Still Stompin, the memories return
The internet stirs up stored pictures and stories of the greatest bluegrass festival in American history, Stompin 76.
As a result of extensive promotion encompassing at least twenty states throughout the eastern United States, Stompin 76 became the major festival in the bicentennial year for the southeastern portion of the country, a celebration astronomically overcrowding Carroll County with a 1976 population of approximately 25,000. Most of the audience did not pay the small $12 admission charge for the three days of music. "CES Security redefined their role once they saw the scope of the event and basically surrendered the gate," Davidson recalled. "That's why I liaised with the Pagans."
The picturesque spot for this historic event was a rented farm, then owned by Boyd Lawson, just eight miles north of Galax, Virginia. Performers were transported to the stage via helicopter while audience members parked their cars as far as 11 miles away from on Interstate 77. Some even floated in by raft on the New River. Bonnie Raitt wouldn't fly so she hopped on the back of a biker's Harley to navigate the snarled traffic.
Headlined by then emerging musical artist, but now legendary Bonnie Raitt, some regarded this festival as the greatest experience of their lives and of the American Bicentennial. Some of the locals, however, saw it as one of the biggest fiascos to ever hit the area. Along with the accolades, Davidson has been defamed for decades for bringing the "Woodstock of Bluegrass" to this once sleepy county, which was the real reason the event never returned, unlike modern festivals which become annuities for their communities.
"I wasn't the first Marylander to visit with the intention of doing big things here," Davidson added. "Carroll County was officially named for Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, from Maryland. But not since its establishment in 1842 had such excitement been witnessed. Though raw and invasive, I am proud of the achievement at such a young age, of a great talent lineup and a greater audience all in a natural amphitheater!"
Today, the vibrant 63-year-old still promotes and consults on festivals, but remains a recluse living in the Washington DC metropolis. Despite ill feelings that still exist today toward him by some, he remains the friendly promoter and welcomes contact with just about anyone. He's written some of the best books available on the subject of concert and festival promotion and production.
This week, he announced the possibility of another Stompin, this time in mid-Tennessee, far from the retribution of the Roanoke Times and others not wanting the event to ever return here, though many young people are excited by the memories told in stories from their elders, which have been enhanced after 42 years.
Regardless of individual feelings on the historic festival, it helped ferment Galax as the capital of old-time music, exponentially multiplying the crowds to its annual Fiddler's Convention afterward. The now-famous Floydfest was also inspired by Stompin 76.
Despite the backlash that still continues from Stompin 76, there has been an invigorated interest in this momentous event via the Facebook group called "I was there for Stompin 76." As of today, the group boasts 843 members who share their experiences from long ago. Earlier this year, Stompin 76 was inducted into the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame in Owensboro, Kentucky, which adds to it continued legacy.
The mountains and view of the river were undoubtedly lovely at the time, but the original 400 acre site today being so overgrown, it is hard to envision where people might have been sitting to watch the endless performances of legend after legend. The area, which has long since been regarded as Pot Rock, got its name due to the activities that took place on these hills even before the days of Stompin 76.
"Stompin T-shirts are showing up at bluegrass festivals all over America bringing together a crowd who just keeps stompin," says Davidson. "There's a real undying spirit associated with attending this special event. This one event captured the mood of the time and this feeling is still held in the hearts of everyone who made the sojourn to celebrate together. The resurgence generated by our new interaction on the internet quiet for decades has now stirred latent memories, releasing fresh stories and thoughts of joy. The spirit of Stompin keeps us forever young."
For more information on Stompin 76 T-shirts, poster reproductions and vinyl bumper stickers identical to the originals along with real history, pictures and stories, please visit http://www.stompin76.com. For more information on Hal's books, please visit http://www.concert-
Hal Davidson and Zach Cooley