Bluegrass on the Grass Celebrates 15 Years
by Michelle Simmons
June 29, 2010
For 15 years, Bluegrass on the Grass has been anchored by “house band” Dismembered Tennesseans, led by Fletcher Bright (left). Festival organizer Davis Tracy (right) recently retired as director of the Counseling Center.
One July afternoon 15 years ago, on the lawn beside the Weiss Center for Performing Arts, Davis Tracy’s Country Bob and the Barbeque Boys took the stage before a local crowd of about 200. Bluegrass on the Grass was born.
Today, the annual, daylong festival draws more than 3,000 bluegrass aficionados, north and south, and will celebrate its 15th anniversary on July 10 with a lineup of festival favorites. The idea for the event began when Susan Nichols, then associate dean of academic affairs, and Paul Riggs ’85, former executive assistant to the president, asked Tracy, director of the Counseling Center and WDCV advisor, to consider offering a summer bluegrass concert on campus.
“Davis Tracy had been turning me into a bluegrass fan for a couple of years,” said Riggs, who followed Tracy’s Friday-morning show on WDCV and often brought him coffee while Tracy was on air. When Riggs and Nichols met to reallocate some summer-programming funds that previously had been used for a film series, it occurred to Riggs that the college could host a bluegrass concert—and that Tracy could organize it. Although Tracy had never pulled together a music festival, he was well known for music parties held in his barn, said Riggs, and had deep connections with the bluegrass circuit.
“Davis is the one who prepared the ground, so to speak, with his constant enthusiasm for bluegrass,” Riggs said. “And of course, he’s been doing all the heavy lifting ever since.”
Throughout the years, Tracy has sought high-quality performers and a mix of bands that offer enthusiasts a variety of styles and subgenres. “Each year I try to stretch the audience a bit, from having a female vocalist to an exquisite instrumentalist,” Tracy explained. “And musicians want to play here. We treat them as artists not bar bands.”
Many bands return to play year after year, including the Dismembered Tennesseans, who have performed annually and become the festival’s “house band.” They will be on hand to celebrate the anniversary. Special Consensus, another festival regular, will open the event. “Davis Tracy is a joy to work with, and we have become good friends as a result,” said bandleader GregCahill. “I so appreciate his genuine love of music and his understanding of how to make the artists as comfortable as possible at an event of this nature. … Since he himself is a musician he knows the issues from the perspective of both promoter and performer.”
Although Tracy retired from the college this month, he plans to continue organizing the festival for the foreseeable future. “This is the largest community event that the college hosts,” he said. “We draw people from New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. People play together here who have never played together before.”
Visit www.bluegrassonthegrass.org for more information.