published Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Coke Ovens Bluegrass Festival

  • photo
    The Rigney Family Band features Mark (banjo, vocals), Grant (mandolin, fiddle, tenor guitar, vocals), Andrew (guitar, mandolin, banjo, vocals) and Melissa Rigney (bass). Their latest release is “Never Just Once.”
    Contributed Photo

It’s possible that the Coke Ovens Park in Dunlap, Tenn., would exist without the Coke Ovens Bluegrass Festival, but historian Carson Camp believes it’s unlikely.

“Without the bluegrass musicians, the 88-acre Coke Ovens Park would have had a hard life,” he said earlier this week as he took a break from sprucing up the grounds for this weekend’s gathering.

Citizens Tri-County Bank provides the money to book the bands, he said, but “90 percent of the money for our yearly operations ... we fund it off that festival.”

Thirteen bands packing guitars, fiddles, mandolins, banjos and doghouse basses are headed to the Sequatchie County landmark this weekend for the 25th year of the Coke Ovens Bluegrass Festival.

Music begins tonight at 6 in the park’s outdoor amphitheater. Saturday opens with banjo and fiddle workshops led by Ed Brown, followed by a performance by Cannon Creek on the Ray Brown Memorial Stage.

The festival resumes at the amphitheater at 1 p.m. with bands taking the stage until 9 p.m. A jam session will follow, and a Martin acoustic guitar will be awarded in a raffle.

Featured acts are Lou Wamp & Bluetastic Fangrass, The Rigney Family, The Cumberland Band, Between the Lines, Clearview, Just Passin’ Through, Valley Grass, The Fleming Family, Bac-Trak’ers, Fredonia Bluegrass, The Hilltoppers and the Coalition Band.

There’s no denying the lineup of talent, but much of the music takes place away from the stages, Camp said.

“The park is almost 100 percent a shaded and wooded area,” he said. “At any one time, there’ll be six to seven bands, impromptu bands, playing among the trees. It’s as much a jam festival as it is a stage festival.”

Between acts, visitors can tour the air-conditioned museum or explore the grounds. The property contains the remains of 268 beehive coke ovens, century-old relics of the Sequatchie Valley’s coal-mining history. Visitors also can learn where soldiers passed through the area during the Civil War and where a thousand Cherokees from the Brainerd Mission camped on the Trail of Tears.

Concessions will be sold on the premises, but Camp said people can come and go as they please if they’d prefer to try out the city’s burgeoning dining scene.

“We’ve got 20-something restaurants in Dunlap they can eat at,” he said.

Contact Lisa Denton at or 423-757-6281.


-- What: Coke Ovens Bluegrass Festival.

-- When: 6-10 p.m. today, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday (all times Central).

-- Where: Historic Coke Ovens Park, Dunlap, Tenn.

-- Admission: By donation.

-- Phone: 423-949-3483.

-- Website:

-- Directions from Chattanooga: Take Highway 27 North to Soddy-Daisy, then Highway 111 to Dunlap at the 27/111 split. Once over the mountain, take the Highway 127 exit to Dunlap. Turn left onto Highway 127 and follow through the Walmart traffic light, then go right at the downtown traffic light. Go five blocks and look for the brown sign for the Coke Ovens pointing right (this is Third Street, but it is not marked). Take a right and go to the T-junction. Turn left, then immediately right. Follow the road to the park.


(all times Central)


-- Amphitheater

6 p.m. Just Passin’ Through

7 p.m. The Rigney Family

8 p.m. Between the Lines

9 p.m. Battling Banjos & Feuding Fiddles


-- Ray Brown Memorial Stage

10 a.m. Banjo workshop

11 a.m. Fiddle workshop

Noon. Cannon Creek

-- Amphitheater

1 p.m. Bac-Trak’ers

2 p.m. The Hilltoppers

3 p.m. The Fleming Family

4 p.m. Coalition Band

5 p.m. Bluetastic Fangrass

6 p.m. Fredonia Bluegrass

7 p.m. Clearview

8 p.m. Cumberland Band

9 p.m. Valley Grass

10 p.m. Jam session and raffle


Photos from the Coke Ovens Bluegrass Festival form the backdrop of an exhibit space at the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, Ky. The wall-size murals show a panoramic crowd shot as viewed from a stage. Historian Carson Camp said he took the photographs but didn’t know they were being used until he toured the facility and noticed his father-in-law’s face in the crowd.

about Lisa Denton...

Lisa Denton is deputy features editor and content editor of Current. She previously was a lifestyle, entertainment and region reporter/pod leader for The Chattanooga Times, which she joined in 1983. Lisa is from Sale Creek and holds an associate’s degree in journalism from Chattanooga State Community College. Contact Lisa at 423-757-6281 or

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