by Reid Pierce Armstrong
At the end of a long dusty drive in Warsaw, beneath the shadow of an 18th century ruin, one of Virginia’s most up and coming bluegrass venues is taking hold.
Bands including Bill Kelso, Seldom Scene, the grammy-winning Dr. Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys, the grammy-nominated Blue Highway, and this year’s headliner, Tony Rice, have graced this stage with world-class twang.
The place is Menokin, the ancestral home of Francis Lightfoot Lee, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. A Virginia Historic Landmark, Menokin was built by Col. John Tayloe of Mount Airy in 1778 as a wedding present for his daughter, Rebecca, when she married Lee.
The festival raises money for the Menokin Foundation, which is dedicated to the preservation of the home as well as education in the fields of architecture, archaeology, history, conservation and ecology.
“Trying to save Menokin - that’s what the bluegrass festival is all about,” said foundation director Sarah Pope.
Bringing their lawn chairs, their blankets, their wide brimmed hats and their jars of bubbles, people come to enjoy what has thus far always been a stunningly gorgeous spring day.
They dance. They relax, They buy a corn dog from the vendors, They watch the children run around on the grass. They enjoy the view of the old house on the hill which towers behind the stage.
“It’s a way to bring people here that might not normally come and to garner interest in Menokin. It’s just a beautiful place. A perfect spot for bluegrass,” Pope said.
The festival was the brainchild of J. Tayloe Emery, great-grandson many times over of the John Tayloe who built Menokin.
A member of the board of trustees, Emery was looking for a way to contribute: “The other board members are heads of architectural firms or archeologists, and they have a lot of money and expertise to donate,” the young Emery said. “The one thing I know is music, and I know how to put on a good event.”
That was four years ago. The event has since become the foundation’s primary fund-raiser, according to the foundation staff.
It took some time to convince the board that the event was worth the effort. For the first few years, Emery put the event on himself with the help his mother, aunt, cousin, sister, wife and assorted other relatives who all stood out in the corn fields helping to park cars, take tickets and orchestrate bands.
In the years since the festival began, the Foundation has hired two full-time staff members plus one part-time employee. This year the Foundation staff will be running the show, and it will be their family members out their in the fields directing traffic.
That’s not to say that the Emery and Tayloe clans will be absent, they’ll just be spending more time enjoying the music this year.
A few other things are new this year. The event will be held later in the day than it has in the past, from 3 to 7 p.m.
“We are hoping that people can get their yard work done, go to their little league games and do the things they have commitments for in the spring and then pack up the whole family and come listen to some bluegrass,” Pope said.
Most of the food this year will be provided by the Warsaw Rotary, although other vendors will also be selling goodies and goods.
The visitors center will be open for most of the afternoon and a guided trail hike will be offered before the music begins.
Menokin is situated on 500 acres on Cat Point Creek. It includes a 325-acre easement that was given to the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge in 2005.
The May 10, 2008, lineup stars Tony Rice who is well-known for his acoustic flat-picking guitar. Over the course of his career, he has played alongside J.D. Crowe and the New South, David Grisman (during the formation of “Dawg Music”), and collaborated with fellow picker Norman Blake. He is considered one of bluegrass’ top instrumentalists and singers, bringing originality and vitality to everything he plays.
Blades of Bluegrass of King George County will open the musical festivities at 3 p.m.
Gold Heart, a creative young bluegrass band that features the distinctive talents of the Gold Sisters, Analise, Jocelyn & Shelby, will take the stage at 3:45 p.m. Pure family harmony, solid lead vocals and energetic pickin’ describes just some of their musical abilities.
The Barrel House Mamas, a trio of women from Asheville, NC, will play at 4:30 p.m. Conjuring the sweet and sultry sounds of the Appalachian mountains they call home, their robust three-part harmonies and original songs incorporate the old-timey pluck of a jumbo-bodied guitar sliding between the bluesy roll of a classical guitar and the twang of claw-hammer, and sometimes contemporary funk, banjo. The result is a sound that is all at once bluesy, rootsy, folk, americana, a touch of country,
Rice will take the stage at 5:30 p.m.
Tickets to the show are $20 and can be purchased at the gate. Children 12 and under are free. The event will take place rain or shine.
For more information call 333-1776 or visit http://www.menokinbluegrass.com.