The Vandalia Leader

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It’s the music that matters

Posted on Thursday, June 6, 2024 at 10:14 pm

Back 40 Bluegrass Festival fills the air with song

By Stan Schwartz

Once the rain had finally moved out of the area, the Back 40 Bluegrass Festival took on a more vibrant atmosphere.

The festival was born out of one family’s love for Bluegrass music and their love for their son, who enjoys playing Bluegrass music. Darrell Turnbull began playing when he was just 12 years old.

Darrell’s family could see what a naturally gifted musician he was. His grandparents would take him to Bluegrass festivals all over the place. Then they hit on the idea of creating a venue of their own about 16 years ago. They converted 40 acres of their cow pasture into a campground and music venue. They built the stage at the bottom of a gently sloping hill. There are numerous old-growth trees to keep the audience area well shaded. The band area looks as though it’s someone’s front porch. And when the bands show up, it’s just like having family sitting outside playing music and enjoying each other’s company.

Darrell learned how to be a venue promoter and started bringing in some of the top Bluegrass acts. When they first started the festival, they had just one over Memorial Day weekend. A few years down the road, and they added a second one over the Labor Day weekend. But after COVID hit and they had to shutter the event venue, everything changed. Once restrictions were lifted, the Turnbull family returned to the one annual event. And they moved it one week off of the Memorial Day weekend so as not to compete with other events.

This year’s festival started on Thursday last week and went until Sunday, noon. Rain hampered the venue through mid-day on Saturday. Still, the audience came prepared. Many had tarps, umbrellas and all sorts of rain gear. A few had small tents to keep them protected from the elements.

It was a pretty-good sized crowd filing the audience area Saturday afternoon. Even so, Yvonne Turnbull, Darrell’s Mom, said it probably would have been twice the size if the weather had been better. Ashley Turnbull, Darrell’s wife, agreed with her.

Former Bowling Green High School Principal Scott Mullins was enjoying the music with his wife and sister. Even though he had brought a tarp and umbrella he was still drenched from the morning rains. He said his wife and sister had left earlier and walked off with his rain gear. Now that the sky was clearing and the weather forecast was calling for an end to the rain, he was headed home to get some dry clothes.

He said he and his wife discovered this Bluegrass festival in their proverbial backyard three years ago and enjoyed the music and venue so much that they return every year.

Yvonne said a lot of people have the wrong idea about what Bluegrass music is.

“Once they get here and listen,” she explained, “they really start to enjoy it.”

Not to mention how family friendly, the whole place is. They have a strict no alcohol or drugs policy in the audience area. No smoking or vaping in the audience area either. There’s a swing set adjacent to the seating area along with a large bathroom and shower building for the campers and attendees. They also built a mini music store for the band members who might need supplies for their instruments. A concession stand at the back is run by one of the Curryville church groups who use the profits to help fund their missionary work.

A few food vendors set up as well, offering lemonade and popcorn.

The big draw for the event was Rhonda Vincent and The Rage. They played their first session at 4 p.m. on Saturday, and returned that evening to close out the day’s shows. Darrell’s group, The Missouri River Band, is a big draw for the locals.

On Sunday, there was a sunrise service and they closed out the venue at noon.

It takes a lot of work to keep the venue well maintained. But the Turnbulls do it out of love for the music and their community. The ticket price is affordable for those who don’t have a lot of money. Because of that, Darrell said, they’re happy when they can cover paying the bands out of what they get from the audience, otherwise they have to pay it out of their own pocket. A full day’s entertainment is just $10 per person for adults. Children age 0 – 18 are admitted for free with adult supervision.

There are no advance or online festival ticket sales to prevent scammers from selling bogus tickets. You drive up, buy your ticket, and then park. Ashley noted last year that they only sell their logo merchandise at the Bluegrass festival. She noted that if you didn’t buy it from them, then it wasn’t authentic.

Their campground has 400 campsites. And the show always goes on, rain or shine.