SCOTTOWN, Ohio — When driving the narrow and curvy southeastern Ohio roads that lead to the hidden gem that is Eden Valley, it is difficult to imagine that in less than two weeks, thousands of die-hard music lovers will make the same trek, converging upon the peaceful and pristine farm that — as the result of one family’s vision, camaraderie and sheer will — is transformed annually into a Bluegrass paradise.
Traditional Bluegrass is only one facet of music to be enjoyed at the 11th Annual Appalachian Uprising, however. As farm owner and festival spearhead Steve Cielec explained, “The Uprising is Bluegrass for the next generation.”
And, so it is.
A Cleveland-area native, Cielec bought the farm, so to speak, about 15 years ago with a dream of hosting the kind of music festivals he had frequented at Blossom Music Center, located in a more urban area of northeastern Ohio.
“Those shows just had a certain energy to them,” said Cielec. “I thought, ‘How great would it be to bring that here?’”
So, in 2001, he and his family set out to bring the lush valley to life with the music of Bluegrass legend, Sam Bush, and a whole host of others. The festival has continued to redouble in attendance each year, despite its remote location near Scottown in Lawrence County.
“I think we had about 300 people come out that first year,” said Cielec, smiling. “Last year, though, we had about 5,000. I really don’t know what kind of turnout to expect this year, but it is definitely growing.”
The Gallipolis Daily Tribune caught up with Cielec and a small team of friends and family a couple of weeks ago when they were wrestling with the enormous festival tent that serves as a shelter from rain and sun during the annual music festival. Included in the team was Cielec’s son-in-law, and fellow festival organizer, J.D. Smoot. Smoot, like Cielec, spoke about the festival’s special brew of loyalty to traditional Bluegrass and fearless exploration of what he calls ‘Newgrass’ — a recipe that seems to have struck a chord with a wide cross section of folk music lovers.
“We’ve always tried to be on the cutting edge of Bluegrass,” said Smoot. “It’s everything from what my mom and dad listened to on the porch when we were kids to what today’s kids listen to. That’s really what we pride ourselves on. We try to cover the whole spectrum.”
This year, festival organizers — who also include Duane Wilson and Jim Hays — decided to mix things up a bit by replacing 10-year Uprising veteran Bush with some new performers, including the legendary Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, and perhaps the lesser known, but certainly unforgettable, Punch Brothers. Also highly anticipated this year by organizers and fans alike are The Infamous Stringdusters and Mountain Heart.
“I think this year is probably one of the most diverse,” said Smoot of the 2012 lineup. “We’re all over the map.”
Smoot said that the diversity of the acts ultimately chosen for the Uprising reflects the personal tastes of family and friends that make up the festival’s organizational committee.
“I’ve always been a live music fan. I just loved music, but when I was first introduced to Bluegrass, I thought only of traditional Bluegrass, with performers singing through their noses,” said Smoot. “Then, the first year my wife and I were dating, we came out here, and the Avett Brothers were hanging out backstage getting ready to go on, so we mosey down to the stage … and I was just floored. I thought, ‘This is what I’ve been missing for the last 20 years of my life.’”
The mix of music inherent to the diplomatic process of committee vote means that musicians of widely varying experience levels share the same stage throughout the weekend event.
Gallia County is being represented this year by local favorite, Billy Two Shoes, which features Gallipolis native James Gettles on stand-up bass. The band is unique in that, since its inception, all proceeds have gone to regional food pantries. To date, the band has raised thousands of dollars to fight hunger.
The festival, which runs from May 31 - June 2, is chock full of talent, both on and off the stage. Festival-goers will tell you that part of the charm of Uprising is the campfire jam sessions that pop up all across the valley.
Many who travel to the Uprising do so with kids in tow, as well. Organizers are proud of the family-friendly atmosphere.
“It goes back to the fact that it is a family-run organization, so we convey that kind of a feel,” said Smoot.
One thing is for certain. This organization is onto something here — something exciting and positive.
“People come out for the first time, and they are like, ‘How did we not know about this before?’, and it’s hard to get that part of the festival across to people, because you don’t really understand it until you experience it.”
The 2012 lineup for the 11th Annual Appalachian Uprising includes:
Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, Punch Brothers, The Infamous Stringdusters, Mountain Heart, Don Rigsby and Midnight Call, The Dave Mayfield Parade, Jessica Lea Mayfield, Melvin Goins and Windy Mountain, Johnny Staats and The Delivery Boys, Chris Jones and The Nightdrivers, The Vespers, Cumberland River Band, Sasha Colette and The Magnolias, Rumpke Mountain Boys, Atomic Duo, Billy Two Shoes and Tyler Childers.
For more information about tickets, go to the Appalachian Uprising Facebook page or visit their website at www.appalachianuprising.net.