Strum and Twang 

According to Ron Jewell, director of the Bartlett Performing Arts and Conference Center, this year's Pickin' Picnic Bluegrass Festival is a swan song for BPACC's Pickin' partner Lucy Opry. Will and Beth Mays, who promoted bluegrass shows through the Opry, have decided to hang it up. (BPACC plans to continue with the festival.) On the bright side, given the lineup of this two-day event, the Lucy Opry will be going out with a bang — or a twang, as it were.

The shows on Friday and Saturday during the day are free and feature a mix of contemporary and traditional acts, including the Tennessee Boltsmokers, Blue Day, and crowd favorites 2 Mule Plow. The only ticketed event is Saturday's finale concert with Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out (pictured). Moore was twice named "Male Vocalist of the Year" by the Bluegrass Association. He's backed up by what Jewell describes as a bluegrass super-group. "They're a major, major bluegrass act," Jewell says. "Moore's got vocal chops, and the members of the band are great musical gunslingers."

One mainstay of the Bluegrass Festival is the impromptu jam circle. A performer plays in the center of the circle while fans who've brought their instruments accompany him or her at the edges. There's a back-and-forth among the professionals and the novices, and as those fans become more comfortable, the circle gets tighter. These circle sessions happen all weekend all over the festival's site and even extend past closing time.

"The best fun I have during the weekend is going out to the parking lot late at night," Jewell says. "It remains full of these players."

Pickin' Picnic Bluegrass Festival, at the Bartlett Performing Arts and Conference Center Friday, May 7th, starting at 6 p.m., and Saturday, May 8th, starting at 10 a.m. The Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out concert on Saturday begins at 8 p.m. Tickets for this concert are $20.

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