The 22nd annual Overton Bluegrass & Gospel Music Festival brought out one of the highest turnouts in event history, with more than 2,000 people participating over the weekend, festival committee chairman Don Eaves said.
Attendees traveled from as far away as Florida and Oregon to hear national touring artists The Lonesome River Band, Charlie Sizemore, Newfound Road, The Donna Hughes Band, Pine Mountain Railroad, as well as popular Texas bands Hickory Hill, Bowles Creek, Blue River and The Bluegrass Solution.
“The event was one of the biggest ever, and the musical talent was top notch,” Eaves said. “I think the family atmosphere, good quality music and the friendliness of our community and volunteers keeps people coming back.”
Eaves added that the work the city has done to maintain, as well as improve, the park helped enhance the experience for festival participants.
“The park is a beautiful place, with trees on a hillside that slope down to the music amphitheatre,” Eaves said. “So I think the beautiful outdoor environment is one of the things that attracts more and more people each year.”
Patsy Malone and her husband Roger traveled down from Criswell, a small town just outside of Eugene, Ore. Malone said she first started attending the event in 1994, after visiting relatives in the area.
“We’ve been coming down here ever since,” Malone said. “We love Bluegrass and the whole easygoing atmosphere of the community makes Overton a yearly part of our vacation.”
The only drawback, Malone said, is the heat.
“Yeah, it’s a good deal hotter than we’re used to,” Malone added. “But it’s shady enough that you can stay comfortable if you stay hydrated.”
For Kenneth Wayne of Live Oak, in northeastern Florida, the heat is not as much a factor.
“We don’t mind the heat. With all the tall pine trees and the lake nearby, it’s nice,” Wayne said. “I’d like a bit more choice in restaurants though.”
A variety of food and drink concessions are also readily available, sponsored by community organizations, but no alcoholic beverages will be served or allowed in the park.
In addition to the great music, the festival will also features arts and crafts, children’s activities, and workshops. Workshops on guitar, banjo, dobro, mandolin, fiddle, bass and songwriting are conducted on Saturday mornings and attendance is free to all festivalgoers who have tickets for the appropriate day.
Eaves said the festival started in 1988 after then-Overton Mayor Jack Barrett was looking for an event to bring visitors to the city.
“He wanted to be able to show off what a nice town and community we have,” Eaves said. “The council knew I was involved in Bluegrass, so they came to me and asked me about getting people together for a festival.”
Eaves said the purpose is the same now more than 20 years later.
“The festival pays for itself and community organizations benefit from the event from the sale of food and crafts,” Eaves said. “While the Bluegrass Festival is sponsored by the City of Overton, it’s meant to be self-sufficient.
Eaves said the event is the main fundraiser of the year for many organizations like the Masonic Lodge, Kilgore College Agriculture Club, Overton Rotary Club, several church groups, Boy Scouts, Overton High School cheerleaders and others.
“We’ve been at this for a long time and, during the past few years, we’ve increased the quality of our talent by obtaining national touring bands and adding quality regional and local talent,” Eaves said. “I was pleased by the turnout.”