Man playing banjo in the woods
Tim Song

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 North Georgia 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.

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 Carson, Riley 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 1960s, 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 Grays, Deja Blue, Sweetwater 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, find must-see music venues, festivals and more points of interest, and listen to music by bluegrass artists in the "Our Bluegrass Picks" playlist.

Bluegrass Music Festivals & Events

Woodsongs Dalton Coffeehouse Series

Featuring three concerts early in the year, the series features popular and local Americana, bluegrass and acoustic singers and songwriters in Dalton. 

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.

New Year’s Bluegrass Festival, January, Jekyll Island

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. 

BBQ Boogie & Blues, April, Calhoun

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. 

Bear on the Square Mountain Festival, April, Dahlonega

The Bear on the Square Mountain Festival 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.

1890s Day Jamboree, May, Ringgold

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.

Armuchee Bluegrass Festival, May, Armuchee

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.

Rock City's Summer Music Weekends, Lookout Mountain

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

Pickin’ in the Park Music Series, May through September, Mineral Bluff

These weekly casual jam sessions are held every Thursday evening May - September under the trees along the Toccoa River in Mineral Bluff. Horseshoe Bend Park is the scenic locale for the acoustic musicians who join local instrumentalists in an evening of fun.

Little Roy & Lizzy Music Festival, May, Lincolnton

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.

Papa Joe’s Banjo-B-Que, May, Evans

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.

Pickin’ on the Greene, June, Greensboro

This annual summer event in Greensboro is “always a toe-tapping good time.” Head 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 Band, The Fiddleheads, The Darnell Boys and Pull Strings.

Raccoon Creek Bluegrass Festival, July, Dallas

Held at the long-running Raccoon Creek Music Park, the annual festival 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.

Dillard Bluegrass & Barbeque Festival, August, Dillard

The annual Dillard Bluegrass & Barbeque Festival features national acts as well as local bands. The festival’s world-class lineup always draws a huge crowd of bluegrass fans to the City of Dillard Fairgrounds.

North Georgia Folk Festival, September, Athens

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.

Friends of Elijah Clark State Park Annual Bluegrass Festival, September, Lincolnton

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.

Georgia State Fiddlers’ Convention, October, Hiawassee

The official state fiddlers’ convention of Georgia, this popular event occurs annually at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds during the Georgia Mountain Fall Festival. 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.”

Chattahoochee Mountain Music Festival, October, Gainesville

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.

“Kiss My Grass” Swampgrass Music Festival, October, Swainsboro

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.

Rebecca Rose Memorial Bluegrass Festival, October, Guyton

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.

Published: January 2016