If you go
› What: 3 Sisters Bluegrass Festival.
› When: 6-11 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30; noon-10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1 (rain or shine).
› Where: Ross’s Landing, Riverfront Parkway.
› Admission: Free.
› Phone: 423-265-0771.
› Website: www.3sistersbluegrass.com.
Friday, Sept. 30
6 p.m. The Dismembered Tennesseans
6:50 p.m. Mipso
8:10 p.m. Gibson Brothers
9:30 p.m. Greensky Bluegrass
Saturday, Oct. 1
Noon. Lone Mountain Band
1 p.m. Bluetastic Fangrass
2 p.m. Hamilton County Ramblers
3 p.m. Berklee College of Music Fiddlers
4 p.m. Trout Steak Revival
5:30 p.m. Chatham County Line
7 p.m. Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn
8:30 p.m. Keller Williams & The Keels
By the time he actually got around to acting on it, George Bright's dream of hosting a free bluegrass festival on Chattanooga's waterfront was more than 30 years old.
A lifelong fan of the genre, Bright remembers reading a story in a mid-'70s issue of Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine about a free waterfront festival in Louisville, Ky. He immediately latched onto the idea.
"I was always kind of evangelical about bluegrass. I wanted everyone to understand how good it could be," Bright says. "I had it in my head even back then that, 'Boy, it'd be really fun to have a free festival in Chattanooga on the river.'"
Bright waited three decades to act, but after his family's real estate development firm, The Fletcher Bright Co., became corporate sponsors of the Nightfall concert series, he saw a chance to realize his ambition.
Seeing the work that Nightfall organizers Chattanooga Presents were doing with the concert series, Bright saw in them an ideal steward for his dream event. He approached his father, Fletcher, a local bluegrass fiddling legend in his own right, and pitched his plan.
"I walked into Dad's office and said, 'I have this idea to have a free bluegrass festival... and I know how we can fund it. What do you think?'" Bright recalls. "My father and I both make decisions pretty quick, and he said, 'Let's do it.'"
The younger Bright decided, half by default, to name the event after his three sisters, Elizabeth, Ann and Lucy. In 2007, the inaugural 3 Sisters Bluegrass Festival began attracting an average of 5,000 people each year for two nights of free music at Ross's Landing.
The 10th iteration of the event will kick off this weekend with a traditional opening set by Fletcher Bright's now-70-year-old band Dismembered Tennesseans. The Bright patriarch and his bandmates will pave the way for the festival's headliners, who include Michigan-based progressive bluegrass outfit Greensky Bluegrass, genre-hopping musical nomad Keller Williams and virtuosic five-string banjo duo Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn.
Since 2007, 3 Sisters has established itself as a premiere event on the bluegrass musical circuit. In 2015, it was named by Great American Country Magazine as one of the nation's five best bluegrass festivals, an honor it shared with events such as Telluride Bluegrass Festival and MerleFest.
The event's lineup has consistently booked marquee bluegrass from both the progressive and traditional sides of the aisle. Over the years, its single stage has hosted a slew of vaunted artists, including Del McCoury, Hot Rize, Sam Bush, Yonder Mountain String Band and The Devil Makes Three.
"We like trying to present a really good, broad spectrum of what fits into that bluegrass label these days. That's broadened quite a bit even in the last 10 years," says Carla Pritchard, the founder of Chattanooga Presents, which manages the festival on behalf of the Bright family.
This year, Pritchard says, fans of a more traditional sound will flock to hear artists such as Gibson Brothers and Chatham County Line, and fans of genre-defying performances will be best served by the likes of Williams and Greensky Bluegrass. Hopefully, she says, there will be a bit of cross pollination between those groups.
"What we hope happens is that you'll come see one artist but stay over and find that you learn that maybe you like these others, too," Pritchard says. "It's about presenting things to as broad an audience as we can."
Contact Casey Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.
The Dismembered Tennesseans
Formed by fiddler Fletcher Bright and other student musicians at McCallie School, The Dismembered Tennesseans have performed shows and festivals around the country since 1946.
Tar Heel string-band quartet Joseph Terrell (guitar), Wood Robinson (double bass), Jacob Sharp (mandolin) and Libby Rodenbough (fiddle) bill themselves as “North Carolina’s Renegade Traditional Music.”
The International Bluegrass Music Association’s 2012 and 2013 Entertainers of the Year, this traditional group orbits around the vocal nucleus of Eric and Leigh Gibson, who hearken back to celebrated brother duo harmonies of The Monroes, The Louvins and The Everlys.
A Michigan-based, decidedly progressive quintet that features all the familiar instrumentation of a bluegrass band but whose stage shows exude the kind of energy more commonly associated with rock acts. They’ve shared the stage with acts such as Phil Lesh, Sam Bush, The String Cheese Incident and Del McCoury.
The Lone Mountain Band<p>A local outfit, The Lone Mountain Band claims several top-notch instrumentalists, including banjo player Jim Pankey, multi-instrumentalist Bobby Burns, bassist/vocalist Diana Phillips and three-time national flatpicking guitar champion Roy Curry.
The brainchild of local architect and veteran slide guitar guru Lou Wamp is a showcase of acoustic prowess, featuring lead vocalist Brad Frazier, guitarist Chris “Lightnin’ ” Hopkins, fiddler Owen Saunders and bassist Lynn Wamp.
Hamilton County Ramblers
Newly emerged from the local bluegrass scene, the members of this ensemble are no greenhorns. John Boulware is a three-time Tennessee state fiddle champion and reigning Alabama mandolin champion; Roy Curry is a nationally renowned champion flatpicking guitarist; mandolinist James Kee is a veteran of Kentucky’s NewTown; and Jim Pankey holds state banjo championship honors in Tennessee and Georgia.
Berklee College of Music Fiddlers
Champions of the bow unite in this Boston-based ensemble from one of the country’s premiere institutions for musical study.
Trout Steak Revival
Colorado bluegrass upstarts Travis McNamara (banjo), Steve Foltz (mandolin/guitar), Will Koster (Dobro/guitar), Casey Houlihan (stand-up bass) and Devin Foley (fiddle) won the prestigious, highly competitive Telluride Bluegrass Band Competition in 2014. Enough said.
Chatham County Line
This Raleigh, N.C.-based quartet has hopped the pond and developed a following in Europe as well as domestically in its 17 years together. The band has been a frequent guest at 3 Sisters but hasn’t played the riverfront in a couple of years.
Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn
You may as well call them the king and queen of the banjo. Fleck is the mastermind behind Bela Fleck and The Flecktones, as well as a fixture in groups such as New Grass Revival and Asleep at the Wheel. He is considered one of the most innovative players on the five-string instrument. Washburn, his wife, is a master of the clawhammer style, the founder of The Sparrow Quartet and a longtime member of Uncle Earl.
Keller Williams & The Keels
His fans know him as K-Dub, and his music is incredibly hard to pin down, wavering between jazz, funk, reggae and alt-folk, depending on which of his many projects he’s playing with. The Keels represent his dabbling in bluegrass alongside husband and wife duo Larry and Jenny Keel.