HUNTINGTON — This coming new year will be a big one for the Fly In Festival, which happens every August at Robert Newlon Airpark, located 5 miles from downtown Huntington.
Combining top-of-the-line bluegrass and old-time music with skydiving, airplane tours, Ohio River kayaking and boating, camping and campfire jamming all night long, this local festival is growing on a national level.
The 2020 version of the Fly In Festival will mark the fifth year for the event, which is still growing with added attractions and national award-winning bands.
Until now, the Fly In Festival has featured lineups of bluegrass and old-time bands hosted by the legendary West Virginia group The Bing Brothers featuring Jake Krack. On top of that, the event has become the host festival for the prestigious Robin Kessinger West Virginia Flatpick Guitar Championship. The winner of the contest has his or her entrance fee paid to the National Flatpicking Guitar Championship held every year in Winfield, Kansas. Kessinger, himself a two-time winner of the National Flatpicking Guitar Championship, will also hold an instructional workshop at the festival.
Now, there has been a new competition added to the Fly In Festival. Beginning in 2020, the get-together will host the Clark Kessinger Memorial Fiddle Contest. The competition honors Mountain State fiddler Clark Kessinger. Kessinger, who was one of the most influential old-time fiddlers in the history of the genre, lived from 1896 to 1975.
The lineup of the 2020 Fly In Festival has been announced and will once again feature the best of bluegrass and old-time mountain music. The dates of the festival have been set for Aug. 27-29.
The big news for the 2020 event is that fiddler Michael Cleveland and his band Flamekeeper have been added to the Fly In Festival bill. Cleveland has won the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Fiddle Player of the Year award a record-setting 12 times, including in 2019. His band Flamekeeper has won the IBMA Instrumental Group of the Year award five times, including in 2019. All of that adds up to a headlining band that will be coming to the Fly In Festival hot as a firecracker.
That Friday night’s schedule will also feature bluegrass great Don Rigsby as well as the Kenny and Amanda Smith band. Kenny Smith is a two-time winner of the aforementioned National Flatpicking Guitar Championship, and he is also a two-time winner of the IBMA Guitar Player of the Year award. Amanda Smith is a winner of the IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year award as well.
Along with Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper, Don Rigsby and the Kenny and Amanda Smith band, Friday’s lineup will include rising stars the Caleb Daugherty Band, Schultz Creek, Bobby Maynard and Breakdown, Southridge and local favorites String Therapy.
That Saturday’s bill features headliners The Bing Brothers featuring Jake Krack, two-time IBMA Entertainers of the Year winners The Grascals, featuring five-time IBMA Banjo Player of the Year Kristin Scott Benson, and Danny Paisley and Southern Grass, featuring IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year award winner Danny Paisley.
The rest of Saturday’s lineup includes the Pocahontas County bluegrass legends the Black Mountain Bluegrass Boys featuring Richard Hefner, Dave Bing and Snakewinder, Charlie Woods and Deep Hollow, the Kentucky-fied Pickers, Mud Hole Control and Julie and Kelly Ray Davis.
There is also big news for the Fly In Festival coming Jan. 1. On that date, this annual Huntington event will be featured in the cover article of Bluegrass Unlimited magazine’s yearly Festival Issue. Bluegrass Unlimited is the 50-plus-year-old “Bible of the Bluegrass Genre.” After the first of the year, you will be able to read the cover article on the Fly In Festival at bluegrassmusic.com. The rest of this print magazine can be found at bookstores, magazine stands and by subscription. More information can be found at the website.
(Full disclosure — the author of the Bluegrass Unlimited article on the Fly In Festival also wrote this article for The Herald-Dispatch.)
Tickets for the 2020 Fly In Festival will go on sale Feb. 1. There will be plenty of space for primitive camping available, and food and drink will be sold onsite at the air-conditioned Fly In Cafe.
Stay tuned to the festival website as the summer of 2020 comes along for information on entering the Robin Kessinger West Virginia Flatpick Guitar Championship and the Clark Kessinger Memorial Fiddle Contest. More information about the festival can be found at www.facebook.com/FlyInFestival/.