IF YOU GO
■ What: 24th annual Boxcar Pinion Memorial Bluegrass Festival.
■ When: Today, May 1-Saturday, May 3.
■ Where: Raccoon Mountain Campground, 319 W. Hills Road off U.S. 41 (1.3 miles off I-24 at Lookout Valley Exit 174).
■ Admission: $20 today, $30 Friday, $40 Saturday, $85 three-day pass; $10-$39 camping.
■ Phone: 706-820-2228, 423-605-7975, 423-432-6276.
■ Website: www.boxcar foreverbluegrass.com.
Thursday, May 1
■ Noon. Tennessee County Line Bluegrass
■ 1 p.m. Pointe South
■ 2 p.m. Blue Road
■ 3 p.m. Timbre Fox
■ 4 p.m. Nu-Blu
■ 5 p.m. Allison Cross
■ 6 p.m. Lone Mountain Band
■ 7 p.m. Blue Road
■ 8 p.m. The Dismembered Tennesseans
■ 9 p.m. Nu-Blu
Friday, May 2
■ Noon. Barbwire
■ 1 p.m. Monroe Crossing
■ 2 p.m. Crowe Brothers
■ 3 p.m. Bobby Osborne & The Rocky Top X-Press
■ 4 p.m. Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice
■ 5 p.m. Barbwire
■ 6 p.m. Monroe Crossing
■ 7 p.m. Crowe Brothers
■ 8 p.m. Bobby Osborne & The Rocky Top X-Press
■ 9 p.m. Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice
Saturday, May 3
■ 11 a.m. Barefoot Nellie & Company
■ Noon. Bent Creek
■ 1 p.m. Jeff Brown & Still Lonesome
■ 2 p.m. Monroe Crossing
■ 3 p.m. Reno & Harrell
■ 4 p.m. Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper
■ 5 p.m. The Dismembered Tennesseans
■ 6 p.m. Jeff Brown & Still Lonesome
■ 7 p.m. Monroe Crossing
■ 8 p.m. Reno & Harrell
■ 9 p.m. Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper
Say what you want about Junior Sisk; the man has his priorities straight.
As the lead vocalist and guitarist of bluegrass veterans Ramblers Choice, Sisk spends about 150 days every year on the road. Although he says he loves performing, he's painfully aware that every hour he spends in the motorhome getting to gigs could have been spent -- maybe more rewardingly -- in the woods or rivers that surround his home in rural southern Virginia.
"Hunting, fishing, etc." reads Sisk's list of hobbies on his online bio.
"I tell people the only reason I play this music is so I can take three months off to deer hunt," he chuckles.
But what about playing music? Surely, he loves that, too.
"And my wife, Susan, yeah," Sisk hastily adds, his laugh sounding a little more nervous. "I have to watch my order sometimes."
Despite touring's tendency to distract him from his passion for the outdoors, Sisk has spent nearly 30 years singing with various bluegrass projects, including a seven-year turn as lead vocalist for BlueRidge.
On Friday, May 2, Sisk and Ramblers Choice will bring their starkly traditional, firebrand-quick bluegrass to the stage as the headliners of the second evening of this year's Boxcar Pinion Memorial Bluegrass Festival. The festival begins today, May 1, and will continue through Saturday, May 3.
For all his energy behind the mike, Sisk sounds tired on the phone, which is hardly surprising given that he and his bandmates were up all night fixing their motorhome after a couple of breakdowns.
When he sings, however, his voice has a lonesome, mountain-worn quality akin to Russell Moore or Dan Tyminski. That sound has a proven track record with the International Bluegrass Music Association, which has handed out nine Male Vocalist of the Year Awards -- collectively -- to Tyminski and Moore. Last year, Sisk took home the trophy.
Having a distinctive voice is something Sisk takes pride in. Being recognizable, he says, puts him in the same camp as some of his musical heroes, including Carter Stanley, Larry Sparks and Dave Evans.
"That (award) put even more pressure on me to try and live up to that caliber," he says. "People can tell pretty much right away when I start singing that it's me. They know I sing with heart and feeling and soul."
Onstage, singing is about all Sisk and Ramblers Choice do. Some bands, he confides, spend entirely too much time jawing and not nearly enough picking. If he's going to be onstage instead of traipsing about the woods, he says, he's bound and determined to give it his full attention.
"I'll introduce the songs and introduce the guys, and that's about all you'll hear out of me," Sisk says. "So many bands nowadays tell jokes and talk more than they play, but you'll never get that out of us.
"I'm drained pretty much when I'm done. We do put pretty much everything we have into it."
Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...