Laura Tate Ridge Turns the Spotlight and Her Camera Lens On Her Favorite Festival


Image634848489768630000For the third year in a row, I've had the opportunity to photograph one of the most fun and family-oriented festivals in North Carolina. Denton FarmPark Bluegrass Festival, in Denton, North Carolina has been going strong for 7 years.

With performers like Bill Yates and The Country Gentlemen Tribute Band, Junior Sisk and Ramblers Choice, Danny Paisley and Southern Grass, and Al Batten and the Bluegrass Reunion to grace the stage, it was sure to bring avid Bluegrass fans out from hiding.

IMG_9083bThe bands always gave the best performance possible despite the humidity and heat that was waving through the park on Saturday. The opening band was Al Batten and The Bluegrass Reunion, a band that's often overlooked. The passion and love for the music that this band possesses is one that you don't see a lot of anymore. The jokes that Al Batten tells and the silly, yet comical ways of Johnny and Mike during and between songs keep the crowd in the palm of their hands.

With over 40 years of promoting, preserving and protecting traditional Bluegrass music, (Bluegrass Reunion) co-founders, Al Batten and David Turnage have kept the tradition alive. With Mike Aldridge's crisp Monroe style on the mandolin and high lonesome tenor voice blended so deeply with Al Batten's, who rings loud on banjo; David Turnage IMG_9180(named the Perry Como of Bluegrass music by Al Batten) on guitar and singing baritone, Philroy Patterson, quiet as a church mouse on dog house bass and Fiddlin' Johnny Ridge stomping his right foot to keep the time while bellowing the lowest decibel of bass in the park; they all come together to put on the best show (in my opinion) of the day.

During their second set, I stepped over to the side of the stage to capture a few shots as Nathan Aldridge, Mike's youngest son, took the spotlight to play Footprints In The Snow, one of my favorite Monroe songs. Daddy (Johnny Ridge) tucked his fiddle under his right arm and stepped to the back of the stage and gave Nathan a spot in the limelight that he so well deserves. As I watched Nathan saw the strings and his Daddy, Mike, standing beside him grinning from ear to ear, my Daddy (Johnny) stepped forward to share something with Al Batten. I read his lips to find him saying words that brought tears of joy to my eyes; "He's playing it just like Chubby (Wise) did."

IMG_9181bDaddy became very close to Chubby Wise back in the 90's as Chubby would be featured with the now defunct Bass Mountain Boys, the group Daddy and Mike Aldrige both belonged to for many years. If you listen to the way Daddy plays, you will hear the strong resemblance, if you're familiar with the style created by Chubby.

Nathan's fiddlin' has been influenced heavily by Chubby Wise, and Daddy has been a great mentor to him as well. There is nothing like seeing the pride and joy burst through every member of this band as they present to the crowd one of the finest traditional pickers of the next generation in Bluegrass.

This past September made it the 7th year for the FarmPark Bluegrass Festival, but that doesn't come close to how long the grounds have been hosting other events, such as the Threshers Reunion, which has marked its' 42nd year in 2012. In May, the FarmPark wil host the Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver Festival which celebrated it's 32nd anniversary in 2012 .

So many other events are held throughout the year, including the Christmas Train which runs through December and brings so much more to the family feel of the park. Denton FarmPark is a family owned historical park with 15 restored buildings including a general store, grist mill, church, plantation house, blacksmith shop,  and log cabin.  A full-size steam train encompasses the park on a 1 1/2 mile track.  The campground accommodates 500 campsites. It is known as the largest steam, gas and antique farm machinery show in the Southeast!

The history of the park dates back to 1970 when the park's owners, Brown Loflin and Howard Latham had a few of their buddies join them for a July 4th "Fly In", selling airplane rides and donating the money earned for establishing a new Rescue Squad in the area. Their ideas began to grow as they traveled the states and picking up antique farm equipment to add to the park until their buddies did the same, which eventually turned into the "Fly In and Threshers Reunion". The event expanded over the years to two days, then three, and four, and now five.

Construction has turned what once was Denton Airport into virtually a small town with a 15,000-square-foot exhibit building; a covered pavilion Music hall; a restoration shop with equipment for reviving antique machines of all sizes; a second exhibit building called Display Hall; a variety of restored old buildings; bath and restroom facilities; and structures for dispensing food and refreshment.  In 1980, the two entrepreneurs parked their planes and decided to focus on the new dream which evolved into more than they had ever imagined. During that time, The train Loflin and Latham, called the Handy Dandy, was recovered from Burnsville, NC in 1979 and in 1982, it was fully restored and running the track for the first time. 

With the help of friendly, down to earth promoters like Karen and Tim Miller, Brown and Ruby Loflin and Keith and Kim Loflin, Denton FarmPark has proven to be a second home to many Bluegrassians, including myself. This festival is very dear to my heart, for I remember as a child, going with my Daddy, Johnny Ridge, of Al Batten and the Bluegrass Reunion when the band was scheduled to play, just as I remember going to many other festivals, but the feel of this festival is so much different.

Just as I speak of this, so many other memories of this festival flood my mind and I go back to the weekends well spent at Denton FarmPark. This past festival's lineup was top notch and drew in a larger crowd than before. As soon as I drove through the black and red steam engine-esque gate, I felt like I was at home, like I do each and every time.  Seeing the campground full of RV's and tents and the stadium seats all marked by the early birds gave me such a joyful feeling, for I knew this festival had grown. The atmosphere is so laid back and easy going, with no worry in the world during the entirety of the event.

With folks I like to call Bluegrassians coming to Denton FarmPark, this is like a family reunion for many of us. The people who attend this festival and keep it going are not just Bluegrass lovers and fans, but a Bluegrass family. That is what the music is all about.

To learn more about this festival and other events hosted at Denton FarmPark, visit their website: www.farmpark.com

Here are a few more shots from the festival - captured by Laura’s Lens.  Enjoy!

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1 comment:


Laura is a friend of mine but she is a very knowledgable young lady on bluegrass music. What makes her that way, you say???? Her PAPPY! Johnny Ridge. They are some of the nicest folks you'll ever meet in this world. Thanks for a great article Tater.