IRONTON — For several years now, the folks who live in, grew up in and love Ironton have worked hard to try and revive the riverfront area of this scenic, nearby city.
Like many places found along the mighty Ohio River, Ironton was a boom town years ago when coal was king, locally made iron was in demand and the second-biggest river in the U.S. was a major hub for trade. As the years have passed by and the economy has changed over time, the classic downtown buildings still exist in many of these places. In Ironton, there has been a move to revive the heart of the city and the newest example of this is effort is the upcoming Ohio River Revival music festival happening this weekend.
Taking place from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, this free music festival boasts an impressive lineup of American roots music. Headlining the event are two of the top nationally touring acts in bluegrass music with The Larry Keel Experience and the Songs From The Road Band.
Larry Keel is a long-time champion of newgrass and bluegrass music with his trio featuring himself on vocals and his acclaimed flatpick guitar-playing wife Jenny Keel on bass and Jared Pool on mandolin. He has jammed with many legends over the years, from Tony Rice to Acoustic Syndicate and hundreds of other acclaimed artists along the way.
When the award-winning bassist, songwriter and trout fishing guide Charles R. Humphrey III left the Steep Canyon Rangers to form a new group, the Songs From The Road Band was created. The outfit features Humphrey along with jamgrass veteran Mark Schimick on mandolin, guitarist and vocalist Sam Wharton, two-time National Fiddle Champion James Schlender slinging the bow and Gabe Epstein on the banjo, who is a product of the lauded East Tennessee State University Bluegrass, Old-Time, Celtic and Country Music program. Their latest album is titled “Road To Nowhere.”
The rest of the bill includes the Restless Leg String Band, which hails from Kentucky, Ohio favorites String Therapy and the Coal Cave Hollow Boys, Beggars Clan, Building Rockets, Shawn Benfield, PVT Miller and the Starshooters and Jeremiah Hatfield.
Along with 12 hours of live music scheduled in the outdoors, the Ohio River Revival will feature food trucks, beer trucks and an array of local arts and crafts on hand as well.
Running the Ohio River Revival is Bob Delong, who is a festival producer and booker who is now based in Raleigh, North Carolina. Delong, however, grew up in Ironton so this project is a labor of love, hoping to bring folks to town to enjoy the revived downtown area.
“I went to see Katrina Keith, who was the mayor of Ironton in 2019, and I told her about my ideas and how I’d like to revitalize the riverfront and bring in some different entertainment to our town,” said Delong. “The whole idea of a music festival is to bring people together and showcase our music community. People will come in from all over and this is a good way to open our doors and let folks see this beautiful spot that we have right here. Hopefully, we will get families relocating here as well. There are some buildings being rejuvenated in the downtown section with loft apartments put in and more. As for this Saturday, we want people to get out and relieve their stresses and have a good time and maybe drink a beer as they listen to live music.”
The Ohio River will be the perfect backdrop for the festival.
“We are hoping that some of performers stick around and jam together at the end of the night,” said Delong. “The stage faces the entrance to the boat landing during the show, and the sun goes down behind the stage. I love it. It is beautiful down there.”
Delong hopes that by making it a free concert, it will entice folks to make the short yet pleasant drive to Bobby Bare Bouelvard and Center Street in Ironton for some jamgrass fun.
“I think you will be getting a great show for the price,” said Delong, laughing.
“The thing is; I wanted this festival to be free. We worked hard to get donations and our wonderful sponsors to fund it, including Rowdy’s Smokehouse, Press Room Recordings, Armstrong Neighborhood Channel, Elite Welding Academy, lawyer Robert C. Delawder, River Cities Wireless and Tri-State Nursery and Landscape. We are a non-profit organization that is trying to make a great free event for the community to enjoy without having to pay high ticket prices. That way, they can bring their whole families out to the show and walk through the gate and have some fun.”
More information can be found at facebook.com/ohioriverrevival.