HILLBERRY PREVIEW: A Closer Look at the Bands on Day One [Thursday, Oct. 12]

The third installment of Hillberry The Harvest Moon Festival kicks off on Thursday, Oct. 12, at 6 pm for what promises to be a historic, intimate festival featuring four epic days of performances by nationally lauded bluegrass and roots bands as well as top regionally based acts – and a colossal jam session late Thursday night hosted by ShindigMusic.net.

Gates open at 8 am Thursday, and they will remain open 24 hours through the end of the festival, which continues through late Sunday evening’s campfire set ending at 1:30 am. Tickets are still available online and range from $60 for a one-day pass for Sunday to $180 for a four-day full-event pass. Camping is included with ticket purchase. Price changes occur at midnight each night.

Hillberry is co-hosted by Deadhead Productions and Railroad Earth, one of the country’s most popular and successful newgrass jam bands, at The Farm Campground & Events, located off Highway 187 North about 5 miles north of Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

The all-star lineup includes two full sets by Railroad Earth, on Saturday and Sunday evenings, as well as performances by such national touring acts Greensky Bluegrass, Fruition, Infamous Stringdusters, and Yonder Mountain String Band, among others.

Other major acts on the schedule include Leftover Salmon, Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, Old Salt Union, and Dirtfoot. Following is Part 1 of a 4-part in-depth preview of the bands.

PREVIEW OF HILLBERRY’S THURSDAY MUSIC

SAD DADDY

Kicking off the live music on Thursday, Oct. 12, will be Eureka Springs-based folk quartet and songwriting powerhouse Sad Daddy at 6 p.m. As with all the Thursday acts, Sad Daddy will perform on the side stage under the big tent until 7:30 pm.

Sad Daddy began as the meeting of three musical minds – Brian Martin (guitar), Melissa Carper (bass), and Joe Sundell (banjo). The dynamic songwriting of the original three members carried the group’s 2010 self-titled release and won them a loyal following in and around the great state of Arkansas. However, with Carper and Sundell residing in Austin, Texas, and Martin far away in the Ozarks, the group’s opportunities for collaboration and performance were few and far between.

Now with the original members all back in Arkansas as well as the addition of standout fidller Rebecca Patek, Sad Daddy has embarked on the next chapter of their musical journey. Their follow-up album, “Fresh Catch” a year ago to wide critical acclaim, and the band has been touring extensively throughout 2017. And while Sad Daddy’s musicianship and stagecraft are certainly top-notch, the songwriting of Martin, Carper, and Sundell remains the cornerstone of the group’s allure and allows them to connect with a wide range of audiences. Check them out playing last year at Little Rock’s South on Main stage:

MOUNTAIN SPROUT

Mountain Sprout, the inarguable experts on punk-billy, hard-partying bluegrass, will perform next, from 8:15 to 9:45. Mountain Sprout’s music is highly energetic, as its four members spit out rapid-fire original tunes with outstanding backwoods-based, rambunctious lyrics and rowdy-yet-refined musicianship.

You won’t hear Mountain Sprout cover many – if any – old bluegrass hits, but you won’t mind when you hear these humorous story-songs about this group of hillbilly, pot-smoking, nature-lovin’ good ol’ boys trying to survive life in a dry county.

The Sprouts are a full-time working band and play shows all year-round all over the country, including at the now-defunct Wakarusa Music Festival and its smaller sister festival, Yonder Mountain String Band Harvest Fest.

Critics and fans alike have long adored Mountain Sprout, which is comprised of frontman and lead vocalist Grayson Klauber and his machine-gun, claw-hammer banjo, who pens most of the band’s redneck novel of their hilarious lives and opinions; guitarist Adam Wagner (aka Chucky Waggs), who yanks up the melody by the ear and keeps it kickin’; bassist Nathan McReynolds, and harmonica-playing badass Kyle Young.

University of Illinois radio station WPGU wrote about a Mountain Sprout performance there:

“Mountain Sprout had personality for days, which was apparent both on and off stage. They are a gritty, raw version of every mainstream bluegrass band you’ve heard (and are exponentially more kickass than any of ‘em). With songs about their homestate of Arkansas being a pain in the ass, these guys don’t hide their true feelings for a second. In addition to their vibrant personalities, Mountain Sprout brought down the house with their harmonies and spectacular musicianship.”

Here’s a video of Mountain Sprout performing recently:

HORSESHOES & HAND GRENADES

Following Mountain Sprout will be Wisconsin-based Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, a genre-defying, five-piece explosive prog-grass band that fuses traditional Americana, folk, and bluegrass with a new-school attitude and a definitively Midwestern vibe. HHG brings to mind such bands as Trampled By Turtles and Old Crow Medicine Show, but they set their sound apart by adding harmonica and accordion to their arrangements.

The band was lauded recently for its “virtuosic confidence that only comes from constant playing together over a long period of time,” said Americana Roots UK Magazine.

“The lead vocals often have a rawness to them and are always evocative, with the excellent harmonies … given a further lift by their highly descriptive songwriting that in many cases lifts them above many of their peers,” the reviewer wrote. “The harmonica gives a further diversity to their sound that often brings a different atmospheric slant to the songs. It’s almost as if their skills are so exceptional they make even experimentation seem fully formed!”

Horseshoes & Hand Grenades will perform from 10:30 pm to 12:30 am. Here’s a video from the band:

SHINDIGMUSIC HILLBERRY HARVEST ORCHESTRA JAM

Closing out Thursday night on the tent stage will be the ShindigMusic Hillberry Harvest Orchestra, led by jam hosts Michael Schembre – and his newest project Red Oak Ruse as backing band – with Allen Swearingen (of Foleys Van). The Ozarks all-star jam roster will include a rotating lineup of 15-plus standout roots musicians from 12:45 am till everyone is all played out and danced out! With guest musicians including Opal Agafia and members of her band The Sweet Nothings along with members of Arkansauce, the Squarshers, Handmade Moments, The Ozark Travelers, Adam Johnston Band and more, the jam will include a few originals mixed with many bluegrass-style covers of traditional roots and jamband favorites. All members of official Hillberry Festival performing acts also have been invited to participate – who knows who might surprise us!

ShindigMusic.net will video-record the ShindigMusic Hillberry Harvest Orchestra; watch our Facebook page for news on how to watch online if you’re unable to attend.

Fans are invited to play along on acoustic instruments from the front row, but no hand drums will be allowed during the Orchestra jam. Take note: The Orchestra co-hosts reserve the right to call onto the stage any fans playing along from the audience who are killing it!

After the Orchestra set ends (it is expected to last 2.5 to 3 hours), the jam session will “unplug” and continue around the bonfire, where everyone is invited to join in.

Confirmed participants in the official Orchestra lineup include the following:

  • Michael Schembre, guitar, fiddle, and vocals (currently of Red Oak Ruse, Opal Agafia & The Sweet Nothings, Me and Him; formerly of Mountain Sprout, Mary & the Giant, The Kay Brothers, and others)
  • Justin Thomas Easter, guitar, bass, and vocals (currently of Red Oak Ruse, Opal Agafia & The Sweet Nothings; formerly of Ice Cold Fatty, Beastbomb, and others)
  • Jonathan Hagood, bass, guitar, and vocals (currently of Red Oak Ruse; formerly of Mary & the Giant, Made In Waves, 4 Skeevy Dudes, and Dead Bed Bad)
  • Chris Loeffler, drums (currently of Red Oak Ruse, Made In Waves, 4 Skeevy Dudes, Dead Bed Bad)
  • Allen Swearingen, mandolin and vocals (Foleys Van)
  • Tom Andersen, bass and vocals (Arkansauce, John Henry & Friends)
  • Opal Agafia, guitar and vocals (currently of Opal Agafia & The Sweet Nothings, Me and Him)
  • Ron Landis, mandolin, steel guitar, banjo, dobro, and vocals (currently of Opal Agafia & The Sweet Nothings, Sprungbilly; regular guest performer with Handmade Moments, Chucky Waggs, Outlaw Hippies, Mudhawk, Vince Herman’s Leftover Salmon; formerly of The Doe Brothers, The Hogscalders, Magic Mule)
  • Anna Moss, guitar, sax, ukelele, and vocals (Handmade Moments, formerly of Don’t Stop Please)
  • Joel Ludford, guitar, bass, and vocals (Handmade Moments, formerly of Don’t Stop Please)
  • Chris Crovella, banjo and vocals (The Squarshers, Foleys Van)
  • John Henry Holtus, guitar and vocals (The Squarshers, John Henry & Friends, The Go Fast YouTube series, formerly of Foleys Van)
  • Daniel Redmond, bass and vocals (formerly of Mountain Sprout, Ice Cold Fatty, Black Jesus, Hogscalders, Sonny Gray’s Jazz Band, and others)
  • Patti Steel, clarinet, spoons, mandolin, washboard, and vocals (formerly of The Trashcan Bandits; regular performer with Randall Shreve, Opal Agafia & The Sweet Nothings, Foleys Van, Squarshers, Dirtfoot, and many others)
  • Adam Johnston, guitar and vocals (Adam Johnston Band, Prince Ivan, Kadela)
  • Jake Owens, guitar and vocals (The Ozark Travelers, Garden District Grand Revival)

Tune in to KUAF at noon and 7 pm Wednesday, 91.3 FM on the radio, for a sneak peek as some of the jam participants perform a few tracks on the Ozarks At Large program, which can be live-streamed online as well on the KUAF website.

• • •

Hillberry Festival includes dozens of children’s activities every day, as well as outdoor activities including fishing, floating, hiking and mountain biking trails, and more. Free shuttles will be running from 8 am to 5 pm Saturday and Sunday to Riverview Cabins & Canoes, where canoes may be rented for $40 per canoe.

In addition, The Farm will offer free hourly shuttles Friday and Saturday beginning at 11 am to nearby downtown Eureka Springs, where the city’s annual Bluegrass Weekend offers free performances by the Shook Twins, the Black Lillies and more. Here are all the details on the Eureka Springs Bluegrass Weekend lineup and schedule.

For a full preview of the music slated for the Main Stage on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at Hillberry Festival, check our website or Facebook page on Monday and Tuesday!