Bluegrass Festival

20th year of the annual Appalachian & Bluegrass Music Festival in the Ulster American Folk Park

Angry looking clouds and deep, muddy puddles threaten to dampen spirits at the 20th Annual Appalachian & Bluegrass Music Festival, but the infectious enthusiasm and yee-haws all round win through.

What started out two decades ago as a small get together amongst solo performers in the park has since become a hugely impressive festival at the Ulster American Folk Park, just outside Omagh. It is now one of the largest bluegrass festivals of its kind in Europe.

With five stages and three evening concerts, there is plenty of variety; from a group of clog dancers to headliners Dailey and Vincent, the Malpass Brothers and local acts including the Broken String Band, Wookalily and the Niall Toner Band.

Three days of immensely energetic Bluegrass sets, jamming, musical and other quirky workshops certainly bring the Appalachian Mountains vibe to bear on the museum and it's pleasant surroundings.

The unique setting is perfect for the festival, with bands playing in the old famine ship, barns and fields dotted around the grounds. While some of the venues could have been better covered to avoid the rain, a trusty umbrella does the job.

Grammy nominated American group Dailey and Vincent are certainly one of the highlights of the weekend, and have the crowds stompin’. Passion and talent throb from the stage at their Saturday evening concert.

On Sunday, there are plenty of Bluegrass in the Park sessions on offer for those brave enough to face the weather. Playing in a relatively small marquee under a few trees, the Broken String Band, which includes Bluegrass legend Geordie McAdam (dressed in trademark dungarees with pipe) bring the place alive.

Wookalily follow closely behind with drums, banjos, guitar, bass and flute. If you are after some fast-paced, feel-good, pure Bluegrass, these are the guys you are looking for – they have Bluegrass in their blood, write their own catchy compositions and all hail from Northern Ireland.

One of the last to play at the festival on Sunday, Gortin native Jim Corr, represents exactly what the festival is all about. After living in the USA for around 38 years, living in the mountains, working as a cowboy and on a ship, he has returned to the village and is steeped in bluegrass.

Despite forgetting some of the lyrics, his tales of woes (including a line about the ship’s cook making his dinner with her finger up her nose!), accompanied by banjo, are both hilarious and sad, but provide an entertaining end to a great weekend.

With crowds swelling to 9,000, festival organiser Richard Hurst is very pleased indeed. ‘The 20th festival has been a great success. We’re now looking forward to welcoming everyone back for the festival’s 21st birthday celebrations next year.’