Popular festival rebrands after pandemic break

Industrial Strength Bluegrass Festival set for Nov. 11-13



The term Industrial Strength Bluegrass has been gaining prominence since University of Illinois Press published Fred Bartenstein and Curtis W. Ellison’s book of the same title in January. The concept grew larger after book contributor Joe Mullins curated and produced an award-winning companion album with big names like Vince Gill and Rhonda Vincent.

Now, Mullins has rebranded his twice-yearly showcase of bluegrass and acoustic roots music. The Industrial Strength Bluegrass Festival, formerly known as the Southern Ohio Indoor Music Festival, is presented at the Roberts Convention Centre in Wilmington, Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 11 through 13.

“We lost three festivals,” Mullins said. “The pandemic shut everything down two weeks before the March 2020 festival. The last time we had a full festival was November of ‘19. Coming back with the first full festival in two years was the perfect opportunity to rebrand.

“We had a hunch the book and the album would do well, Mullins said. “The book has been a bestseller and the album was awarded Album of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association at the end of September. Industrial Strength Bluegrass has become its own brand over the last year and we thought we could use this festival to continue to build that brand.”



Family tradition

Mullins is just the guy to do it. He is part of this region’s bluegrass fabric as the leader of the award-winning Radio Ramblers, owner of the Real Roots Radio Network and a member of the famous local family. His late father, Moon, was a hugely popular radio disc jockey and bluegrass musician, and his son, Daniel, is a podcast host and third-generation radio broadcaster.

“I’ve been standing on the foundation of the music made in the Miami Valley of Ohio my whole career,” Mullins said. “Come February, it’ll be 40 years since I started on the radio regularly as a teenager. I also started playing professionally almost about 40 years ago, sometime in ‘82 or ‘83. Because of that, I’ve wound up as one of the leaders of this history-telling project that has put a focus on the entire region.”

The performers

While he leads his own hardworking bluegrass band, Mullins spends much of his time championing the music of others, whether he’s playing music on the radio or programming music for the festival. This year’s lineup includes bluegrass legends like Bobby Osborne and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver and contemporary acts like Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass and the Po Ramblin’ Boys.

The festival is a rare local appearance for Tennessee-based Osborne, who started his career in Dayton in 1953 with his younger brother, Sonny, who passed away in October.

“Bobby is in stable health and going strong at age 89,” Mullins said. “He just won an IBMA award six weeks ago. He’s kind of the great grandfather of Industrial Strength Bluegrass. He’s the fat cat daddy of making it all happen and bringing attention to it globally.

“Bobby still performs at the Grand Ole Opry pretty regularly since the pandemic has started to lift,” Mullins continued. “He does a few personal appearances around the country, but this festival appearance is one of the few in this last phase of his career.”

Mullins has also booked acoustic roots music acts like the western swing of the fiddle playing Quebe Sisters and the traditional country of the Malpass Brothers.

“While we’ve got a ton of Industrial Strength Bluegrass talent on the stage for the three days, it’s a great mix of American styles,” Mullins said. “It all fits right in. The Quebe Sisters are a triple-fiddle trio of lovely ladies who play western swing fiddle in perfect harmony and sing a McGuire Sisters’ type vocal. They’re just mesmerizing as artists, instrumentally and vocally.

The Malpass Brothers are a duo from North Carolina. They’ve been a hot ticket for traditional country fans and bluegrass fans.”



More than music

The festival also features plenty of jam sessions and music talk along with special programming like a mandolin workshop featuring Osborne, Danny Paisley and others at 11 a.m. Saturday. Mullins and his Radio Ramblers will host a bluegrass brunch at 10:30 a.m. Friday and a fundraising raffle for the newly established Doug Eyink Alternative Strings Scholarship Fund.

“Doug has been one of the most loved teachers at Centerville School District for around 20 years,” Mullins said. “He had to retire this year but he taught hundreds of students annually in the Centerville School Orchestra program. Fifteen years ago, he started Alternative Strings, a group of select orchestra students he could teach jazz, bluegrass or Celtic music. His Alternative Strings has performed with bluegrass bands for many, many years.

“We’ve done several collaborations and videos with the Alternative Strings Orchestra,” Mullins added. “We’re going to try to raise several thousand dollars to launch the scholarship fund so Doug’s work, legacy and contributions to hundreds of orchestra students in the Miami Valley is never forgotten.”

Doors open at 4 p.m. Thursday and 10 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Music begins at 6 p.m. Thursday and noon Friday and Saturday.

Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or e-mail at donthrasher100@gmail.com.


WHAT: Industrial Strength Bluegrass Festival featuring Bobby Osborne & the Rocky Top X-press, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass and others

WHERE: Roberts Convention Centre, 123 Gano Road, Wilmington

WHEN: Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 11 through 13

COST: Advance tickets are $100 for three-day reserved seats, $90 for three-day general admission. Single day general admission tickets are $30 Thursday and $40 Friday and Saturday. Door tickets are $110 for three-day general admission and $80 for two-day general admission. Single day general admission tickets at the door are $35 Thursday and $45 Friday and Saturday

MORE INFO: 800-965-9324 or www.somusicfest.com

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