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Festival not to be missed

Published 10:58pm Thursday, August 29, 2013

Last year, my wife and I made a last-minute decision to hit Smithfield’s Aiken and Friends Music Festival on a Saturday that had threatened rain.

My grandfather was the singer and lead guitarist in a band for many years — wrote hundreds of songs up until his death, often about faithful sheep dogs, fast women and his boyhood home in the mountains — and the festival sounded like something he would have enjoyed.

We were not disappointed. The rustic setting amid old red barns in Windsor Castle Park added to the ringing authenticity of the performers and their music.

We sat on hay bales and heard an array of music I don’t think you’d hear together anywhere else in Hampton Roads, and even beyond.

The lineup included David Orton, whose “Jerusalem Tomorrow” has been made famous by Emmylou Harris; Bonnie Bishop, more in your modern crossover Nashville mold; and a guy named Sergio Webb, who looked like a hayseed but was more than pretty good on the acoustic and electric guitar and ukulele.

While it doesn’t seem like a year has passed, the eighth annual festival is set for Oct. 4-5. You may have read about the lineup in Thursday’s newspaper or online. Once again, organizers have assembled a talented bunch of original performers, including Buzz Cason, Danny Flowers, Austin Cunningham, Mojo Collins, the Hungry Monks and LEA.

If you’ve never heard of them, don’t let that put you off. As put by Jim Abicht, director of Smithfield Music, “It’s a lot of people you may not have heard of, but may have heard from.”

Schedule permitting, we’ll make our way to this year’s event as well, for it really is a rare opportunity.

I hope the rain will hold off this time — last year got a little wet, which, though an annoyance in all other respects, really brought out the smell of the hay bales.

A good reason to support the event is the education work it helps fund. Smithfield Music, which presents quality entertainment in partnership with Smithfield Little Theater throughout the year, uses proceeds to fund musical education in Isle of Wight County.

In an era in which families entertaining themselves of an evening by creating music together — how my grandfather learned his craft — is a thing of the past, that’s a great thing.

Westside Elementary School’s Advanced Guitar Club, which will also perform at this year’s festival, is an example of the fruits of Smithfield Music.

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