For the past 31 years, the fourth weekend in July has meant it’s time for the best of bluegrass music and dancing to take center stage in Franklin during Bluegrass Along the Harpeth.
The traditional music of mountain life, modernized a bit over the years with the introduction of a couple new instruments, filled the air in and around downtown Franklin Friday and Saturday.
Friday’s crowd was the largest first-night attendance on record, said Tommy Jackson, event producer.
“Some small businesses and vendors said they’d never seen so many people on the square [on Friday night],” he said.
The attendees came from near and far to watch or be a part of the event. The award-winning Rocky Top Revue dancers performed, and the music included Larry Chunn and Step Ahead, headliner Tim Watson — “The Fiddle Man” — and about 60 bands and singers competing for prize money and titles.
Chunn, a Williamson County native, was born and raised in the Little Texas area of Peytonsville. At a very early age, he became a fan of Bill Monroe, who most influenced his music.
Jackson’s and Chunn’s relationship goes way back. Chunn joined the Rocky Top Revue team when he was 9 years old and met his future wife, Cheryl, also a dancer on another team, during competitions. She eventually joined the Rocky Top Revue before she and Chunn joined the Grand Ole Opry dancers, and she now plays fiddle for Step Ahead.
Watson has a big talent and personality and a unique performance style. He has traveled with Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Charlie Daniels and Willie Nelson, and one of his oldest and best friends is Loretta Lynn.
During his performance Friday, Watson told stories of his time with several well-known country and bluegrass bands.
“Tim is personable,” Jackson said. “When he talks, people listen, and when he plays, he is having fun — everyone in the band is having fun.”
Watson’s son, TJ, a member of ZZ Top for a time, joined his father’s band a few years ago. He plays the guitar, harmonica and sings.
Watson enjoyed his time Friday night so much he returned Saturday to close out the event.
Saturday’s heat and humidity affected the size of the crowd some, but more than 60 old-time string and bluegrass band competitors from all over the country played.
“It was hot — very hot,” Jackson said. “We had good crowds, but they were transitional because of the heat. People would come and go. It was steady, but good. At sundown, it got larger.”
Jackson enjoys getting out into the crowds and speaking with the spectators. He found people from all over the country.
“People from California and Colorado stopped me and asked for more information about the competitions,” he said. “They liked the way we handled [the competition], the organization and the clean family fun atmosphere.”
For those who missed Watson at the festival, he will perform at the Williamson County Fair on opening day Aug. 5. For more information about him, go to www.thefiddleman.com.