- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 30, 2000

The bluegrass festival at Graves' Mountain in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains is a great family outing, whether for just a day or for camping all three days.
The music is among the best you will ever find in one place, the setting is beautiful, and the mood is relax and enjoy.
When Jim and Rachel Graves started this festival in 1993, they vowed it would be a family-oriented event and would stay that way. It has. Families sometimes four generations' worth have come back every year from all over the country.
They camp in everything from mega-motor-homes to tents and pickup trucks with camper shells. Friends carve out large camping areas for annual get-togethers, and usually those camps have a canopied area where you might hear music being made at any hour.
Many of the country's top bluegrass bands perform, and the musicians mingle with the fans in the stage and concession area. Famous Graves' Mountain Lodge food is served in the stage area, as are hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, soft drinks, popcorn, ice cream and other goodies.
Fidgety children can have their faces painted, or they may choose to wade in the stream that ripples past the stage area. Parents can keep a watchful eye while not missing a note from the stage.
Facilities in both the stage area and the camping field are classified as "rough." That means no electricity and no running water, but there are plenty of portable toilets that are kept clean. Showers are set up in the camping areas for the festival.
For those who camp and have the early part of the day free for other activities, the recreational amenities of Graves' Mountain Lodge are available. They include horseback riding, horseshoes, tennis, hiking and swimming. If you forget an essential for a day or days in the outdoors, not to fear. The Syria General Mercantile is just outside the gate. Several historical sites are within short driving distance, too, if history is part of your program.
Thursday's show opens with New Vintage, followed by the Lewis Family, Longing for the Southland (from Japan), Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike and the James King Band. The Lewis Family, from Lincolnton, Ga., is the music's top gospel band and won its second Dove Award from the Gospel Music Association this year. "Pop" Lewis, at age 95, still performs with his four children and two grandchildren.
On Friday, Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys are on the schedule, along with John Donaldson & Low Profile, Rhonda Vincent & Rage, IIIrd Tyme Out and Blue Highway. Mr. Stanley is a veteran of more than five decades in bluegrass music, while Blue Highway emerged in the mid-'90s and moved quickly to the top. A special feature Friday night will be a reunion of the 1980s band the Knoxville Grass.
Saturday's schedule is a long list of headliners. It opens with the Lonesome River Band, followed by the Larry Stephenson Band, the Nashville Bluegrass Band, Claire Lynch, the Seldom Scene and Blueridge. Tony Rice and Peter Rowan also will do a set and will join in the all-star jam that traditionally closes the Graves' Mountain Festival of Music.
The jam will include musicians from Saturday's shows and a reunion of the Virginia Squires. Bill Emerson, an early Country Gentleman and former director of the U.S. Navy's country music program, also will join the jam.
Mr. Emerson, a banjoist, will be among the artists conducting instrumental workshops each afternoon. The workshops, an added feature this year sponsored by Acutab Publications, will provide pickers of all skill levels a chance to learn the stars' secrets of mastery of the banjo, mandolin, dobro or guitar.
Mr. and Mrs. Graves and their two sons and their wives are actively involved in making sure the festival goes smoothly. They mingle with fans and handle chores when necessary. It is not uncommon to see one of the Graves men driving the tractor pulling the hay-wagon shuttle that circles the camping area to carry fans to the stage.
The Graveses are open to suggestions from festival goers. Guests' comments have led to the temporary showers, the shuttle, "quiet" zones in the camping area and nonsmoking areas at the stage, among other changes over the years.
This festival is recognized as one of the very best by families that have traveled the circuit for many years. It has earned its reputation as a good place to start for those who like the music but have been timid about taking children to a festival. It offers award-winning music, great food, an idyllic setting and a minimum of hassles.

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