For 29 years, Franklin’s annual Bluegrass Along the Harpeth festival has brought fans from all over Kentucky, Alabama and Tennessee to experience a weekend of iconic Tennessee bluegrass.
This year’s festival will hit the streets of downtown Franklin on Friday and Saturday, July 26-27, ushering in a weekend of music, dancing and food, including an all-day bluegrass competition on Saturday.
Since he founded the festival in 1991, WAKM owner Tommy Jackson has aimed to preserve a classic artform that has brought people together across the South for decades, uniting young and old through a family-friendly atmosphere in the heart of Franklin.
“Music’s a common denominator,” Jackson said. “You can have any kind of show you want, but music is the common ground. Everybody can love the music and get involved, and that’s what we always try to hone in on.”
Aiming to foster an open, family-friendly atmosphere for young and old alike, alcohol is not allowed at Bluegrass Along the Harpeth.
The festival will kick off Friday night at 7 p.m. with the headline acts, Crosswind Bluegrass and fiddle player Deanie Richardson. The competition begins at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Along with 16 events in the competition taking place throughout the day Saturday, Bluegrass Along the Harpeth provides events for all ages, including some specifically for children and young adults. Jackson believes providing young musicians the chance to compete against each other helps build a bluegrass culture among the younger generation, while providing an opportunity for them to learn from established bluegrass masters.
“The older generation loves to see the kids playing, and they (the younger musicians) know the songs well enough they can mix right in,” Jackson said. “It’s not an isolated world – everybody’s involved.”
Events like Old-Time Singing and Old-Time String Band provide the chance for musicians to display their talents, while the Bluegrass Open will close out the festival Saturday evening with a contest in musical improvisation.
For Jackson, keeping the festival’s feel close to traditional bluegrass is key to preserving an element of Tennessee culture that is gradually disappearing in many areas.
“The (bluegrass) festivals back then (in 1991) were so prevalent, maybe 25 a year in the state of Tennessee, but we’re down to only four in Tennessee,” he said. “We have to get more people involved, because once it’s gone, it’s not coming back.”
Through events like Bluegrass Along the Harpeth, however, Jackson hopes exposure to bluegrass will continue to grow in the community, inspiring the next generation of bluegrass musicians through the family-friendly environment.
“I love to see people having fun – we’ve got so much stress and bickering and arguing in the world nowadays, with everyone arguing about different party lines, but down there, if we can give you one minute or one hour or one day that you don’t have to worry about anything, we have been paid more than we could ever could,” Jackson said. “Bluegrass music is soothing, and it’s bringing families together, every day and every year. We’ve been here 29 years, and I don’t think we’re going anywhere.”