03 Sep FESTIVAL FEATURE/HIGHLIGHTS: LAUREL COVE MUSIC FESTIVAL 2022 (GALLERY)
Southeastern Kentucky is famous in folklore for numerous, infamous, and historical recollections, including the exploits of Daniel Boone, the Cumberland Gap, coal mines, and those who labored away in them. It also has a rich musical legacy, one showing no signs of waning with its wealth of talent and special events, such as the Laurel Cove Music Festival. This dandy of a two-day music festival is set inside Laurel Cove Amphitheater, a majestic piece of Heaven on Earth, nestled away in Pine Mountain State Resort Park, Pineville (Bell County), Kentucky, amid an appropriate host of lush mountain laurels. The stage is framed in this would-be holler by a gently sloping rock formation, a small pond up front, and a sheer cliff face in the back. The resulting acoustics are outstanding, augmented by the carefully curated atmosphere courtesy of Bell County Tourism Director Jon Grace and his large staff of volunteers.
In its third year, Laurel Cove pushed close to the amphitheater’s stated capacity of 1,300 attendees, offering a stacked lineup of emerging and established musical talent. Focusing on a diverse blend of local and national touring acts, including Appalachian, country, bluegrass, folk, and rock genres, Laurel Cove offers fans an opportunity to see some of the fastest rising stars in the business (Sierra Ferrell, Charles Wesley Godwin) within an intimate setting. The festival also showcases freshly emerging talent from across the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
One of the most notable elements of Laurel Cove is the value of the weekend’s entertainment. Passes across two full days, 28 bands, and two stages were available for $75. A VIP option with preferred/assigned seats and a festival poster was slightly more at $100. In times where people are paying $700 or more for lawn seats to watch pop country acts from the Nashville machine, Laurel Cove offered superior talent for over five times the duration at a fraction of the price. Everything began at 2:00 PM on Friday with Cody Lee Meece of nearby Somerset, Kentucky, and closed with a late (after midnight) show Saturday from Fayetteville, Arkansas’ Vintage Pistol. Very few music festivals provide this level of talent and value to fans. But it’s not just the price or the subjective assessment of musical quality that makes Laurel Cove stand out. The fellowship among the artists and fans genuinely makes it such a uniquely memorable event. There was a tangible aura of musical brotherhood throughout the weekend as people mingled from stage to audience to associated vendor tents with food, drinks, artwork, crafts, and merchandise. Whether it was the main amphitheater, the smaller creek side stage, the fantastic artwork of Colonel Tony Moore and Isaac Denton, or the local craft vendors, friends new and old were made and reunited everywhere.
The organizers and volunteers well-planned the weekend’s logistics and schedules. Meticulous details were seen on every level, specifically the sound crew, who assured that the tight stage schedules were largely adhered to. Also notable were the efficiency and attention to parking, shuttles, taxi service to nearby hotels, friendly and helpful police and fire/rescue professionals, food and beverages, and restrooms. Everything about the event flowed flawlessly. All of this effort culminated in a well-deserved ceremony near the end of the second day, where Grace was presented with a framed certificate recognizing him as an official Kentucky Colonel. The commission of Kentucky Colonel is the highest title of honor bestowed by the Governor of Kentucky. It recognizes an individual’s noteworthy accomplishments and outstanding service to our community, state, and nation. Congratulations, Colonel Jon Grace!
The official Laurel Cove lineup consisted of (Friday): Sierra Ferrell, John R. Miller, Nicholas Jamerson, Eric Bolander, Luna and the Mountain Jets, Dave Shoemaker, Cody Lee Meece, Abby Hamilton, Lance Rogers, Tyler Smith, Jason Tyler Burton, Danielle Waters, with Buffalo Wabs and the Price Hill Hustle (late night); and (Saturday); Charles Wesley Godwin, Cole Chaney with Wolfpen Branch, Kelsey Waldon, Justin Wells, Tony Logue, Caleb Caudle, Logan Halstead, Bella White, Drayton Farley, Vincent Neil Emerson, Dalton Mills, Tiffany Williams, Tim Goodin, Clarke Sexton, and Vintage Pistol (late night)
Highlight Performances as noted by our staff:
- Sierra Ferrell – The entire event was non-stop, one amazing set after another, but her performance was simply the best of the best. Picture yourself under the stars on a late spring evening at the bottom of a holler with her angelic voice complemented in three-part harmony as it bounces off the cliffs and reflects off the pool in front of the stage. Her fantastic costume and stage arrangements manage to augment perfection. This one set was worth the price of admission. “In Dreams” was all too prophetic.
- Drayton Farley – Saturday’s opening performance at noon was so powerful that there were two standing ovations for the Alabama native. His voice was just that powerful, and the audience was “Pitchin’ Fits” that Farley couldn’t sing more.
- Justin Wells – After turning in an outstanding set, and graciously making way for the next artists on the schedule, his fellow performers blocked stage stairs, insisting that Wells return and play his signature song, “The Dogs.” One of the best basslines in country music soon followed as Justin customized the song to the event, invoking the festival’s name.
- John R, Miller – Laurel Cove Music Festival feels like the perfect setting to listen to John R. Miller. One of the greatest songwriters around, backed by an incredible band, plopped down in the middle of trees, cliffs, and a crowd of people enchanted by every word and note. Miller’s performance of “Shenandoah Shakedown” was one we’ll remember for some time.
- Cole Chaney with Wolfpen Branch – Whoever dreamed up this pairing is a genius! You take one of the best and most distinctive new singers/songwriters in the business and pair him with a first-class bluegrass band, and the result is exponentially better than the sum of its parts. Chaney’s “Coalshooter,” “Ill Will Creek,” and “Another Day in the Life” punctuated a brilliant performance.
- Charles Wesley Godwin – The Festival Headliner brought the house down Saturday evening with his outstanding seven-piece band and a collection of songs from his outstanding albums, “Seneca,” and “How the Mighty Fall.” Al Torrance’s guitar strap spin at stage right was almost as impressive as his playing that evening. Godwin, a native of Morgantown, West Virginia, and crew finished off the show with their signature closer, John Denver’s “Country Roads,” to thunderous applause and participation from the crowd.
- Eric Bolander – The cello driven “Window” cast a haunting vibe throughout the amphitheater, setting the audience up for more brilliance In the forms of “Closer To That Flame,” “The Wind,” and his signature interpretation of “Purple Rain.” However, most striking to this publication’s staff was Bolander’s visible support from the audience of his fellow performers after his own set concluded. And if that wasn’t cool enough, Eric and festival maestro Grace, were seen together sporting trucker caps from 2021 Laurel Cove artists, Mike and the Moonpies.
- Kelsey Waldon – Playing a blend of tunes from her established catalog, Waldon engaged the crowd with the likes of “White Noise, White Lines” and “Black Patch.” She was absolutely “High in Heels” while weaving in songs from her new Shooter Jennings produced record, No Regular Dog, including “Sweet Little Girl.”
- Creekside Stage – Those who ventured a short distance away to the Creekside Stage were treated to a variety of excellent singer/songwriter sets including those from Vincent Neil Emerson, Abby Hamilton, Lance Rodgers, and Tiffany Williams.
- Late Night Shows – After a full slate of entertainment throughout the day, each evening was capped off with rousing performances from Buffalo Wabs and the Price Hill Hustle (Friday) and Vintage Pistol (Saturday).
For more information about Laurel Cove Music Festival: