HoustonFest celebrates 'Big Bang' of country music

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Marty Stuart, Steep Canyon Rangers, Doyle Lawson and others will perform in Galax this weekend, for the fifth annual festival benefitting the Galax Volunteer Fire Department and youth music programs.

By Staff Reports

HoustonFest celebrates its fifth year with a stellar lineup of artists this weekend in Galax’s Felts Park.


More than 40 bands will perform on three stages, along with special workshops, the Camp Houston youth stage, exhibits, instrument making displays, food, art and craft vendors.

This year, HoustonFest has partnered with Virginia Tourism Corporation and the Birthplace of Country Music Museum as the official Virginia launch of the CD and documentary, “Orthophonic Joy.” The project celebrates the “Big Bang” of modern country music — the 1927 Bristol Sessions.

“Each night will feature an unforgettable surprise finale,” said HoustonFest Executive Director Debbie Robinson.

The annual festival is named for banjo prodigy and dedicated community volunteer Houston Caldwell, who died in a motorcycle crash in 2010. Caldwell is remembered as a gifted musician, a born leader, a soldier and a firefighter. Houston’s parents and friends made it their mission to celebrate his life by creating a legacy that unites several of his passions.

Parents Tess and Kenneth Caldwell and Robinson, a family friend, created HoustonFest in 2011. It benefits the organization Houston loved — the Galax Volunteer Fire Department — and youth music programs. The fire department also helps present the festival.

Orthophonic Joy

Eleven of the 17 artists performing on the historic “Orthophonic Joy: The 1927 Bristol Sessions Revisited” project will be appearing at HoustonFest 2015 this weekend.

“There’s no more fitting place than Felts Park in Galax, Virginia — the hallowed ground of the Galax Fiddlers’ Convention — to kick off and showcase this soon-to-be-released project that pays tribute to the music pioneers from our region and sparked commercial popularity of country music,” Robinson said.

The Bristol Sessions, held in 1927 by Victor Talking Machine Company producer Ralph Peer, ushered in the commercial debuts of pioneers of country music Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family.

Numerous musicians from the region responded to the advertisements to audition for recordings in Bristol. Musicians from the Galax, Carroll and Grayson area included Ernest Stoneman, Hattie Stoneman, Norm Edmonds, J. P. Nestor, Eck Dunford, Henry Whitter and The Shelor Family, performing as Dad Blackard’s Moonshiners.

Ernest “Pop” Stoneman from Galax played an integral role in helping Peer comb the region for rural talent. Stoneman convinced Peer to travel through southern Appalachia and record artists who might otherwise have been unable to travel to New York. Peer recognized the potential with the mountain music, as even residents of Appalachia who didn’t have electricity were using hand-cranked Victrolas.

Now, more than 85 years later, some of Nashville’s top recording artists have hit the studio with Grammy Award-winning producer Carl Jackson to capture the magic of those songs. Music legends Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, Marty Stuart and esteemed bluegrass great Doyle Lawson are among the amazing roster of 17 performers on the project. Also performing on the upcoming CD are The Church Sisters from Galax and Wayne Henderson & the Virginia Luthier Band from Grayson County.

Jackson will moderate “Orthophonic Joy: 1927 Bristol Sessions Revisited Showcase” at HoustonFest. Artists from the project will perform, including Marty Stuart, Steep Canyon Rangers, Doyle Lawson, Jesse McReynolds, The Chuck Wagon Gang, Shotgun Rubies, Ashley and Shannon Campbell, The Church Sisters, The Virginia Luthier Band, Corbin Hayslett and Larry Cordle.

HoustonFest organizers and the Galax Volunteer Fire Department said they proudly recognize the significance of the original 1927 Bristol Sessions, which Johnny Cash once called “the single most important event in the history of country music.”

Guitar Raffle

A special guitar is being handcrafted by local luthier Gerald Anderson, and the beautiful Mahogany D-18 will be raffled at the festival.

“It will also have a very special one-of-a-kind pick guard made by Eddie Day, a musician and HoustonFest volunteer,” Robinson said. “TKL, an instrument case company that is always represented at HoustonFest, is providing a beautiful case for the guitar.”

Raffle tickets are already selling online and via HoustonFest Volunteers.


Advance tickets can be purchased locally at the Galax Visitor Center on Grayson Street, Barr’s Fiddle Shop and Roy’s Diamond Center on Main Street, Cox Realty on East Stuart Drive and at all Grayson National Bank branches. Order online at www.HoustonFestGalax.com. Gates open at 11 a.m. Friday and 9 a.m. Saturday. Camping is available at Felts Park.

For more information, call (276) 236-9908.