Bluegrass Island Festival just getting better with age

By on October 2, 2017

The festival starts Wednesday. (file photo)

The weather is looking great for the upcoming week, the setting at Roanoke Island Festival Park is as good as it gets and the lineup of musicians and groups for the 2017 Bluegrass Island Festival is better than ever.

With a full slate of bands scheduled from Wednesday through Saturday, the festival has become has become one of the most popular bluegrass gatherings around.

Manteo resident and promoter Cory Hemilright brought the first Bluegrass Festival to the Outer Banks in 2012.


Except for last year when Hurricane Matthew forced cancellation of the last three days, the show has only improved each time. “The lineup gets better every year,” Hemilright said.

There are a number of reasons for that. The setting plays a role in bringing bands to the Outer Banks. “Everyone wants to play that venue. From the bands to the promoters they all want to play that venue,” Hemilright said.

What really sets the Bluegrass Festival apart, though, has been Hemilright’s ability to attract some of the biggest names in bluegrass music. He points out that almost every band performing from Wednesday through Saturday often plays as the headliner.

“People are willing to travel for that kind of lineup,” he said.

Bluegrass has always had a reputation for attracting some of the most talented musicians, and the 2017 festival is no exceptions. With all of that talent, however, comes a bit of the rebel, and if there is a theme to this year’s festival it is “be ready for something different.”


Billy Strings, taking the stage Saturday at 5:30, was named by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know” in August. And they may be right.

He’s young, looks like he just got out of high school, he briefly played in a heavy metal band and he’s pure energy on stage. Oh, and he may be the best guitar player around, in any style or genre. Not too many flatpicking guitarists play beyond their frets.

Watching him play is almost like reading Dr. Seuss’ On Beyond Zebra—where the last note ends is where some of the most amazing creativity begins for him.


With so much talent throughout the week, choosing one grouping or evening is tough, but Friday in particular looks really good with Love Canon taking the stage at 6:00.

Imagine if a rock band that plays covers and does it really well decided to switch over to bluegrass. That’s the sound and style of Love Canon, and their covers of some of the greatest hits of the 70s and 80s are as good as anything anyone is doing—better, actually.

Next band up on Saturday: Flatt Lonesome.

In August of 2016 John Michael Montgomery came to RIFP and I reviewed the show. He was good, but the band that blew me away was Flatt Lonesome. Here’s some of what I wrote:

“They may be bluegrass, that’s what their instruments and the core of their arrangements suggest. But these are young, incredibly talented musicians and they are not afraid to take chances.

Tight, great lead work from the banjo, guitar and dobro, fantastic vocals and filled with energy.”

After Flatt Lonesome finishes Rhonda Vincent and the Rage finish out the night.

In this setting, it will probably be very traditional bluegrass — and there is nothing wrong with that because Vincent and her band do bluegrass as well as bluegrass is ever done.

But in smaller venues they sometimes venture into other forms of music like country or country rock. It’s still distinctly her sound, but it creates an additional dimension to how good Vincent and the band are as musicians.

Focusing on one day of music misses what the Bluegrass Festival is all about, though. Wednesday through Saturday, it is five days of outstanding music.

For that matter, the kickoff on Tuesday afternoon at the Bluegrass Island Store in Manteo promises some great music with Sons of the South, Cuttin’ Grass and the U.S. Navy Band at 2:00 p.m.

Get full details and tickets for this year’s festival at

See what people are saying:

  • Thinking About the Future

    We attended the festival on Saturday night – the night Billy Strings debuted in Manteo. He was out of this world fantastic! I surely hope that the festival will get him back for many years to come. This is an incredibly talented young man who can both play in the “new grass” style with a mix of bluegrass, jazz and rock but he is also grounded in traditional bluegrass such as the likes of Doc Watson. Billy Strings is someone to pay attention to and see when you can. His band mates were also excellent.

    Looking forward to next time!

    Saturday, Oct 14 @ 8:03 pm
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