Hickory Hill (photo at top) and High Strung Bluegrass of Paris (above) are on the bill for Friday night's Folk Festival in Heritage Park. High Strung band members are (below) Jack Marshall, Pat Conrad, Bo Creighton and Hugh Jones. Also set to appear are Blue River Band (right) and Beatlegras.

High on 'Grass: A collection of fine musicians and bands will kick of 2008 Folk Festival with a series of Bluegrass concerts Friday night

By TERRY MATHEWS, News-Telegram Arts Editor

May 8, 2008 - Members of the Hopkins County Historical Society are adding a new dimension to the annual Folk Festival. An evening of Bluegrass music will kick off the festival on Friday, May 9.

"We've set aside Friday night for the music," Rick Wilson, current president of the society said. "It's going to be a great evening of Bluegrass."

Joey Baker, director of tourism for the city of Sulphur Springs, agrees with Wilson.

"We want people to come spend the night in Sulphur Springs and enjoy both days of the festival," said Baker, who helped organize this year's musical talent. "We're really excited about the Friday night lineup. We've got the Blue River Band, High Strung Bluegrass, Hickory Hill and Beatlegras on the bill. They're all excellent entertainers."

The Folk Festival will be Beatlegras' first gig since returning from a 10-day tour of Ireland.

"We're excited about our first gig back in East Texas," said Dave Walser, spokesperson for the Dallas-based trio. "We've been working on some 'new' old material including 'I'm Down,' our fastest picking song so far."

Sharing the bill with Beatlegras is Hickory Hill, Blue River Band and High Strung Bluegrass.

Hickory Hill has been playing together for 29 years and is based out of the Longview area, according to their website, www.hickoryhillband.com.

They've released eight well-received Bluegrass albums over the years, including one full gospel offering, "Thank You, Lord," which came out in 2000.

Blue River Band comes to the festival from the Dallas area, and prides themselves on "original arrangements, tight harmonies and enthusiastic rhythms," according to their website, www.blueriverband.com.

The seasoned musicians of High Strung Bluegrass hail from the Paris area and have been playing together about several years, according to their guitar ist Bo Creighton.

"Pat Conrad (bass) and Hugh Jones (banjo) have been playing Bluegrass for many years and are very good at what they do," Creighton said in an email interview with the News-Telegram. "Jack Marshall is a great singer and mandolin picker. When they called me about five years ago to play a little music with them, I was really excited."

Creighton's roots are in traditional country music. He began playing guitar at an early age and kept at it until "I became too busy trying to earn a living and bringing up the children."

When he attended a Bluegrass festival with his wife, Whiz, in 1999, it literally "changed my life," Creighton says.

"I was not happy with the direction country music had gone," he explained. "When I heard what was being played at Bluegrass festivals, I wanted to be hear more and be part of it."

In Creighton's opinion, Bluegrass music is like "traditional, old-time country music in overdrive."

"Most of the songs tell stories of real life and have real meaning to them," he says. "That's what I really like to play and sing."

Creighton credits the movie "Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou" and musician Allison Krauss for the renaissance Bluegrass music is currently enjoying.

"I believe there are many people who are looking for a sound with basic country roots and feelings," Creighton explained. "What everyone calls country music is not the real deal. Bluegrass is filling that void."

Like most entertainers, Creighton and his bandmates want their audience to feel they've gotten their money's worth and, of course, they want them to come back to see them again.

"We try our best to make our audiences happy and to make them smile and laugh," he said. "We do a variety of songs, so hopefully we'll do something that appeals to everyone during the set. Our number one priority is entertaining them."

According to Creighton, his wife handles the band's bookings and business affairs.

Two years ago, the band purchased an old building at 18 West Hearn St. in Paris, where they hold an "open jam session" every Tuesday evening from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. and two monthly stage show at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on the third Sunday of each month.

"We did this to try and keep the music we love alive and to encourage others to get involved," Creighton said.

Tickets to the two-day event are $15. Saturday-only tickets to the Folk Festival are $3. The gates open Friday afternoon at 4:30, with music beginning at 5 p.m. Lawn chairs are recommended, as no formal seating is available. Saturday's festivities begin at 9 a.m. and continue through 3 p.m.

Tickets are available at City National Bank or at the door. Partnering sponsors are M. Hanna Construction and City National Bank. For more information, call 888-300-6623.

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