Knee-slapping bluegrass, along with a side of some down-home barbecue, was enjoyed by festival attendees from all over who traveled to the Saline County Fairground Saturday for the annual Bluegrass and Barbecue Festival, sponsored by the Saline County Tourism Board.
This was the first year the event was held at the fairground, in part due to damage done to the Saline Creek Pioneer Village and Museum during the Feb. 29 tornado, and in part because this year's festival included a fireworks show to conclude the event. The fireworks display was sponsored by the Harrisburg Town and Country Lions Club, who were unable to utilize the fireworks for the annual Fourth of July celebration due to a countywide burn ban that was in place at the time.
Tourism board member John O'Dell, who organizes much of the festival each year, said they have been holding the event for over 10 years and it has been successful right from the get-go.
There is no admission fee to attend the event and the tourism board, which funds it, doesn't make any money from the annual festival.
"We do it for the quality of life in Saline County," O'Dell said. "It's a labor of love."
Harrisburg Mayor Eric Gregg, who attended Saturday's festival, was all smiles as he explained how much he looks forward to his event every year.
"This is a wonderful event," said Gregg. "It gives us a chance to showcase talent that we're very, very proud of."
This year, though, Gregg said the festival is particularly meaningful to him and to the community as a whole.
"After everything we've been through this year, this event is truly a testament to our continued comeback," he said.
Many of the musicians who performed at this year's event are not new to the festival. Wes Thibodeaux, frontman for a four-person bluegrass/folk group, said they traveled all the way from Louisiana to play at the festival and have been doing so since the event was first held.
"We enjoy coming here immensely," said Thibodeaux, who plays the accordion and harmonica, along with being a vocalist for the group.
Always a crowd-pleaser, Rocky Alvey, who grew up in Muddy, but is now based in Nashville, played his famous song "Muddy Coal Mine," which chronicles the hard lives and dangerous work done by coal miners everywhere. He said he wrote the song around 2003 after returning to Southern Illinois for a period of time. He saw the tipple of the old O'Gara No.12 mine he used to look at through the window of the one-room schoolhouse he attended in Muddy.
"It was an ancient ruin when I was there in second grade," Alvey said, of the mine tipple that still stands crumbling to this day.
Page 2 of 2 - The song, which begins "There's a little place down in Saline County, in southern most part of Illinois, a sign on the road says the name is Muddy, but the Muddy Coal mines don't work no more," resonated with many festival attendees, who flocked to Alvey after he played the song in his unhurried, deep voice, accompanied by guitar work that truly showcased his varied musical talents.
Many other musicians were scheduled at the festival as well, including Wayne Lewis, the Bankester Family and White Oak. Though it was a bit chilly for some, the sunny day made for a perfect fall festival full of food and fun-loving musicians.