: 43rd Annual Father’s Day Bluegrass Festival

WHERE: Nevada County Fairgrounds

WHEN: June 15-18, 2017

TICKETS: Ticket prices range: $10-$170 (dogs are allowed outside of the audience area).


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