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Bluegrass and a traditional Thanksgiving meal on tap at annual Sertoma festival

By Michele Miller
Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper will be a highlight at this year's Thanksgiving Bluegrass Festival, which will take place from Nov. 23 to 25 at the Sertoma Youth Ranch, south of Spring Lake. [Photo courtesy of Trina Wallin]

SPRING LAKE ó When it comes to traditional fare, picking, fiddling, harmonizing and a whole lot of foot-stomping make for the main course at the annual Thanksgiving Bluegrass Festival.

Since 1980, the event, which will be Nov. 23 to 25 at the Sertoma Youth Ranch, has been a fall destination on the bluegrass circuit. The ranchís laid-back, natural setting offers the opportunity to enjoy music while camping over three days, or visitors can just take it a day at a time. That includes Thanksgiving Day, when the folks at Sertoma will be serving up turkey, with concert-goers pitching in with side dishes to share.

A highlight for this yearís music lineup is Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper who will perform twice on Nov. 25. They were honored with two awards at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards on Sept. 28 in Raleigh, N.C. The tight-knit band was named Instrumental Group of the Year. Cleveland won Instrumental Recorded Performance of the Year honors for the title track of his solo album, Fiddlerís Dream.

In April, original band members Nathan Livers (mandolin), Tyler Griffith (bass), Josh Rivers (guitar) and Cleveland (fiddle) were joined by new banjo player Jasiah Shrode.

Heís been a great and surprising addition, and fun to watch, Cleveland said.

"You think you know who all the good people there are playing out there. Then someone comes out of nowhere and just blows you away," he said.

Those who go can expect some high-energy bluegrass along the lines of Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers and Mack Wiseman, all of whom Cleveland played alongside at one time or another.

"We play our own material, but we like to play it in the traditional way," Cleveland said, adding that their sets will include selections from Fiddlerís Dream as well as the bandís 2014 release, On Down the Line.

Also of note in the music lineup: Flatt Lonesome, a group of talented siblings and friends who were named the 2016 and 2017 IBMA Vocal Group of the Year, Danny Paisley & Southern Grass (2016 IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year) and Town Mountain, a rising band out of Asheville, N.C., whose influences include Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and the Grateful Deadís Jerry Garcia.

Add to that two-time national banjo champion Jeff Scroggins and Colorado, Keith Bass and Blast of Grass, the Back Porch String Band, Possum Grass, Reno and Harrell, the Band Kelley, the Bankester Family and the Stillhouse Shakers, a traveling, old-time string band based out of Pasco County.

Thanksgiving dinner will be served at 2 p.m. Nov. 23; bring your own plates, silverware, drinks and a covered dish to share, or a $5 donation. Participation isnít required, but pickers and singers in attendance are welcome to join in a morning camp jam on Nov. 24, take a turn on stage Nov. 25 with performers Reno and Harrell.

Among the offerings for the youngsters on Nov. 24 and 15 are hayrides, a musical petting zoo, crafts, games and music instruction.

For those remaining on the grounds on the morning of Nov. 26, there will be an acoustic gospel sing.

Contact Michele Miller at [email protected] Follow @MicheleMiller52.