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Bluegrass festival won't be held next yearTell North Platte what you think
Photo by George Lauby
Doyle Lawson, at left, and part of his band Quicksilver, from Franklin, Tenn. play at the 2017 festival.
Photo by George Lauby
Donna Mentzer and Heather Berry, 2008
Courtesy Photo­Image
Courtney Ewald

The board of directors of the Lincoln County Bluegrass festival has decided that the 17th annual festival last April was the last one.

Executive Director Courtney Ewald said the board hopes to continue to bring bluegrass music to Lincoln County, but on a smaller scale – perhaps a day in the park, a show at the schools or something similar.

The full three-day festival won’t happen anymore, she said.

Ewald said production costs have increased every year, while attendance has slipped a little for the last three years, in part because of rough weather. During the last two festivals, it snowed even though it was the last weekend of April.

“We still have had a nice turnout,” she said, “but it hasn’t kept up with increasing costs.”

Ewald credited the hard work and dedication of volunteers who helped produce the festival each year.

“The volunteers we worked with have all done a tremendous job," she said. "A lot of them have been with us since the start."

The first Lincoln County bluegrass festival in 2001 was downtown at the Neville Center for the Performing Arts, the creation of Don and Donna Mentzer of North Platte. The festival moved to the Lincoln County Fairgrounds in 2003 to accommodate larger crowds. It has remained there since.

The festival has attracted the biggest names in bluegrass music -- seasoned veterans as well as rising stars, such as Rhonda Vincent, Roni Stoneman, Ralph Stanley II, James King, Heather Berry, Daily and Vincent, the Dillards, the Gibson Brothers, the Grascals, Nothin’ Fancy, Karl Shiflett and many others.

Musicians and fans came from all over the country, from the deep south, the mountains of Colorado, as far away as Alaska, and occasionally from overseas.

The festival was especially popular with retirees who grew up during the hey days of bluegrass music and now enjoy traveling to festivals around the country.

The Lincoln County festival also had a competition for up and coming groups, offering a platform to play for a large audience. The North Platte groups Blue Swing (led by Brandon Raby) and the Sandy River Boys (members of the Clang and Barger families) were winners.

In 2014, the Republican River Ramblers of Alma won. In 2016, their banjo-playing star Matt Davis brought a group of young performers from Nashville called Kentucky Drive and wowed the seasoned audience.  

Ewald, who grew up in a musical family in the Culbertson area, said it has been a joy to organize the festival.

In 1951, Ewald’s grandparents started “Country Aces,” a country-western band. By the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Country Aces was a family band. When Ewald and her sister were old enough, they sang with the band.

She took over the festival three years ago when Donna Mentzer retired.

“I’d like to thank Donna for letting me have the opportunity,” she told the Bulletin.

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 6/26/2017
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