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High Country MusicFest July 17

Article Published: Jul. 15, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
High Country MusicFest July 17

Balsam Range

The High Country Bluegrass Festival is changing its tune. Sort of.

Now in its fourth year, the annual celebration of bluegrass and old-time has loosened its strings, changing its name and welcoming talent of a different ilk.

"I've changed the name to High Country MusicFest, because I'm incorporating a little different music in there," founder and organizer Kenny Johnson said. "We've still got the same bluegrass, but we've changed it a bit."

Along with headlining bluegrass favorites Diana and Sarvis Ridge, Balsam Range and Darin & Brooke Aldridge, the MusicFest welcomes Morganton-based Beatles tribute band The Fab Beat and area pickers The Harris Brothers, known for their jazz- and rock-influenced Americana.
"We wanted to diversify," Johnson said, "to change it up a bit. A lot of people either love or hate bluegrass ... so we wanted to have a broader spectrum of music."

The High Country can see for itself on Saturday, July 17, at the Boone Fairgrounds, formerly known as the Old High Country Fairgrounds.

"The economy has hurt things, but I think we're starting to get more of the younger generation to come out and enjoy music," Johnson said. "I've got some really good pickers coming this year."
And he means it. Apart from the featured performers, the festival includes workshops for guitar, banjo and fiddle, taught by area guitar guru Steve Lewis and Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver veterans Terry Baucom (banjo) and Alan "Big Al" Johnson (fiddle).

"I try to encourage people to bring their instruments out," Johnson said. "Sit around with your instrument, and they'll show you a few licks and a few tricks, and it's some of the best in the business who's doing it."

One of Johnson's favorite aspects is the fellowship that comes with a smaller-scale festival. While Wilkesboro's celebrated MerleFest boasts a vast lineup, it's easy to get lost in the crowd. At the High Country MusicFest, Johnson said that's not the case.

"Everybody really gets to meet other people," he said. "You can really get up close and personal over here with artists when they come off stage, just kind of hang out with them. Most artists who play hang out all day, so you might be behind them in line at the taco stand, so you get to really talk to them and know them."

About 1,200 people attended last year's festival, and Johnson hopes to see that number increase with each go-around. The camping helps, he said.

The High Country MusicFest offers two nights of camping, on Friday before the show and Saturday afterward. "People bring their instruments and camp out - there's some real good jamming going on in the campsites," Johnson said, adding he'll be playing there, as well, "when I ain't running crazy."

A bassist and guitarist, Johnson comes from a musical family, having played for most of his life. His father, Bruce Johnson of Newland, still plays fiddle at 78, and his brother is "Big Al" Johnson of Quicksilver fame.

"I love the music, grew up listening to it," Johnson said. "I just like to keep it going, passing down from generation to generation, especially bluegrass. A lot of the older people who grew up playing ... are just getting older, but they're still keeping the music alive."

Johnson and Big Al perform regionally as the Johnson Brothers Band. As founder of Johnson Entertainment, he also organizes music-based events and works sound and lighting for live performances, including Travis Tritt and Asleep at the Wheel.

The High Country MusicFest is something of a pet project to him.

"I just got tired of having to depend on someone else to bring all this music, so ... I thought it would be easier to get my own sound equipment and just do it, keeping it in house," Johnson said.

Music-lovers can visit this house on Saturday, July 17, at the Boone Fairgrounds, located at 748 Roby Greene Road, just off Old U.S. 421. Music starts at noon and runs through 10 p.m.
Tickets cost $20 in advance and $25 at the gate, and children ages 12 and under are admitted free.

Tickets are available at Appalachian Music Shoppe in Boone, the Old Hampton Store in Linville, Bluemoon Guitars & Music in West Jefferson, Fine Musical Instruments in Statesville, and online at

Limited camping is available, and those planning to do so must reserve a campsite. Sites with electric hook-ups cost $20 and primitive sites $10.

Concessions will be available at the fairgrounds, though coolers are prohibited in the concert area. Pets are also not allowed in the concert area.

The High Country MusicFest is sponsored by MTN TV, Verizon Wireless, M Lane Photography, Ray's Weather Center, Knee Deep in Bluegrass, Big Dawg 92.1 FM,, WNCW 88.7 FM, Water Brothers Construction, Coldwell Banker -Blair & Associates, Gary Trivette Electric, Appalachian Hospitality Management, High Country Communications, Our State Magazine, Sheppard Construction, Appalachian Music Shoppe, The Norris Company Inc., First Things First and Yates Banjos.

For more information, to purchase tickets or to reserve camping, call (828) 733-8060 or visit

Noon - Diana & Sarvis Ridge
1 p.m. - Darin & Brooke Aldridge
2 p.m. - The Harris Brothers
3 p.m. - Terry Baucom with Alan Johnson & Friends
4 p.m. - Balsam Range
5 p.m. - The Fab Beat
6 p.m. - Diana & Sarvis Ridge
7 p.m. - Darin & Brooke Aldridge
8 p.m. - Balsam Range
9 p.m. - The Fab Beat

1:30 p.m. - Guitar with Steve Lewis
4:30 p.m. - Banjo with Terry Baucom
5:30 p.m. - Fiddle with Big Al Johnson

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