The enchanting, toe-tapping sounds of Appalachian music will fill the mountain air on Sunday, Sept. 3, during the Papa Joe Smiddy Mountain Music Festival at Natural Tunnel State Park. Old-time, bluegrass and good old mountain music is a tradition the Cove Ridge Foundation wishes to preserve through this wonderful event named for long-time educator, musician and entertainer Dr. Joseph C. “Papa Joe” Smiddy.
This is the 15th year of the music festival held at Natural Tunnel State Park in Duffield, Virginia. As part of Duffield Daze, the festival is held annually on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend.
In addition to promoting the musical heritage of the area's Appalachian mountain culture, the festival honors the tireless work of “Papa Joe,” who promoted the music of our region for many decades. It was with heavy hearts that event coordinators prepared for this year’s festival - the first without him. “Papa Joe” passed away May 1, 2017, at age 96 and his presence will be missed.
“Papa Joe” was a talented banjo player with the Reedy Creek bluegrass band for over 44 years. He sought to preserve Appalachian music by teaching and inspiring greatness in the youth of the community. He was a prolific storyteller and audiences remember him fondly. His last performance at the festival was in 2016. In addition to being an accomplished old-time banjo player, entertainer and educator, Smiddy was Chancellor Emeritus at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.
This year's proceedings will kick off at 3 p.m., Sept. 3, with a special afternoon performance featuring the Miss Ellie String Band - selected from this year’s Summer Pickin’ in the Park Music in the Mountain series. The band is named for the late Sue Ella Boatwright-Wells who was instrumental in establishing the Mountain Empire Community College’s Mountain Music School.
Enjoy square dancing? Following Miss Ellie, Tyler Hughes and Sam Gleaves will direct and play a fast-moving square dance. Enjoy the two-part harmonies of the duo along with sounds from a clawhammer banjo, guitar, fiddle and autoharp.
Following a supper break at 5 p.m., the evening's music will begin at 6 p.m. with radio personality Tom Taylor returning to emcee the event.
Dr. Joe Smiddy and Reedy Creek have played together for more than four decades. Reflecting the broad musical tastes of “Papa Joe,” the band plays a variety of old time music and original songs. Papa Joe started “Pickin’ in the Park,” the summer Sunday afternoon get-togethers at Natural Tunnel, to encourage children and families to play music. It is only fitting that his own son, Dr. Joe Smiddy, be an integral part of the event.
From East Tennessee State University, both the ETSU Bluegrass and Old Time Pride Bands will perform. The bands feature students enrolled in ETSU's Bluegrass, Old Time and Country Music Studies program. Founded in 1982, it is the longest standing established program of its kind and aims to preserve the musical traditions rooted in Appalachian culture.
Capping off an already-stellar roster of performers is headliner Carson Peters and Iron Mountain. A young musical prodigy from Piney Flats, Tennessee, Carson started playing the fiddle at the ripe old age of 3 when his parents bought him a 1/8 size fiddle. Peters and his talented Iron Mountain band entertain audiences with an energetic blend of old time, bluegrass and gospel music.
At just 13, Carson is already a seasoned performer having been featured on national television as a guest on NBC's “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and “Little Big Shots” with Steve Harvey. On March 28, 2014, Carson’s dream of playing on the Grand Ole Opry stage was realized when he was invited by Ricky Skaggs to perform with him and his band, Kentucky Thunder. In May of the same year, Carson was asked to reappear at the Opry - this time with his own band.
Festival-goers are encouraged to bring a lawn chair or blanket. Food and drinks are welcome, but no alcohol is allowed on Natural Tunnel State Park property.
Advance tickets are $10 each and can be purchased online at www.coveridge.com, by phone at 276-940-2674 or in person at Addington Oil in Weber City, the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce or Natural Tunnel State Park. Tickets at the gate will be $15 each. Children under 12 will be admitted free with a paying adult.
Proceeds from the festival go into the Cove Ridge Foundation’s Papa Joe Smiddy Scholarship Fund.