Thursday, May 14, 2009

Makin' Music: Bluegrass will fill the air at Jomeokee Campground, near Pilot Mountain

The Jomeokee Campground and Music Park at the base of Pilot Mountain looks a lot like it did when bluegrass legend Lester Flatt owned it.

The bathhouses and concession stands that Flatt built still remain. The nearly 100-acre park has retained its natural beauty.

And these days, the music is back.

This weekend, the campground will be home to a bluegrass festival that is reminiscent in sound and spirit to the festival that Flatt used to hold on the property until his death in 1979.

The Jomeokee Traditional Music Festival will be at Flatt's old music park on Friday and Saturday. The lineup will include musicians with deep roots in this musically fertile area, such as Rex McGee, and national acts, such as Junior Sisk and Ramblers Choice.

Flatt, one of the most influential guitarists and singers in country and bluegrass music, is best known for the music he made with Flatt and Scruggs. Flatt started having festivals at the campground in 1974. A year later, he bought the property, renamed it Lester Flatt's Bluegrass Park and continued his annual festival, which drew thousands of people.

He sold the campground to Alan Pace in December of 1979 with one provision.

"The agreement at the time he sold it was that he would have one final farewell festival," said Pace, who still owns the campground.

Flatt died of heart failure a few months before his final festival.

Pace renamed it Jomeokee, which means "Great Guide" or "Pilot" in the language of the Sauras, an American Indian tribe that lived in the area.

"It's the prettiest view of Pilot Mountain in the country," Pace said.

The campground was home to a few beach-music festivals as well as radio station WTQR's annual reunion, but those ended several years ago.

Pace's son, Tom, and Ralph McGee, a King musician, revived the idea of having a bluegrass festival at the campground. This year's festival is the fourth.

"It's still in its building stages, for sure," said McGee, who owns King Music Center. "We're still developing it and letting it grow as it will."

The music will begin Friday at 5 p.m. on a stage near the original stage where Flatt and other bluegrass legends once picked.

As with other bluegrass festivals with camping, some of the best music will be played in the campground until the early-morning hours.

McGee said that the festival usually draws about 1,000 people. The atmosphere, he said, is family friendly.

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