Anyone who has crossed state lines to get into Mississippi has seen the signs bearing the state’s musical nickname: “Birthplace of America’s Music.”
Though most people first think of blues music, Mississippi also has a rich musical tradition in other genres. One of these is bluegrass, which is what the bands will play this weekend at a new event in Thaxton — the first-ever Buttermilk Branch Bluegrass Festival.
Thaxton is a small town in Pontotoc County, 25 minutes east of Oxford. The festival will take place from 5-10 p.m. on Friday and noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and will begin its final day of festivities at 1 p.m. on Sunday. One-day tickets and three-day passes will be sold at the gate.
From 1983-93 there was a festival called the Buttermilk Springs Bluegrass Festival in north Mississippi, which inspired this new festival.
“Since then, there has been a void and need for something in north Mississippi,” said Doug Anderson, who organized the festival along with his wife, Debra. “It came to be because of friends just talking, really.”
The Andersons then received support from local bluegrass bands that were also looking for an outlet in which they could play their music.
“A few bands in the area were really interested in bringing back a festival,” Anderson said. “They wanted somewhere to go and play and jam.”
The organizers joined with the town of Thaxton to make their idea a reality. The town prepared the Thaxton Community Park for the festival and will sell concessions at the event.
“We are just hoping we get a great group of people from all over ready to enjoy lots of music, fun and fellowship,” Anderson said.
The bands playing at the festival come from three different Southern states.
Most of the bands come from Mississippi and include Alan Sibley and the Magnolia Ramblers, Tyler Carroll and the Pine Ridge Bluegrass, Ellis Family, Grass Skirts, Russell Burton Family, Magnolia Drive and Fair River Station.
Out-of-state bands include Williamson Branch, Blue Day and No Time Flatt, from Tennessee, and The Legacy, from Arkansas.
“The talent (playing at the festival includes) some of the best professional bluegrass bands in the South coming from Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi,” Anderson said.
Citing the history of bluegrass in Mississippi — from the use of string bands in the 1920s to the influence of African-American music on the genre — Doug said that he hopes the festival will be a new start to bluegrass in the area.
Doug said that there is still a bluegrass scene in Mississippi that consists of several bands but that many old bluegrass festivals have gone away.
“There are only a few (bluegrass festivals) left,” Anderson said. “This is a new start to having bluegrass music in north Mississippi.”