Rockahock Bluegrass Festival draws loyal fans

The Rockahock Bluegrass Festival drew guests from all over Virginia last week with vendors hawking wares, bands playing southern-style tunes and the campground offering its swath of summer activities.

The festival's masters of ceremonies, award-winning bluegrass radio hosts "Sweet" Brenda and Calvin "Him" Lawson, returned to the festival June 15-17. The couple hired what they said were the best bands from Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina to play under the Rockadome in the late spring days.

Sharon Silver, a longtime photographer for this festival, expressed her support for the Lawsons' choices.

"Any time Brenda and Calvin pick groups to be on that stage, they're going to be the best," Silver said. "They're always going to have good music."

John Bullard, a banjo player for the band Heritage, said their companionship with the guests wasn't just a comforting perk, but a factor that went so far as to influence the band's song list.

"Donald (Warthan) and his wife, Carol, know everybody down here," Bullard said of the Providence Forge-based singer. "That last song we sang, 'Mary Dear,' a lot of their friends really know that song ... they recorded it a long time ago. So doing that kind of thing really pleases a lot of these folks here, because they know it and they want to hear it."

Bullard said the venue, with its covered and paved amphitheater, was particularly rewarding to perform in. He said the combination of the partially enclosed setup and the campgrounds' sound team made the music appropriately balanced and broadcast.

Dennis Reamy, the dobro player for Virginia Central Bluegrass Band, agreed with Bullard on the quality of the venue and the community.

"I've been playing since the '70s," Reamy said, "so I know a lot of the people who come to these places all the time. This is like a social gathering."

One of the habitual guests at the festival was Randy Fitzpatrick, who said he had a permanent campsite at Rockahock, and was enjoying being off work in the perfect weather. Even though Fitzpatrick was raised in Michigan, he said his paternal grandparents were from eastern Kentucky, so bluegrass was in his blood. He said people who didn't have the opportunity to come out last week may be able to look at the schedule and know what music they missed, but would most certainly be shorted of the event's warm atmosphere.

"Camaraderie with the people — everybody's just so nice," Fitzpatrick said. "It's just relaxing, calm. You gotta like bluegrass. A lot of people don't like bluegrass, but growing up like that, I love it."

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