Charley Crockett performs at Watermelon Pickers Festival 2021. (Photo by Chester Simpson)
Watermelon Picker’s Fest is one of my favorite festivals that I look forward to every year. The experience of camping, socializing with old and new friends while listening to music is an amazing experience not to be over looked. Besides music on the stages, there’s the night jam sessions, where various musicians travel from campsite to campsite for a special musical experience. It’s an opportunities to hangout with performers in a pleasant, usually quite rural, setting.
My first Watermelon Festival was in 2010, which was held at Watermelon Park Campground on the Shenandoah River. I have attended and photographed every Watermelon Festival since then, except for last year, because the festival was canceled because of COVID. This year it was moved to the Clarke County Fairgrounds in beautiful Berryville, Va.
Berryville, is a cute, quaint, and peaceful rural town in the country. It is a hidden gem in the Northern Virginia area located in the northern Shenandoah Valley, just 60 Miles west of Washington, D.C.
The 17th Annual Festival is the ideal family-friendly music festival with the combination of bluegrass, blues, country, roots and americana music performances. Combined with workshops, band & pickin’ contests, dances, yoga, kid’s activities, food & craft vendors, and late night jams in the campgrounds, for four straight days.
Watermelon Pickers Fest is a music festival created by Shepherds Ford Productions which has produced 23 music festivals since 2004.
So many bands so little time … I wasn’t able to document all the great bands that performed last weekend, but here’s some of the best ….
My videos of late night jams:
Watermelon Picker’s 2021 – By © Chester Simpson …
Watermelon Picker’s 2021 – Film by © Chester Simpson …
The Gina Furtado Project- 6-7 pm – Main Stage
Twice nominated for the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Banjo Player of the Year, Gina began touring up and down the east coast in
her tween years with her siblings, earning countless ribbons from fiddlers conventions, a strong reputation in the regional bluegrass scene, and a stamp from Bluegrass Today as “absurdly talented”.
She developed national recognition with her four years playing for Chris Jones and the Night Drivers. Her latest album, True Colors, was released in September 2017 and debuted at #13 on Bluegrass Billboard Charts, and boasts two #1 songs on Bluegrass Today Charts. Gina was featured on the cover of Banjo Newsletter in the December 2017 issue, along with her original tune “Saylor’s Creek”. She is highly sought after as an instructor at music camps across the United States.About The gina furtado projectFronted by banjoist, singer and songwriter Gina Furtado, the Gina Furtado Project lays heavy emphasis on catchy, relatable, original material that spans the gamut from bluegrass to swing to gypsy jazz and beyond.With two IBMA nominations for Banjo Player of the Year to show for it, Gina has been quickly earning recognition as one of the most innovative banjoists on the scene today. The Bluegrass Situation says, ‘It is no surprise that her songs would showcase her swift and graceful picking” but that her album also “reveals her to be a graceful singer and insightful songwriter.” Joining Gina is a cast of equally compelling and creative musicians: Max Johnson on bass (Molly Tuttle Band, Jacob Joliff Band, Jeff Austin Band); Drew Matulich on guitar (Billy Strings); Malia Furtado on fiddle (Director of Education at the Front Porch Music School)
Watch the Gina Furtado Project on YouTube:
The Woodshedders – 7:45 – 8:45pm – Main Stage
The Woodshedders are an Indie Roots band boasting four all-original studio albums and performances at hundreds of festivals and shows. The band consists of Dwayne Brooke on guitar and vocals, Fiddlin’ Dave Van Deventer on Fiddle, Jesse Shultazaberger on drums, Jacob Smith on Saxophone and Keys, and Randy Ball on bass. The Woodshedders bring lyricism and musicality to fun, danceable shows that swerve through Honky-Tonk, Gypsy, Appalachian, and Vintage Rock n’ Roll, often in the same song.
They have shared this unique musical alchemy at venues near and far, including Red Wing Roots Music Festival, Deep Roots Mountain Revival, Bristol Rhythm & Roots Festival, Mountain Stage New Song Fest, Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival, PBS Song of the Mountains, The U.S. State Department’s Fourth of July Picnic, Opera House LIVE!, The Hamilton, Confluence Festival, The State Theatre, The Hippodrome, WAMU’s Capital Americana, The Jefferson Theatre, and at their rowdy monthly residency at Hill Country BBQ in D.C. They are the also the host band of Virginia’s celebrated Watermelon Park Fest.
Watch The Woodshedders live on YouTube:
Town Mountain – 9:30-11 pm – Main Stage
Raw, soulful, and with plenty of swagger, Town Mountain has earned raves for their hard-driving sound, their in-house songwriting and the honky-tonk edge that permeates their exhilarating live performances, whether in a packed club or at a sold-out festival.
The hearty base of Town Mountain’s music is the first and second generation of bluegrass spiced with country, old school rock ‘n’ roll, and boogie-woogie. It’s what else goes into the mix that brings it all to life both on stage and on record and reflects the group’s wide-ranging influences – from the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia and the ethereal lyrics of Robert Hunter, to the honest, vintage country of Willie, Waylon, and Merle. The Bend Bulletin’s Brian McElhiney says Town Mountain, “has serious country and rock ’n’ roll DNA.” Town Mountain features guitarist and vocalist Robert Greer, banjoist Jesse Langlais, mandolinist Phil Barker, fiddler Bobby Britt, and Zach Smith on bass.
Watch Town Mountain perform “I’m on Fire” live on YouTube:
Daryl Davis – 2-3 pm – Show Barn
Chicago native Daryl Davis graduated from Howard University, with a degree in Jazz. Outside of school, he was personally trained by legendary Blues, Boogie Woogie and Rock’n’Roll pianists Pinetop Perkins and Johnnie Johnson who both claimed him as their godson and praised his ability to master a piano style that was popular long before he was born.
In addition to being a pianist and vocalist, Daryl is also a professional actor, author, and lecturer, now residing in Maryland.
Apart from leading The Daryl Davis Band, he has worked with Elvis Presley’s Jordanaires, Chuck Berry, The Legendary Blues Band, Percy Sledge, Sam Moore, Nappy Brown and many others. Daryl’s CDs have received rave reviews from leading music magazines, and he has won several WAMA (Washington Area Music Association) Awards for Best Artist in the Roots and Blues categories. Daryl has tours nationwide and internationally. His Greatest Hits CD is his latest release.
A man once told Daryl, he’d never seen a Black man play piano like Jerry Lee Lewis. Daryl explained, they both learned from black Blues and Boogie Woogie pianists. The man found it hard to believe in the black origin of the music but became a regular fan of Daryl’s. Turns out, he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. This experience led to Daryl becoming the first black author to travel the country interviewing KKK leaders and members. His experiences are detailed in his critically acclaimed book, Klan-Destine Relationships and the award-winning documentary Accidental Courtesy. His upcoming new book, The Klan Whisperer will be released soon.
As an actor, Daryl has appeared on the stage, the big screen and television. He also played a role in the critically acclaimed and awarded television show The Wire.
He is the recipient of numerous awards for his music and work in race relations and is often seen and heard on cable and network television, radio and print media as a race relations expert.
Watch Daryl Davis discuss why he attends KKK rallies on YouTube:
The Plate Scrapers – 4-4:45pm, Show Barn
The Plate Scrapers originated in 2014 in western Maryland the way any good bluegrass band does: from a bunch of fellers pickin’ around in a circle, surrounded by delicious plates of food, strong libations, and good friends. The traditional spirit of The Plate Scrapers is still innately intact nearly half a decade later, though they have evolved into far more than your average bluegrass band. Through diverse backgrounds and influences ranging from jazz, to hard rock, to funk, the band has taken their music to an eclectic new level.
The Plate Scrapers’ songwriting is the identifying characteristic of the band. Complimenting writing styles from multiple members offer a tasteful balance and refreshing diversity to their sound, a diversity which they have become known for. Folksy lyrics of songs like “Shoes” or “Moonlight” call to a time of friendship, nostalgia and adventure, while songs like “Trucker’s Aspirin” or “Easy Way Out” are darker tales, gritty in nature.
Crafted musicianship and creative chemistry on stage guarantees that each performance is a new experience. More recently, the band has been known to take advantage of modern FX to enhance their traditional folk instruments, venturing over the borders of traditional Bluegrass into the rapidly growing genre of Jamgrass. Fans and critics alike agree that things are moving in a promising direction for The Plate Scrapers.
The Plate Scrapers are currently working on their third studio record, with new and different material, and are setting their sites on touring the Western US in the near future. These guys are committed to what they do and have no intentions of slowing down.
Watch The Plate Scrapers live on YouTube:
The Bumper Jacksons with Daryl Davis – 4:45 – 5:45pm, Main Stage
Bumper Jacksons are hot and sweet, painting America’s story from the streets of New Orleans to Appalachian hollers. Unafraid to scrap together new sounds from forgotten 78’s, the Bumper Jacksons elegantly balance paying homage to the traditions while fashioning their own unique, playful style.
The group began as a duo, a city-meets-country experiment between songstress Jess Eliot Myhre and banjo player Chris Ousley. They hopped on bicycles, touring the country, instruments on their backs, seeking to reimagine roots music. In five short years, Bumper Jacksons grew to a fiery five-piece, with horns and pedal steel. They now tour internationally, and have been honored multiple times as the Mid-Atlantic’s “Artist of the Year,” “Best Country/Americana Band” & “Best Folk Band” at the Washington Area Music Awards. Bursting at the seams with some of the richest threads of old America, Bumper Jacksons bring you into the center of a party where everyone’s invited and the dance floor never sleeps.
Watch The Bumper Jacksons perform “I’ve Never Met a Stranger” live on YouTube:
Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole – 6:30 – 7:45pm – Main Stage
One of the brightest young talents to emerge in Cajun, Creole and Zydeco (Louisiana French) music over the last decade, Cedric Watson is a four-time Grammy-nominated fiddler, singer, accordionist & songwriter with seemingly unlimited potential.
Originally from San Felipe, TX (population 868), Cedric made his first appearance at the age of 19 at the Zydeco Jam at The Big Easy in Houston, TX. Just two years later, he moved to south Louisiana, quickly immersing himself in French music and language. Over the next several years, Cedric performed French music in 17 countries and on 7 full-length albums with various groups, including the Pine Leaf Boys, Corey Ledet, Les Amis Creole with Ed Poullard and J.B. Adams, and with his own group, Bijou Creole.
Cedric Watson & Bijou Creole resurrect the ancient sounds of the French and Spanish contra dance and bourré alongside the spiritual rhythms of the Congo tribes of West Africa, who were sold as slaves in the Carribean and Louisiana by the French and Spanish.
Watch Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole live on YouTube:
The Infamous Stringdusters – 8:30 – 10pm, Main Stage
The Infamous Stringdusters dig deep into their bluegrass roots for their eleventh full-length record A Tribute to Bill Monroe, made available on Americana Vibes. For this album which pays homage to the Father of Bluegrass includes songs that shaped them individually, and as a band, and recorded them each remotely from their home studios.
“Bill Monroe was, as far as I can remember, the first bluegrass music I owned,” shared Andy Hall. I asked my uncle for a Bill Monroe CD box set and got it as a birthday present when I turned 18. The sound coming out of my speakers blew my mind, almost like ancient acoustic heavy metal. But then a song like ‘A Voice From On High’ would come on, and even though it was slow, it had this captivating power. The ancient tones.”
The GRAMMY® Award-winning quintet—Andy Falco [guitar], Chris Pandolfi [banjo], Andy Hall [dobro], Jeremy Garrett [fiddle], and Travis Book [double bass]—have musical influences that truly run the gamut, but their common denominator is certainly bluegrass — the sound that has in essence defined the course of their career.
Watch The Infamous Stringdusters live on YouTube:
Saturday (Sept 18)
Furnace Mountain with Megan Downes and the City Stompers – 3 – 4:45pm, Main Stage
The region is situated between the Appalachian hills of West Virginia and the culturally diverse and ever-changing Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, and is known for producing musicians who transcend generic categories, deftly taking traditional music styles in new directions. Furnace Mountain Band, named for a mountain near where all the members grew up, consists of some of the most innovative and gifted musicians in Virginia.
Furnace Mountain consists of Aimee Curl on bass and vocals, , Dave Van Deventer on fiddle and vocals, and Morgan Morrison on guitar, bouzouki, and vocals, Danny Knicely on mandolin and fiddle. The band creates music that is at times lively and raucous, with spirited fiddle melodies weaving in and around the powerful rhythms of the bass and bouzouki, and other times poignant and poetic, with sublime vocal harmonies beautifully interpreting some of the oldest songs ever written.
Furnace Mountain Band has performed throughout the world, from the Yangtze River in China to the banks of the Shenandoah River, where they are the host band of Watermelon Pickers’ Festival. Furnace Mountain Band plays music from the American Appalachian traditions, as well as original compositions, and songs penned by their favorite song writing friends.
Watch Furnace Mountain Band live on YouTube:
Megan Downes and the City Stompers
Megan Downes has been involved with percussive dance all her life. As a child she studied Irish step dancing with National Heritage Fellow Donny Golden in New York City, and went on to teach Irish social dancing in New York and at regional festivals.
She taught for fourteen years at Midsummer Night Swing held every summer at Lincoln Center, was a principal dancer with Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble for 16 years, and has taught flatfooting and clogging at the Augusta Heritage Center in West Virginia. Columbia Pictures hired Megan to teach Brad Pitt authentic Irish dance moves in preparation for his performance in the 1997 film The Devil’s Own. The City Stompers benefit from Megan’s broad experience in percussive dance traditions, her passion for dance, dedication to teaching, and her infectious enthusiasm.
Watch Megan Downes and the City Stompers live on YouTube:
The Larry Keel Experience – 4:45 – 5:45pm, Main Stage
Larry Keel is an award-winning innovative flat picking guitarist and singer/songwriter hailing from Appalachia. Raised in a musical family steeped in the mountain culture of the region, Keel began from an early age to forge a distinctive sound, taking traditional music and infusing it with modern light.
With the acoustic guitar Keel has brought the flat picking form to its highest level of sophistication and sonic power with his muscular, yet refined style of playing. As a composer and singer, Keel integrates raw honesty and charming grit to form a unique brand of music he calls ‘experimental folk’, songwriting that is filled with reality, imagination, imagery and mood. He has appeared on over 20 albums, 12 of which he produced, and has written songs that have been recorded and performed by distinguished artists including Grammy-award winners Del McCoury and The Infamous Stringdusters. Keel has collaborated and continues to merge creative forces with some of the greatest artists in modern roots music such as Tyler Childers, Billy Strings, Al DiMeola, Tony Rice, Keller Williams and Sam Bush, to name a few.
Watch the Larry Keel Experience live on YouTube:
Charley Crockett – 6:30 – 7:45pm, Main Stage
A native of South Texas, he was raised in an isolated, rural part of the Rio Grande Valley by a single mother in a trailer surrounded by sugar cane and grapefruit fields.
As a teenager, he was into free-styling and rapping. He spent formative years living with his uncle in New Orleans where he first became a street performer who discovered a love for folk music. In New York City he played hip hop and blues on street corners and in subway cars. What’s also important to his identity as an artist, he says, is that he has lived the songs he writes and sings. “I’ve always had to work so damn hard to get any little bit of anything,” he says.
Watch the official music video for “Midnight Run” by Charley Crockett on YouTube:
Bela Fleck – My Bluegrass Heart – 8:30 – 10pm, Main Stage, featuring Michael Cleveland, Sierra Hull, Justin Moses, Mark Schatz, and Brian Sutton
My Bluegrass Heart is the third chapter of a trilogy which began with the 1988 album, Drive, and continued in 1991 with The Bluegrass Sessions.
“I was kind of surprised, frankly, when I sent out the invite for the first touring ensemble, because everyone I asked said yes!” he said.
Fleck’s first road band will spotlight some of the best of the new generation of bluegrass players:
Five-time International Bluegrass Association award winner & mandolin virtuoso Sierra Hull,10-time IBMA Fiddle Player of the Year Michael Cleveland, two-time IBMA Bass Player of the Year, Mark Schatz, 2018 & 2020 IBMA Dobro Player of the Year, Justin Moses, and Grammy Award winner and a nine-time IBMA Guitar Player of the Year, Bryan Sutton.
One of the most awarded bluegrass ensembles in recent history – Winners of 16 Grammys and 28 International Bluegrass Music Association awards – Live at The Kent Stage! As always we thank you for your continued support and look forward to seeing you at the show!
“So now I can present an incredible first offering, with some of the brightest lights on the scene,” said Fleck. “I can’t wait!”
My Bluegrass Heart will release this fall on BMG; stay tuned for more about the album!
Watch Michael Cleveland and Béla Fleck in a scene from “Flamekeeper: The Michael Cleveland Story” on YouTube:
Keller and the Keels – 10:00 – 11:00pm, Show Barn
“Award winning flat picker Larry Keel and his rock solid, in the pocket bass playing wife, Jenny Keel, make up two thirds of this super fun trio started in 2004.
With three albums recorded together the handful of gigs we play a year turn into acoustic picking parties. We vowed from the beginning that we wouldn’t do it often so that when we did, it would be special and it is.” –Keller Williams
Watch Keller & The Keels perform this Keller William original song while overlooking the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg, Virginia, on YouTube:
Here are some pictures of the performers at Watermelon Pickers Festival 2021 on Sept. 16-19. All photos copyright and courtesy of Chester Simpson.
The Gina Furtado Project
The Plate Scrapers
The Bumper Jacksons with Daryl Davis
Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole
The Infamous Stringdusters
Megan Downes and the City Stompers
The Larry Keel Experience
Keller and the Keels with guest Nate Leath