The Festy Experience returns this weekend for the seventh straight year, taking place Friday through Sunday at its new home, the Nelson County Preserve in Arrington. Once again, the festival will feature an impressive mix of national acts and local bands—focusing on some of the best in bluegrass, Americana and roots rock. Especially intriguing this year are the unique collaborations taking place between acts on the three-day bill. Here are five essential sets to catch.
The Infamous Stringdusters: Ladies and Gentlemen
Earlier this year bluegrass expansionists The Infamous Stringdusters—The Festy Experience hosts—released Ladies and Gentlemen, a collaborative studio album with an impressive cast of some of the band’s favorite female vocalists. A handful of the album’s high-profile participants—Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lee Ann Womack, Sara Watkins, Abigail Washburn and Nicki Bluhm—are on The Festy line-up and will likely join the Stringdusters during the band’s Ladies and Gentlemen set on Friday evening. After the Stringdusters’ three-hour, two-set headlining slot on Saturday night, the band’s fiddle player, Jeremy Garrett, will lead an acoustic gospel set on Sunday at noon.
Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen
An undisputed highlight from last year’s Festy was the joint set featuring Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt—two iconic troubadours sitting side by side, trading songs and stories with coffeehouse-style intimacy. On Sunday, Lovett will return to the festival to revive the duo format, this time performing with Texas tunesmith Robert Earl Keen. While both performers have decades of material to mine, expect to hear a version of Jimmie Rodgers’ “T for Texas,” a song the pair sang together on Keen’s 2015 album, Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions.
North Mississippi Allstars and Anders Osborne
On Saturday, the North Mississippi Allstars team up with New Orleans singer-songwriter-turned-electric-guitar ace Anders Osborne, revisiting a project unveiled last year with the album Freedom & Dreams under the name North Mississippi Osborne. The Allstars use traditional hill country blues as a launchpad for fuzzy psychedelic tangents, while Osborne is a swamp rocker with a crafty, lyrical mind. Expect a hard-driving journey between the Delta and the bayou with plenty of guitar fireworks along the way.
Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn
Best known for jazz-meets-bluegrass explorations with his longtime band the Flecktones, banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck has lately been concentrating on a duo project with his wife, fellow plucker and songwriter Abigail Washburn. The pair will take The Festy’s main stage under the afternoon sky on Friday, playing banjo duets that move from old folk songs to more complex instrumentals.
Prolific songwriter and Grand Ole Opry veteran Jim Lauderdale recently received some serious props when he was given the WagonMaster Lifetime Achievement Award at last month’s Americana Honors & Awards. Although not a household name, Lauderdale has written country hits for the likes of George Strait, who presented him with the award, and recorded albums with Ralph Stanley and Robert Hunter. Lauderdale will be The Festy M.C., and likely have his guitar in tow to play some tunes with other artists on the bill.