For every musician, whether they are making it in the big time or working to gather a dedicated following on the local level, there is a place they dream of playing. Perhaps it is a place where some of their favorite bands have taken the stage over the years and the location has become an icon for their genre of music. For the Due South Band, a local bluegrass group, Dollywood ranked high on, if not on the top of, that list. Last weekend that dream became a reality when the group spent three days performing at the BBQ and Bluegrass Festival at Dolly Parton’s theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
However, the band could have missed their chance altogether, had it not been for a fateful conversation one night. It was a Friday this past winter and they were discussing the different places they would like to play one day. Dollywood came up and one of the band members’ wife happened to check the website to see how they could make that happen. Turned out there was an open audition in Atlanta the next day and they decided to make the trip.
“We felt really good about the audition, but then we didn’t hear anything for a while. So, we just assumed it wasn’t going to happen,” said Upson County Sheriff Dan Kilgore, who plays upright bass in the band. “Then a few weeks ago, we got the call to see if we would be interested in coming and playing June 5, 6 and 7 for their BBQ and Bluegrass Festival.”
The BBQ and Bluegrass Festival is a festival within the park, in which several national acts and big name bluegrass performers play. So, needless to say the group, made up of Kilgore, Bennie Rose (guitar), David Thompson (mandolin) and Gary Crenshaw (banjo), was ecstatic to be a part of the event. They were chosen to be one of the “roving bands” for the festival and played a total of 18 shows throughout the weekend.
“We played 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. every day and would just walk around and pick a spot to play,” said Kilgore. “We had a good response everywhere we played. It was a really fun experience. It was a lot of playing, but the weather was nice and it was just a good experience all around. We got a lot of exposure we would not have normally had and we just appreciate the opportunity to do it.”
Kilgore added that the staff of Dollywood is truly first class and everyone they met was nice and accommodating. The band even had their own dressing room in the Celebrity Theatre, a first for the group that has been playing together for about eight years. Kilgore noted their room was right down the hall from some of the big name musicians who were in the park that weekend and he got to meet one of his favorites, Del McCoury, of the Del McCoury Band, which was very exciting to him.
“The biggest name bluegrass acts that were there while we were was The Del McCoury Band and Daily and Vincent,” said Kilgore. “We had dressing rooms in the Celebrity Theatre, which is where those two bands were playing. It was really neat to be just down the hall from those national acts.”
While Dollywood is the furthest away Due South has traveled for a gig, Kilgore stated they have been very fortunate to play many great venues over the years. They have been chosen to be regulars at the Cotton Pickin’ Fair held in Gay, Georgia each year and play often at The Rock Ranch throughout the year. Due South has played the Macon Cherry Blossom Festival, Oktoberfest on River Street in Savannah and many points in between. They recently became members of the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame and have gathered quite a following of fans, but the band isn’t planning on turning their hobby into a full time gig anytime soon.
“We really have a good time, but, we all have day jobs and I have no desire to do anything professionally but be the Sheriff,” said Kilgore. “But it is a lot of fun to be able to play on the weekends and have some fun experiences like we did up there.”
However, if the opportunity to play at Dollywood ever comes up again, the band is ready to go as soon as they get the call.
“Just knowing we got selected to play at a festival of that has such a high caliber of musicians was a very humbling experience to have that honor. We would love to go back again one day. We are just thankful for the experience we had last weekend. It was a lot of fun and we appreciate our families, friends and the community for being so supportive and wishing us the best.”
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1