Virginia Folklife Program

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities

HoustonFest 2014

Houston Caldwell's army fatigues.

Houston Caldwell’s army fatigues.

The opening ceremonies at HoustonFest featured a fire company honor guard and the Church Sisters singing the national anthem from the top of a hook-and-ladder truck.

The opening ceremonies at HoustonFest featured a fire company honor guard and the Church Sisters singing the national anthem from the top of a hook-and-ladder truck.

The city of Galax came alive in early May for the fourth annual Houstonfest. Born out of a community’s grief over the tragic passing of Houston Caldwell, a gifted banjoist and dedicated contributor to the civic life of Galax, Houstonfest has quietly become one of the true jewels of the Virginia festival circuit. Under gorgeous skies, the thousands who flocked to Felt’s Park were treated to stellar sets by such luminaries of bluegrass as Ralph Stanley, the Whites, Sammy Shelor and the Lonesome River Band, and many others. Ricky Skaggs, husband of Sharon White, made a surprise appearance and joined both Stanley and the Whites on stage in memorable performances.

Boxcars play the main stage.

Boxcars play the main stage.

Asa Gravely looks over the crowd while Jon Lohman leads a workshop remembering Houston Caldwell with former band members from Broken Wire.

Asa Gravely looks over the crowd while Jon Lohman leads a workshop remembering Houston Caldwell with former band members from Broken Wire.

Emcee Harold Mitchell casts a shadow next to a cart painted with a portrait of Doc Watson.

Emcee Harold Mitchell casts a shadow next to a cart painted with a portrait of Doc Watson.

Spectators dance while the Whitetop Mountain Band plays.

Spectators dance while the Whitetop Mountain Band plays.

Three of four Steve Martin prize-winners, from left Jens KrŸuger, Sammy Shelor and Mark Johnson.

Three of four Steve Martin prize-winners, from left Jens KrŸuger, Sammy Shelor and Mark Johnson.

The highlights of this year’s HoustonFest are too numerous to name, but some of them included a first-ever gathering of 3 of the 4 Steve Martin Banjo Award winners, including Virginia’s own Sammy Shelor, along with Mark Johnson, and this year’s recipient, Jens Kruger. Another highlight was the appearance of 87-year-old Stanley with his Clinch Mountain Boys. These and other shows on Ralph’s current “Farewell Tour” were touted as his last, but his grandson Nathan informed the crowd that plans have changed: “We decided that Ralph’s career won’t end until the good Lord decides it will,” he told the crowd to rousing cheers.

Nathan Stanley performs with his grandfather Ralph Stanley. Thousands visited Felt's Pa

Nathan Stanley performs with his grandfather Ralph Stanley. Thousands visited Felt’s Pa

Ralph Stanley, left, takes the stage in front of his son, Ralph Stanley II.

Ralph Stanley, left, takes the stage in front of his son, Ralph Stanley II.

Ricky Skaggs performs with Ralph Stanley.

Ricky Skaggs performs with Ralph Stanley.

Ricky Skaggs played with Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys.

Ricky Skaggs played with Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys.

Buck, Cheryl and Sharon White took the stage with Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys.

Buck, Cheryl and Sharon White took the stage with Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys.

Ralph Stanley takes a photo with the Rhythm-N-Motion Cloggers.

Ralph Stanley takes a photo with the Rhythm-N-Motion Cloggers.

Sammy Shelor, right, plays with the Lonesome River Band.

Sammy Shelor, right, plays with the Lonesome River Band.

Jens KruŸger, center, performs with his brother Uwe, right, and bassist Joel Landsberg.

Jens KruŸger, center, performs with his brother Uwe, right, and bassist Joel Landsberg.

Jens KruŸger performs with his brother Uwe and bassist Joel Landsberg.

Jens KruŸger performs with his brother Uwe and bassist Joel Landsberg.

Kids On Bluegrass performed on the Camp Houston youth stage.

Kids On Bluegrass performed on the Camp Houston youth stage.

What sets this festival apart from so many other bluegrass festivals is its focus on young performers. Simply put, kid pickers were everywhere–on the stages, in the parking lot, and anywhere else they could jam–and their artistry was nothing short of astonishing. Several exciting youth projects, including Close Kin, Generation Bluegrass, and others, were on display, dazzling audiences young and old alike. “I’ll tell you what,” exclaimed Sharon White from the Firehouse Stage during the White’s workshop with Virginia State Folklorist Jon Lohman, “our music is in very good hands.” Many of the young performers will be assisted by the Houston Caldwell Scholarships, created by master dobro player Rob Ickes to provide funds for promising musicians to take lessons with local masters.


Listen to the entire workshop with the Whites above.

Kaden Miller practices with the Loose Strings band.

Kaden Miller practices with the Loose Strings band.

Joe Wilson hangs out with the Whites after their set.

Joe Wilson hangs out with the Whites after their set.

The Whites, Buck, Cheryl and Sharon, perform.

The Whites, Buck, Cheryl and Sharon, perform.

Buck White perform on the main stage.

Buck White perform on the main stage.

Emcee Harold Mitchell checks his watch before taking the stage on the opening day of HoustonFest.

Emcee Harold Mitchell checks his watch before taking the stage on the opening day of HoustonFest.

Luthier Wayne Henderson celebrated his birthday at HoustonFest.

Luthier Wayne Henderson celebrated his birthday at HoustonFest.

Martha Spencer of Whitetop Mountain Band.

Martha Spencer of Whitetop Mountain Band.

Rhythm-N-Motion Cloggers prepare.

Rhythm-N-Motion Cloggers prepare.

The Virginia Folklife Program was proud to be a part of Houstonfest. Houston was a dear friend of ours, gracing our stages and blessing our lives. We can’t wait ‘til next year! See more photos here.

Jeff Little performs with his trio.

Jeff Little performs with his trio.

Danny Knicely plays with Jonny and the Jambusters.

Danny Knicely plays with Jonny and the Jambusters.

Jonny and the Jambusters play HoustonFest.

Jonny and the Jambusters play HoustonFest.