IF YOU GO
What: 25th annual Coke Ovens Bluegrass Festival
When: Friday and Saturday
Time: 6 p.m. CDT Friday; 10 a.m. CDT Saturday
Where: Dunlap Coke Ovens Park and Museum, 350 Mountain View Road, Dunlap, Tenn.
Cost: $3 Friday; $5 Saturday
DUNLAP, Tenn. — In 1984, 62 acres were given to the Sequatchie Valley Historic Association. At the time, it was a dump — literally.
The association made plans to make it into the Dunlap Coke Ovens Park and Museum. In just a few years, the trash was gone and the brush cleared out, said Carson Camp, a member of the association. The park is run by the nonprofit group, which started a bluegrass contest to generate money for the museum and maintenance.
Now, 25 years later, the park is 88 acres and the contest has turned into a concert with help from Citizens Tri-County Bank, Camp said. This year’s bluegrass festival is set for this weekend.
“This is a family festival. We don’t allow any alcohol on the grounds. We want people to come up here and feel relaxed,” he said. “It’s a great place for a family to come and put a blanket down on the hillside to set up and listen to the music.”
There will be concessions, and the museum will be open, he said, but pets are not allowed in the park.
Along with the stage performances, small groups of musicians form around the park for “jam sessions.” Those are free to anyone, and musicians just join in.
Ed Brown, the association’s vice president, said most musicians show up about a week before the festival and set up their camps.
“These are mostly regional musicians,” Brown said. “We draw from Alabama. The Bac-Trac-ers are from Cumberland County [Tenn.] The Hill Toppers are from Chattanooga. The Flemings are from Bledsoe. So we have a wide variety of people, and the jammings are good.”
The main concert is held at the amphitheater rain or shine, and Camp said it makes up about 90 percent of the association’s operating revenue.
The park is staffed by volunteers, but there is a lot of overhead, he said.
Three groups will play on the first night, each for an hour, he said, then there will be a battling-banjo show.
“Usually we end around 10, and then jammers will go on until 1 or 2,” Camp said.
Saturday is an all-day and all-night festival of music, including a few workshops.
Brown said one of his favorite things about the festival and bluegrass musicians is that they are approachable.
“In a festival like this ... you just walk up and they will talk to you,” he said.
Corrina Sisk-Casson is based in Dunlap. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.