Industrial Strength Bluegrass Festival: Award-winning event offers three days of music



Much has changed since Joe Mullins organized the first Southern Ohio Indoor Music Festival at Roberts Convention Centre in Wilmington in late 2003 but not his devotion to the event, returning Thursday through Saturday, March 16 through 18. Rebranded the Industrial Strength Bluegrass Festival in 2021, the event is still presented by his band, the Radio Ramblers, but now produced by his son Daniel, a radio disc jockey and podcaster.

“We’ve seen a lot of new audiences post-COVID,” Mullins said. “Daniel has done a lot of new digital marketing and built a lot of new partnerships throughout the whole country to spotlight the festival. Post-COVID, we’ve seen maybe 10 to 15 percent of any of our audiences are new people and we have to have that. What’s great is those new attendees are lighting up Facebook, our email boxes and comment cards. They’re saying, ‘Wow, we love it. We’re glad we finally came.’ That’s what you’ve got to have. If you have 1,000 people a day and 100 of them have never been there before and they leave there loving it, then we’re hitting a home run.”

Regional connection

The festival takes its name from “Industrial Strength Bluegrass” (University of Illinois Press), a 2021 book about southwestern Ohio’s contribution to the music by Fred Bartenstein and Curtis W. Ellison. Mullins, a contributor to the book, also curated and produced a companion album that year featuring Vince Gill, Rhonda Vincent, the Radio Ramblers, Jerry Douglas and other musical luminaries. The collection received the Album of the Year award from the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) in September 2021. The Industrial Strength Bluegrass Festival was named Event of the Year at last September’s IBMA Awards.

“The Industrial Strength name change and theme has been such a shot in the arm for the region for roots music fans,” Mullins said. “We’re still the IBMA’s reigning Event of the Year and our festival is on par to be as successful as the November one was so that’s all good. We danced a jig after the November festival because that was the first weekend at the Roberts Centre since COVID where everything looked and felt exactly the way it used to be.

“We had a big crowd of enthusiastic people picking up everything we were putting down all day long,” he continued. “Tickets are available in advance but tickets at the door are never a problem. We’ve got almost unlimited space. It’s comfortable and with the big sound, lights and video screens, it’s really easy to show up any time and be entertained at the Roberts Centre.”



The talent

The spring installment of the twice-yearly festival includes Jerry Douglas presents the Earls of Leicester, Sister Sadie, the Lonesome River Band and Full Cord.

“We’ve got a couple of big deals at the festival this time,” Mullins said. “Jerry Douglas presenting the Earls of Leicester is very big because those guys don’t tour. It’s a very limited appearance schedule and Jerry is one of the most Grammy awarded musicians in bluegrass and country music history. He’s a native Ohioan and his pet project for the last decade has been the Earls of Leicester. The credentials to present a Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs-style shows has never been stronger than what Jerry Douglas will bring to the Roberts Centre.

“That will be the climax of our weekend when they hit the stage Saturday night,” Mullins continued. “It’s not one of those acts you can go see any weekend you want to. They don’t tour constantly like the Radio Ramblers do or any of the other artists on the festival. It’s a rare appearance to see that type of show on our stage.”

Mullins, whose band was the IBMA’s 2019 Entertainer of the Year, is also excited about the female talent on the bill.

“Another highlight will be Sister Sadie,” he said. “They’ll be on our stage for the first time on Friday. Some of the top female artists in bluegrass have been in and out of Sister Sadie the last few years. The group has been Entertainers of the Year and Vocal Group of the Year and even had a Grammy nomination.

“We’ve got other great female talent like Donna Ulisse on Saturday,” Mullins continued. “She’s a great singer-songwriter. Dale Anne Bradley is back with us on Thursday and she does it all, country, bluegrass and gospel. Everybody loves her vocal work.”

Other acts include the Malpass Brothers on Thursday, Seth Mulder & Midnight Run on Friday and the Clay Hess Band on Saturday. Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers, releasing its latest album, “Let Time Ride” (Billy Blue Records), on March 17, will perform Thursday, Friday and Saturday.



Music and charity

In addition to hosting the festival, the members of the Radio Ramblers will also host a Saturday morning charity brunch to raise money for the Ohio branch of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

“We did that very successfully in the fall and we raised $3,000 for Dolly’s Imagination Library,” Mullins said. “We’re going for that again and making another donation to that program. You can’t go wrong giving a book every month to every preschooler in Ohio.”

Mullins and his team have already announced the next installment of the Industrial Strength Bluegrass Festival Nov. 9 through 11 with Rhonda Vincent, Ricky Skaggs and others.

Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or


What: Industrial Strength Bluegrass Festival with Jerry Douglas presents the Earls of Leicester, Sister Sadie, the Lonesome River Band and others

Where: Roberts Convention Centre, 123 Gano Road, Wilmington

When: 6 p.m. Thursday, noon Friday and Saturday, March 16 through 18

Cost: $125-$150 for three-day reserved seating, $110 for three-day general admission and $85 for two-day general admission; single day general admission are $35 Thursday and $45 Friday and Saturday; single day student tickets are $25 for students 25 and younger; free general admission seating for youth 16 and younger with paid adult

More info: 937-374-3636 or

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