The annual Bluegrass and Barbeque Festival at Silver Dollar City runs May 5th-25th and will feature 44 of the Nation's best Bluegrass bands each performing multiple sets in a variety of venues at the Branson theme park. A fan favorite highlight of the festival is the KSMU Youth in Bluegrass Band Contest, which began in 2002.
D.A. Callaway is the Talent Coordinator at Silver Dollar City: "In the first KSMU contest we had 8 bands, and we just had the best time didn’t we? In fact I was talking to you Mike Smith in February of 2002, and of course I had been listening to Seldom Heard Music on KSMU, and asked you if you thought if we could have a band contest for young people under 18, and you thought it would be a good way to promote young people playing in the Bluegrass tradition. So we agreed we would head down that road. My boss Brad Schrader and Lisa Rau, SDC’s publicity Director decided we would do that.”
The age limit was adjusted from 18 to 21, and because so many young Bluegrass musicians are from family bands, parents were also allowed to participate. D.A. Callaway says the popularity of the contest outgrew several SDC stages. “The 2002 Gazebo stage seats 100 plus standing room and then we moved in 2003 to the 400 seat Dockside Theater. We had standing room there in 2003 with 10 bands, and then moved to The 650 seat Playhouse Theater. We outgrew that too and moved to the 850 seat Opera House, and these last few years we’ve filled that hall with standing room only too. In 2014 we had 20 bands from 11 states.”
Cindy Clark is from Searcy Arkansas. In 2008, her guitar and mandolin playing sons Jed and Harry, then 16 and 13 years old, entered the contest after enlisting the help of a couple of friends and their mom Cindy playing bass. “It was so much fun just to be there. So exciting to be a part of that and to our huge surprise we took 3rd place that year!” 2 years later the contest’s 6 judges awarded top honors to The Jed and Harry Clark Band. $1,200 in prize money comes with the blue ribbon, but Cindy Clark sees a much greater reward in participation. “The very best part of the contest is the people we’ve met and the friendships we’ve carried through the years. It’s been fun watching this family develop. There’s not a competitive edginess in the contest. Everybody’s encouraging to and rooting for everybody. And when someone goes out there and has a great performance, everybody’s cheering. It’s a great thing to be a part of. It’s like a family reunion.”
A feeling reinforced and reiterated by SDC’s D.A. Callaway: “Young people who play music need networking opportunities, and this contest has facilitated that idea. So I think as the years go by, we’re not so concerned as to who won the money, or the big check or the title. I think we transcend all that with the relationships and comradery that develops. It’s just been great for everybody.”
The Silver Dollar City Bluegrass and Barbeque Festival begins May 5th, and the 14th annual KSMU Youth in Bluegrass Band Contest is scheduled for May 23rd. Contest entry forms must be accompanied by a DVD, CD or You Tube link of the band, and must be postmarked by March 13th. For more information, silverdollarcity.com.