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Bluegrass festival sends music across the fields

Posted on Thursday, September 5, 2019 at 10:19 am

Labor Day audience not deterred by early bad weather

By Stan Schwartz

CURRYVILLE—Yvonne Turnbull, one of the owners of the Back 40 Campground, said, “Rain or shine; the show will go on.” And it did go on last weekend even though heavy rains threated to sweep across the area.
But the heavy rain never materialized. Although it was overcast Thursday and Friday, and parts of Saturday, only a small amount of rain fell. The audience was more than prepared for it and the cooler temperatures that came with the overcast skies. The only thing that would interrupt the music, Yvonne said, would be lightening. Then they would stop and wait out the storm.
Hundreds of people showed up for the four-day festival over Labor Day weekend. And a good many of them stayed right there in the campground created just for The Back 40 Bluegrass Festival. They also host one over Memorial Day weekend. Both are big draws for the bands and the audiences.
This weekend marked the 12th festival the family has held over the Labor Day weekend. But it might never have happened if it had not been for a natural gas pipeline that was put in back in 2008. The family was compensated for the damage done to their property by the construction of the pipeline.
“It was just enough to build it,” said Darrell Turnbull, Yvonne’s son. He was fascinated with bluegrass music from an early age. “We’re farmers he said. We used to run cattle through here,” he added as he pointed across the area where the stage and audience were.
“My grandpa had been sitting out here on the tailgate and said, ‘This would be a pretty place for a bluegrass festival.’” Darrell’s grandparents had taken him to bluegrass festivals because they knew how much he admired the bands that would play at these festivals.
“I told him: ‘grandpa don’t even joke like that, it ain’t funny.’ I come out here a a week later and they were bulldozing the place.” He asked them what they were doing, and they pointed out where they wanted to put the stage and the bathrooms, all the while saving the big trees that now shade the stage and the audience on sunny days.
“We started running the numbers,” he said on what it would cost to build and promote a bluegrass festival. They realized then that it might not be a good idea. But that’s when the pipeline came through the county.
“What they were offering to pay us for damage to the property was almost exactly what we needed to build this place,” Darrell said. “The Lord put everything into place.”
Darrell started playing seriously when he was 12. A friend of the family was a music promoter and had put on festivals before. He came and helped out the Turnbulls, showing them the ropes on how to promote their festival. It was important for the family to build a reputation with the musical artists who traveled to these festivals during the year.
The bands had to know that they were going to be paid if they showed up at the festival to play, Darrell explained. A few years after their festival became established as one of the best in the Midwest, Darrell took over as the promoter, booking the talent.
This is the second appearance for the band that lead off the festival, Firebox. Tyson Tulliver, one of the members said they love coming here to Curryville to play. The band is out of Effingham, Ill., and plays at several bluegrass festivals during the year.
“We’ve been looking forward to coming back here for a long time,” he added.
In addition to sometimes being able to play along side some of his musical idols, Darrell started his own bluegrass group, The Missouri River Band, in 2008.
Starting the festival on a Thursday did have one drawback for Darrell. His regular guitar player was not going to be able to make it there until Saturday. The guy is a school teacher, Darrell said, and he could not get away early.
Filling in for him on Friday was 15-year-old Justus Ross.
“He’s a monster on that guitar,” Darrell said.
Ross said he was excited to be asked to play with Darrell’s band.
“I’ve always looked up to him,” he said. This was the first time he was asked to step in and help out. If he was nervous, he didn’t let it show. And when the band took the stage, he joined in with what looked like practiced ease.
Their first set of the festival was met with wild applause.
When he’s not playing with his band, Darrell is a contractor. His family built all the buildings on the property for the festival, and he did all the wiring.
“That way you have quality control,” he said.
Close to a dozen bands played over the course of the weekend; some at multiple times. Darrell said they like to keep the music fresh for the audience.
It was fitting for this festival to be held over Labor Day weekend, because it is a labor of love for the Turnbull family. Most of the time, Darrell said, they barely make a profit because of the expense of bringing in these top-level bands.
“But it’s not about the money,” he added. “I could take the money we lose and go on a really nice vacation with my wife and kids. Or I can take that same amount of money and put this festival on, and everybody here gets to have fun right along with us.
“I love it. My granddad loved it. My Mom and Dad love it.”