Bluegrass fest adds a mystery element

Who’s headlining this month’s Mitch and Cindy’s Bluegrass Music Festival?

It’s a mystery.

Mitch Meadors and Cindy Matheson, founders of the festival that started in 2018, decided not to reveal the identity of the headliner for the second night of the event, which runs May 24 to 26 at the Trumbull County Fairgrounds.

“Mitch had a dream — this was before COVID — and in the dream he saw our flier and it said, ‘Mystery Band,'” Matheson said. “He thought, what an awesome idea. We considered doing it for 2020, then of course the festival got canceled and we weren’t able to have it in 2020 or 2021

“When it came back in 2022, it was almost like starting over. It was too important to try something like that. Let’s make sure it’s sustainable to continue first.”

They plan to put a curtain in front of the stage. When the music starts, the curtain will drop and the band will be revealed. All Matheson would say is it’s a nationally touring bluegrass act.

In a survey Matheson once did for a different bluegrass festival, she was surprised to discover that about 90% of the respondents said they would return regardless of the lineup. That gave them confidence to give the mystery band concept a try.

Still, they realize it’s a risky choice.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” she said. “It’s something exciting and fun, but we don’t get to advertise this great band that people follow.”

When they considered doing it in 2020, the first act they approached passed, not seeing the logic in playing a show they couldn’t tell their fans and followers about in advance. The act performing this year is more amenable to the concept.

“They were excited to try to pull this off, and they were on board with it,” Matheson said.

The rest of the lineup isn’t a secret, and the festival will feature Coney Carver & Rainbow Valley Boys, Crabgrass, Kenny & Amanda Smith Bonding Buddys (Buzz Matheson & Mitchee) and karaoke with live musical accompaniment provided by the Clay Hess Band on May 24 and Muddy Krick, Robert Russell & Full Flavor, Lincoln Mash & Heather Alley and the Clay Hess Band before the mystery act on May 25.

“Robert Russell is not well known, but he’s probably one of the best singers I’ve ever heard in my life,” Matheson said. “He’s one of those unknown gems. As soon as they get to hear him, they’re going to be blown away. We try to find some new talent every year.”

When the festival started in 2018, it ran Thursday to Saturday, but Matheson said they learned that many couldn’t get there on Thursday due to jobs, school, etc., so they shifted to a Friday to Sunday schedule.

Sunday features a gospel service that is free to attend, and there also will be a vendors market from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 26.

The festival grounds will reopen at 4 p.m. with a separate admission fee (free for weekend pass holders) for the classic rock band Speed Limit.

“That brings in a whole different crowd and allows different music lovers to enjoy the event,” Matheson said.

The goal is to create a traditional, family-friendly bluegrass festival.

“Mitch and I have been in bluegrass all our lives,” Matheson said. “We know every band on the circuit personally, and we try to keep it more traditional in concept. We don’t want to get too progressive. We want it to feel like a wholesome, family-friendly event.”

Have an interesting story? Contact Andy Gray by email at agray@tribtoday.com. Follow us on X, formerly Twitter, @TribToday.


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