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Award-winning James King, band headline Sertoma bluegrass festival

James King, an award-winning bluegrass artist, offers a distinctive, traditional sound. “I really don’t think I could play any other kind of music,” he said. He and his band play the Sertoma Youth Ranch Spring Bluegrass Festival, which runs March 22-24.

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James King, an award-winning bluegrass artist, offers a distinctive, traditional sound. “I really don’t think I could play any other kind of music,” he said. He and his band play the Sertoma Youth Ranch Spring Bluegrass Festival, which runs March 22-24.

SPRING LAKE — When one listens to James King's husky baritone, it's almost like being thrown back a few decades, when the concept of "high lonesome" ruled bluegrass music and made it a truly distinctive musical style.

King is a musician who appreciates that he's different from most of his modern peers. In a day when more and more artists of the genre have worked to soften their sound and make it more palatable for the masses, he's happy to be part of the staunch hardliners who refuse to let go of his traditional roots.

"I've been playing bluegrass pretty much the same way for about 40 years, so it just comes natural to me," said King, whose band headlines today's lineup at this weekend's Sertoma Youth Ranch Spring Bluegrass Festival. "I really don't think I could play any other kind of music."

Kings fans wouldn't want it any other way, and that's probably why they voted him a nine-time winner of the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music's Traditional Male Vocalist of the Year award. To those folks, King's emotive renderings of songs such as She Took His Breath Away, Bed by the Window and 30 Years of Farming exemplify the essence of what bluegrass music is all about.

"I think the beauty of bluegrass is that it's music that can reach people on so many different levels," King said. "I've always wanted to be the kind of singer that brings those emotions to whoever is listening."

The Virginia native grew up in the heart of the Virginia-North Carolina borderlands that has long been considered the true cradle of country music, and home to his early musical heroes, brothers Carter and Ralph Stanley. Although his father, Jim, and his uncle, Joe Edd, were both noted bluegrass players, King admits it took him awhile to catch on.

"I listened to rock 'n' roll when I was a kid — Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and all that," King said. "My dad kept telling me that once I really listened to the beauty that's in bluegrass, I wouldn't ever let it go. He was right."

King's start in the business began with the Delaware group headed by T.J. and Bobby Lundy, who introduced the young singer to radio DJ Ray Davis, who as producer for Wango Records paired King with Ralph Stanley for two well-received albums, Stanley Brothers Classics and Reunion. Since then, King has recorded four additional albums, including These Old Pictures, which earned him a nomination for the International Bluegrass Music Association's award for Vocal Performance of the Year.

These days, King and his band, which consists of Barry Crabtree (banjo), Dorse Sears, (mandolin), Merl Johnson (fiddle) and John Marquess (bass) is among the busiest in the business, performing upward of 125 dates a year. In a few weeks, King will release his seventh Rounder Records album, Three Chords and the Truth.

Despite the recent death of his 18-year-old daughter, Shelby Ann, in car wreck, King said he's more determined than ever to deliver his music to his fans.

"It's an exciting time for me, and proof that good things can still happen even during tough times," King said. "That's what I live for."

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1435.

Sertoma Youth Ranch Spring Bluegrass Festival

When: Today through Sunday. Music performances are from noon to 11 p.m. today, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Sertoma Youth Ranch. The ranch is south of Spring Lake on Myers Road, near the Hernando-Pasco county line. From State Road 50 in Hernando County, take Spring Lake Highway south to Church Road. Turn east onto Church and continue to Myers. Turn south on Myers to the ranch. From Interstate 75 in Pasco County, take Exit 293 and head east on Blanton Road, then turn north on Clay Hill Road and follow to Myers Road and the ranch.

Admission: Daily adult gate admission is $20 today, $25 Saturday and $12 Sunday. Weekend tickets are $65 at the gate. For children ages 13 to 18, the cost is $20 for the weekend. Those 12 and under get in free with an adult admission. Camping is available with weekend tickets.

Information: Call (352) 754-3082.

Award-winning James King, band headline Sertoma bluegrass festival 03/21/13 [Last modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 3:32pm]

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