SOMERSET, Ky. – There is no better marker of summer in Southeastern Kentucky than the Master Musicians Festival (MMF), held annually on the grounds of Somerset Community College. This year’s event will take place July 16 and 17 and features legendary band Blues Traveler as the headliner, with other greats like The Steeldrives, The Local Honeys and The Wooks also taking the stage.
The presenting sponsor is the City of Somerset, and the main stage and VIP tent are sponsored by Horse Soldier Bourbon. Other major sponsors include Forcht Bank, Citizens National Bank and Pro Trade Hardware.
“We were so excited to learn of this event as we started looking into making Somerset our home,” said Scott Neil, Horse Soldier Bourbon’s chief operating officer. “It’s these types of authentic, longstanding community traditions that really make a place special. I can’t wait to see it firsthand.”
Neil will also be helping with MMF art auction, a highly-anticipated festival tradition. This year’s featured artwork is “Festival Feels” by Marko Coo Art. As in years past, the auction will begin Friday night and continue Saturday.
Saturday night’s headliner is Blues Traveler, is a three-decade strong band featuring the unforgettable harmonica-playing, soulful lead singer John Popper. The four original members of Blues Traveler — Popper, Chandler Kinchla, Brendan Hill, and the late Bobby Sheehan — started playing together in high school and went on to release 13 studio albums, four of which have gone gold, three platinum, and one six-times platinum. Blues Traveler’s famous hit “Run Around” is the longest-charting radio single in Billboard history.
Playing just before Blues Traveler is Nashville bluegrass band The Steeldrivers, once led by country music singer-songwriter Chris Stapleton and now captained by Kelvin Damrell, a 25-year-old rock-n-roll singer from Berea, Ky. The band’s core members — Richard Bailey (banjo), Tammy Rogers (fiddle), Mike Fleming (bass) and Brent Truitt (mandolin) — have been musical colleagues and friends for more than three decades. The band’s latest album, Bad for You, topped bluegrass charts in 2020, successfully following its 2015 Grammy-winning bluegrass album The Muscle Shoals Recordings.
In what may be Saturday’s most impactful performance, Nashville singer-songwriter and bandleader Devon Gilfillian will bring his key music ingredient — soul — to the main stage. Gilfillian has toured with the likes of Keith Urban, Gladys Knight, The Fray, Grace Potter and Mavis Staples. But his soulful performances were matched during the COVID-19 pandemic by his contributions to democracy. Gilfillian re-recorded Marvin Gaye’s iconic album, “What’s Going On,” in 2020, directing funds raised to low-income communities and communities of color — providing resources and education about the democratic process.
While Saturday is the main event, Friday night at MMF has earned a reputation for bringing the party and 2021 will be no exception. Kentucky bluegrass favorites The Wooks will return to the festival as the Friday night headliner and will deliver a spectacular two sets that evening — the second a late-night jam in honor of the late bluegrass legend John Prine. Prine headlined MMF in 2018 and passed away in 2020 after battling COVID-19. Bee Taylor will bring down the house just before The Wooks on Friday night. Taylor is an American singer-songwriter best known for her gut-pulling lyrics and get-down grooves.
“We simply cannot wait to greet our crowd,” said Tiffany Finley, MMF executive director. “Music has the ability to heal and inspire, and we hope by having the festival this year we’re able to do a little of both. We’ve been through an incredibly difficult year as an organization and a community. Our hope is that we can safely bring a little normalcy and a lot of happiness and outstanding music to our festival-goers.”
Held annually in July, the Master Musicians Festival has been named Southeast Tourism Society’s Festival of the Year and the Governor’s Awards for the Arts Outstanding Community Arts Organization.
In addition to two days of eclectic, diverse music, the Master Musicians Festival offers meet-and-greet workshops hosted by artisans and musicians, as well as a wide variety of art and food vendors. MMF also showcases juried artisans and craftsmen, and recognizes a Kentucky artist whose festival-themed work is auctioned and featured on merchandise. For tickets, visit the MMF ticket website.
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