By Sheena Barnett/NEMS Daily Journal
NEW ALBANY – The best bluegrass musicians are battling it out to see who’s the best this weekend, and fans get to watch – and listen.
This Saturday is the 11th annual Down from the Hills Heritage Music Festival. The festival includes a competition for the best bluegrass band in the state, as well as competitions for instruments like banjo, dobro, fiddle, mandolin and guitar.
The festival also includes arts and crafts, a quilt show, educational programs, pony pull and food, but the music is the star of the show.
“We started it just as a venue to preserve the music,” said Jill Smith, director of the Union County Heritage Museum. “The hope now is to create a venue not only for older people who love and have maintained this art form, but for the youth, too.”
The competition draws musicians from across Mississippi and from other states like Kentucky, New York and California, Smith said.
Winners are given cash prizes, and this year about $8,000 will be divvied up among the champs.
Bands and musicians can register at any time, including the day of the festival. Judges include musicians from as far away as Nashville and as close to home as Pontotoc.
Last year Booneville-based Breaking Grass took home the top band prize, with several members holding titles in the instrument categories.
In addition to the competitions, there will be performances by Lost Cause and Ben Hall, a world champ guitar player from Okolona.
Down from the Hills also includes workshops, like a drum circle taught by Mississippi State instructor Robert Damm, and sessions on Celtic and Suzuki music. Workshops for children will take place on Friday.
Smith said she hopes the Down from the Hills competition keeps bluegrass alive by maintaining the music and introducing it to new generations.
“We want to see the art form grow,” she said.