Itinerary

Bluegrass & Old Times Music

Take a road trip to these points of interest, venues and festivals celebrating bluegrass and old times music in Georgia.

From the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains in the north of the state to the southern tip in Thomasville, Georgia is home to authentic old-time and bluegrass music experiences. North American folk traditions of music and dance that have been passed down for generations are performed in town squares, parks and community stages for audiences to enjoy and often, participate in. From the annual Georgia String Band Festival and Fiddlers’ Convention in Calhoun to the weekly Pickin’ Porch jams in Dahlonega, songs that were once played by Fiddlin’ John CarsonRiley Puckett and Clayton McMichen can still be heard in Georgia. Today, Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Norman Blake, the Skillet Lickers, the Georgia Crackers and Beverly Smith & John Grimm are just of few of the Georgia musicians who keep the songs and traditions alive.

Since the first bluegrass festivals were introduced in the 60s, loyal fans of the music have gathered, often with campers and folding chairs in tow, to listen to lineups of old-school and new-school pickers play. For 42 years, Raccoon Creek Music Park in Dallas has hosted bluegrass events, and for more than 30 years, fans and friends have connected on Jekyll Island at the three-day New Year’s Bluegrass Festival. Though the First Family of Gospel Bluegrass, The Lewis Family, retired in 2009, its longtime banjoist, Little Roy Lewis, along with fiddler Lizzy Long, are regulars on the bluegrass circuit, while gospel stars Jeff and Sherri Easter, who performed for many years with The Lewis Family, host their annual Fall Festival at the Lewis Family Homeplace in Lincolnton. The Dappled GraysDeja BlueSweetwater Creek and Smokey’s Farmland Band are just a few of the many Georgia bluegrass bands worth seeking out on any trip to the state.

Below, use the itinerary to find must-see music venues, festivals and more points of interest, and listen to music by bluegrass artists in the "Our Bluegrass Picks" playlist.

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    Banjo in the Woods - Tim Song
  • Venues
  • Music Festivals
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Points of Interest

1. First Baptist Church of Ringgold

Included on Ringgold’s “Wedding Walk,” the First Baptist Church soared to prominence when popular artist Dolly Parton wed Carl Dean at age 20. Today, the church still features a love for music with five choirs for a various age groups, an instrument ensemble and dulcimer group Frettin on Faith.

2. Catoosa County Courthouse

Some claim Ringgold to be the “Wedding Capital of the South.” Many performers have selected the Catoosa County Courthouse as the location for their nuptials. Singer Tammy Wynette was twice married at the courthouse when she tied the knot with songwriter Don Chapel and later with musician George JonesDon Everly of the Everly Brothers was also wed in front of the Catoosa County probate judge.

3. Randy Woods Guitars, Music Store & Pickin’ Parlor

Just off Hwy. 80 in Bloomingdale, 20 minutes west of Savannah, sits a non-assuming little complex of buildings that house bluegrass greatness. Since the early '60s, Georgia native and luthier Randy Wood has handcrafted guitars and mandolins for Elvis Presley, Eric Clapton and Bill Monroe, among others. Inside the tiny Music Store hang custom-made new and used instruments, and in the back of the store every Saturday afternoon, pickers from near and far gather to jam. Next door, the Pickin’ Parlor is an intimate 100-seat performing space where Randy has welcomed artists including Tony Rice, Claire Lynch, J.D. Crowe and The Boxcars over the past decade, and many of the concerts are live streamed on his website.

Venues

1. Mill Town Music Hall

West Georgia’s largest concert and entertainment venue, Mill Town Music Hall has drawn praise from popular acts ranging from The Oak Ridge Boys to Kenny Loggins. Originally a grocery store, the venue now features a state-of-the-art sound system and the performers – the founder jokes – play on a stage in what would have once been the meat section. Attached to the music hall is a Liberty Legends shop featuring American-made western jackets and dress jeans, plus essential accessories for the bluegrass and country fan.  

2. The Rock Campground, RV and Music Park

Located just off the popular Silver Comet Trail, The Rock has served as a year-round venue for bluegrass jam sessions since 1998. The stage has hosted countless popular local acts, as well as nationally known bluegrass hits such as Buddy JewellJennifer Moorman and The Kentucky Headhunters. In 2010, The Rock was named “The Top Bluegrass Venue in the State of Georgia” by the Southeastern Bluegrass Association.

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Music Festivals

1. Woodsongs Dalton Coffeehouse Series

Featuring three concerts early in the year, the series features popular and local Americana, bluegrass and acoustic singers and songwriters. The 2016 series includes Becky Buller, the International Bluegrass Music Association’s 2015 Emerging Artist of the Year and Songwriter of the Year, as well as Georgia-native Kathy Reed.

2. Ringgold Opry

Occurring every second Saturday at the Ringgold Depot, the Ringgold Opry is a free concert series featuring country, bluegrass and folk music. Local musicians are encouraged to bring their own instruments and join in the music of the onstage performers.

3. 1890s Day Jamboree

Each year on Memorial Day weekend, Ringgold draws 20,000 visitors for the 1890s Day Jamboree. Friday night features gospel, with folk, country and rock featuring on Saturday. And those who bring their instruments can join the Old Time Fiddlers Convention Musical Competition, competing in the mandolin, guitar, banjo, fiddle, band or dance.

4. Possum Pickin’ Summer Bluegrass Concert Series

Starting in early summer, the Possum Pickin’ features popular bluegrass performers the third Saturday of each month. The 2016 series will kick off with northwest Georgia’s Cross Ties Band.

5. BBQ Boogie & Blues

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and the Kansas City BBQ Society have officially sanctioned this barbecue competition. But in addition to amazing food, this downtown Calhoun event includes the Georgia String Band Festival and the Gordon County Fiddlers Convention. This year’s edition includes performances by bluegrass singer Norman Blake and local lawyer and guitarist Joseph Evans.

6. Armuchee Bluegrass Festival

According to the Rome News-Tribune, this music festival “helps to keep bluegrass alive.” The festival is popular among locals and out-of-town visitors alike for showcasing long-time and young, up-and-coming bands. The organizers take pride in the festival’s atmosphere of family reunion.

7. Rock City's Summer Music Weekends

Set your toes a-tapping at Rock City’s Summer Music Weekends. These popular concerts feature top touring and local artists performing old time, bluegrass and country hits. Prior to enjoying the music, guests are invited to explore Rock City Gardens and take in the Raptors Birds of Prey shows.

8. Pickin’ in the Park Music Series

These weekly casual jam sessions hare held under the trees along the Toccoa River in McCaysville. Horseshoe Bend Park is the scenic locale for the acoustic musicians who join local instrumentalists in an evening of fun.

9. Mountain Music Series

In summer, head to Red Top Mountain State Park for the Mountain Music Concert Series every Saturday night. A different band plays in the Vaughan log cabin for an hour or more in a relaxed atmosphere at one of the many scenic Georgia state parks.

10. Raccoon Creek Bluegrass Festival

Held at the long-running Raccoon Creek Music Park, the annual festival – rain or shine – aims to provide an enjoyable experience for all fans of bluegrass. The festival has been running in Dallas for more than 40 years, and has featured many returning musicians happy to celebrate the genre of their artistry.

11. Georgia State Fiddlers’ Convention

The official state fiddlers’ convention of Georgia, this popular event occurs annually at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds. Performers of all ages are welcome to join in the various competitive categories encompassing numerous popular string instruments. After the winners of each competition are crowned, the junior and senior fiddler category champions compete in a “Fiddle Off” with the winner declared the “Georgia Mountain Fiddle King.”

12. Enchanted Music on the Square

Held annually in Hiawassee, Griffin’s Bonnie Ridge Bluegrass band will be headlining at this year’s Enchanted Music on the Square festival.

13. Union County Historical Society Friday Night Concerts

Musicians volunteer their time to bring this concert series to Blairsville every Friday night from May until October. The 2015 lineup ranged from local musical families such as the Bauman Family to innovative groups such as the electric bluegrass band Roots and Branches.

14. Chattahoochee Mountain Music Festival

Nothing says South like barbecue and bluegrass! Hosted by the Friends of Don Carter State Park, this festival features barbecue, local artisans and live traditional mountain music on the shores of Lake Lanier.

15. Dillard Bluegrass & Barbeque Festival

The 20th annual Dillard Bluegrass & Barbeque Festival will feature national acts including Clayton-natives the Crowe Brothers and Shannon Slaughter & County Clare, as well as local bands such as Oliver Rice & The Blue Ridge Mountain Boys and Georgia Music Hall of Fame inductee Curtis Blackwell. The festival’s world-class lineup always draws a huge crowd of bluegrass fans to the City of Dillard Fairgrounds.

16. Blue Ribbon Biscuit and Bluegrass Festival

Featuring a Biscuit Bakery Competition, the Blue Ribbon Festival brings some of Northeast Georgia’s best biscuit bakers and best bluegrass artists to Sautee Nacoochee. Acts include both local favorites and touring artists performing on the Sautee Nacoochee Center outdoor stage.

17. Bear on the Square Mountain Festival

In 2016, Dahlonega with celebrate the 20th annual Bear on the Square Mountain Festival. The gathering celebrates the best of Southern Appalachian music with countless jamming sessions by local, regional and national artists. Those interested in joining the tradition are encouraged to attend one of the free music workshops, as the festival focuses on the region’s popular bluegrass and old times music. Dahlonega favorites The Georgia Crackers and BlueBilly Grit will be headlining the main stage during the vicennial celebration of this popular festival.

18. North Georgia Folk Festival

Sandy Creek Park in Athens has played host for over 30 years to the annual North Georgia Folk Festival, full of family fun and traditional and contemporary folk music. The fun lasts all day long with visitors invited to join the demonstrations, dances and storytelling. The 2015 festival featured popular group The Hobohemians and their mixture of proto-jazz, blues and folk music.

19. Andalusia’s Annual Bluegrass Festival

Journey to the childhood home of author Flannery O’Connor for the farm’s 12th annual bluegrass festival. Visitors to Andalusia in Milledgeville will be greeted by a canopy of majestic oaks and pecan trees while enjoying some of the very best bluegrass. Plus, the audience can join in on the Porch Pickin’ and enjoy a Nature Trail Walk.

20. Little Roy & Lizzy Music Festival

While “Little” Roy Lewis (of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame-inducted Lewis Family) and Elizabeth “Lizzy” Long tour the country playing bluegrass music, they always return each year to Lizzy’s hometown of Lincolnton, Ga., to host their own bluegrass festival. Both artists are masters of numerous string instruments (as Little Roy says, “pull a plank off the wall and [Lizzy’ll] play it”) and have amassed countless accolades. The festival is held annually at Elijah Clark State Park under a giant tent and has featured some of the biggest names in bluegrass, from Shenandoah to “Queen of Bluegrass” Rhonda Vincent.

21. Papa Joe’s Banjo-B-Que

Every Memorial Day Weekend in Evans, the state of Georgia rocks out to feel-good music and enjoys finger-lickin’ good BBQ. The festival honors Joe Pond by bringing his favorite food and music to a fun family atmosphere supporting local charities. Visitors will enjoy the best Americana, roots and bluegrass music.

22. Pickin’ on the Greene

This annual summer event in Greensboro is “always a toe tapping good time.” Head on out to Lake Oconee’s hometown for some of the best live entertainment featuring two bands: one local and one from the surrounding areas. Past performers include Packway Handle BandThe FiddleheadsThe Darnell Boys and Pull Strings.

23. Friends of Elijah Clark State Park Annual Bluegrass Festival

The Friends of Elijah Clark State Park invite bluegrass lovers to a “foot-stomping good time” each year alongside Lake Strom Thurmond. The festival lasts for three days and features local bands playing the best of Southern bluegrass music.

24. Piney Woods Lake Bluegrass Festival

Head to the woods for this three-day celebration of bluegrass featuring good old family fun and great music. This 30th anniversary event includes performances by The Parking Lott Pickers and Recycled Grass.

23. Newell Lodge Bluegrass Festival

Twice a year, bluegrass comes to the Newell Lodge just north of Folkston. With RV hookups and campsites available, fans are encouraged to come to beautiful, rural South Georgia for the full four days of pure bluegrass sound. The March 2016 festival will feature Claire Lynch, widely considered one of the best female voices in bluegrass, and Soperton, Ga., native Larry Gillis.

24. “Kiss My Grass” Swampgrass Music Festival

In Swainsboro, traditional bluegrass music is still played in the beautiful Southern swamps of Georgia. In 2015, the festival moved to its new home at the Georgia Sports Arena, where guests are welcome to bring their golf carts and fishing poles, all while camping out for the three-day festival, which has previously featured Larry Gillis and the California Swampgrass Band. And, of course, no swampgrass festival is complete without a horseshoe tournament. Plus, head on back to the Georgia Sports Arena in the summer for the Grande Creek Bluegrass Jamboree.

25. Savannah Folk Music Festival

Performances span the genres of traditional, old time, blues and folk revival music in Savannah’s Ellis Square and historic district. Over the course of three days, the festival celebrates local talent and musical diversity in intimate performances and old time dances. For those who are trying to enter the business, the festival offers a Youth Songwriting Workshop and Songwriting Competition, as well as showcases an ensemble sing-along at the completion of the weekend. Popular acts have included Chris Emerson & Ty Bennett and local Savannah band Paving Gravy.

26. Rebecca Rose Memorial Bluegrass Festival

Running for more than 40 years, this bluegrass festival is played every fall at Mossy Oak Music Park in Guyton, Ga. Visitors can reserve their campsites for a long weekend of popular bluegrass performances such as Adkins & Loudermilk. Mossy Oak Music Park also hosts the annual Daughters of Bluegrass Festival every spring.

27. New Year’s Bluegrass Festival

For more than 40 years, Jekyll Island has celebrated the New Year with the sound of bluegrass. The island’s convention center welcomes more than a dozen popular acts who all gather onstage for a year-ending grand finale. For those looking to learn more about the genre, Gilbert Nelson provides Bluegrass Jamming Classes using the Wernick Method during the festival. 

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