Although it’s the first East Troy appearance for The Bluegrass Express, the band has played countless venues since forming in 1981.
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“We play at as many festivals as we can get booked,” said Greg Underwood, vocalist and guitarist for The Bluegrass Express. “Performing gives us the ability to have fun while we’re playing our music. It’s a labor of love.”
The Bluegrass Express released a new CD, “In Our Own Words,” earlier this year.
“It includes songs that were written by the band,” Underwood said. “It includes a mix of contemporary Christian and traditional bluegrass songs.”
You can listen in as The Bluegrass Express takes the stage at 2 p.m. Saturday.
The festival will run from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sept. 13 and Sept. 14. The rain location will be East Troy Middle School, 3143 Graydon Ave.
Headliners include The Karl Shiflett and Big Country Show and Larry Gillis and the Hard Driving Swampgrass Band.
“Karl Shiflett is one of the most recognizable names in bluegrass music. We’re very excited to have him perform at the festival,” said Vanessa Lenz, executive director of the East Troy Area Chamber of Commerce. “Larry Gillis was really popular during the 1990s. He took a break, but he’s been back since 2009. We’re also going to have a mix of regional and local bands.”
Milkhouse Radio is one of the regional bands slated to play at the festival. The band recorded its first album last year and is excited about its first festival appearance in East Troy, said Bruce Stein, mandolin player.
“We all love playing music. Bluegrass is a fast style of music and we like to see if we can keep up,” Stein said. “Playing at festivals and performing with other bands is fun because you get to meet other musicians.”
During the festival, aspiring bluegrass artists will have an opportunity to showcase their skills at an open stage event at 10 a.m. Sept. 13, and a band scramble will take place at 3 p.m. that same day.
“A lot of people like to come and showcase their talents,” Lenz said. “A lot of bluegrass artists from different areas pull together during the band scramble and perform as a band that day.”
The festival will feature a fiddle contest at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 13, and a banjo, mandolin and guitar contest at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 14.
“The contests are very popular. We divided the banjo, mandolin and guitar contest into three categories -- children, juniors and adults of any age,” Lenz said. “We get people from all over the state, as well as people from northern Illinois.”
Besides the music, the festival will include a gospel service and food and marketplace vendors.
“It’s good old-fashioned, down-home fun,” Lenz said. “We get a lot of local food vendors. People like to purchase food and listen to some music.”
The East Troy Area Chamber of Commerce works on the event throughout the year.
“We start right after the festival ends,” Lenz said. “We start booking the bands right away; then we usually announce the bands in January or February. It’s definitely a big-scale event.”
The festival has grown over its 20 years.
“When it first started, there were a couple hundred people in the town square. Now, we get about 1,500 people each day,” Lenz said. “We get people from all over the place. There’s a lot of bluegrass enthusiasts that travel to all the festivals.”
Musician Underwood said he, too, has noticed an increase in attendance at bluegrass events.
“Crowds have been growing at the festivals each year, that’s for sure,” he said.
Lenz said the festival also has received strong support from local businesses and organizations.
“The festival has been able to continue because of the generous support of the local vendors and the volunteers that have contributed,” Lenz said. “It’s become a tradition in East Troy, and we want to keep it going as long as we can.”
The cost for a weekend festival wristband is $5. Residents 15 years and younger may attend for free.