SPRING LAKE — There are plenty of reasons to take in the annual Sertoma Spring Bluegrass Festival, which starts Wednesday at the Sertoma Youth Ranch, and organizer Ernie Evans is proud to list a few of the big draws.
It's all about the music, and there will be plenty of that, with highlights that include first-timers Mountain Faith, old-time favorite Marty Raybon and the Dixie Echoes, who will close out the weekend with a special Easter service. The festival also has a philanthropic twist as a fundraiser for various youth programs held at the ranch.
After making it to the America's Got Talent Season 10 semifinals, the future is looking bright for Mountain Faith, a bluegrass band out of Sylva, N.C.
"They were a sleepy little powerhouse band that's been catapulted into the spotlight," Evans said, adding that local bluegrass lovers might want to see them while the gettin' is good. "I think this could be one of the last chances to see them in a small venue like this, where you can actually see them and meet them up close."
Newfound fame has brought the band a new manager and a new booking agency, Agency for the Performing Arts, which works with clients Dolly Parton, the Charlie Daniels Band, Travis Tritt and Clint Black.
Even so, there's a sense of humility that bubbles up when vocalist and fiddle player Summer McMahan, 22, calls in for an interview after working a morning shift at the family tire shop and service station, which sits in the shadows of the Smoky Mountains.
It's also where the band rehearses after work.
"The service station has a little deli, and I work there, and all the boys switch the tires and pump gas," said McMahan, who also is pursuing a degree in business and entrepreneurship at Western Carolina University.
The "boys" would be her dad, Sam McMahan (bass); brother Brayden McMahan (banjo, harmony); Cory Piatt (mandolin); Chris Wright (drums); David Meyer (guitar, fiddle, piano, vocals); and Jimmy Meyer (rhythm guitar, harmony).
Their big break came unexpectedly — a few weeks after a band meeting in January 2015 and after the members initially nixed auditioning for America's Got Talent as a way to build their fan base.
"We kind of thought they wouldn't want to hear what we were playing," Summer McMahan said.
Her mom thought otherwise. Unbeknownst to the band, she submitted a video to the TV show. The rest is history.
Those who go to the Sertoma Spring Bluegrass Festival can expect to hear three of the four tunes that got Mountain Faith to the semifinals on America's Got Talent — Counting Stars, I Believe in a Thing Called Love, Shut Up and Dance and I Can't Feel My Face. Their sets also will feature selections from the all-gospel CD That Which Matters, which was released in October, and some newer original secular songs.
Another "must see" at the festival will be Raybon, who hails from Sanford and has racked up numerous accolades and awards, including a couple of Grammy Awards over a career that has spanned nearly three decades.
Raybon is probably known best for his stint as lead singer with Shenandoah and a vocal pairing with Alison Krauss that brought a Country Music Association award and her first Grammy for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals in 1995 for Somewhere in the Vicinity of the Heart.
The Dixie Echoes, a Southern gospel group that has been together for 50 years, will perform during an Easter sunrise service, offering an alternative for those who otherwise would pack up their camping gear and head home.
"These guys are legendary. They've played Carnegie Hall. They've been everywhere," Evans said.
The Sunday morning celebration is a free offering.
"We want to invite anyone in the area that wants to celebrate Easter with us to come," Evans said, adding that organizers will be hiding 2,000 Easter eggs filled with special prizes over the course of the festival.
Also performing: Dry Branch Fire Squad, Carolina Road, Remington Ryde, the Backporch Pickers, Penny Creek and Debbie Domer.
Other activities include a potluck supper, movie night, bingo, special children's workshops, an instrument petting zoo, face painting and hayrides.
Contact Michele Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MicheleMiller52.