Fit as a fiddle

This weekend’s Pickin’ in the Panhandle barbecue and bluegrass festival puts more than two dozen top bands on three stages for three days – a deluge of outstanding music that’s predicted to draw crowds of 10,000 or more.

This year ’s festival, the sixth-annual event, will feature as its Saturday evening headliner the Kentucky Headhunters.

The Metcalfe County, Ky.-based band first hit the country charts with the 1989 album “Pickin’ on Nashville” and its latest, “Dixie Lullabies,” has invited comparisons to the Rolling Stones and ZZ Top.

In years past, the festival has featured big-name acts such as Charlie Daniels, Marty Stuart, Joe Diffie and Ricky Skaggs, the 14-time Grammy winner who from childhood played with bluegrass pioneers from Bill Monroe to Earl Scruggs. Dozens of well-loved regional bluegrass bands also are scheduled to perform at Pickin’, including the Speakeasy Boys, Sleepy Creek, the Back Creek Valley Boys, Christian Lopez and Joe Taxi, and others.

Andrea Ball, executive director of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention & Visitors Bureau and director of Pickin’ in the Panhandle, said the festival – which kicks off Friday afternoon and continues through Sunday evening – recently won a spot on the “Top 20 Places to Be in 2012” by Go WV, the group travel industry publication.

Ball said she feels proud the festival has grown so much since its start as a one-day event in 2007.

She said the festival brings an estimated $6.5 million in economic impact to the area as visitors come for the three days, purchase meals, stay in hotels and make other outlays.

And Pickin’ is on the minds of many long before the festival happens in September, she said.

“People start calling in January to sign up because they want to compete for the WV State BBQ and Bluegrass championship title. Some of the biggest names in bluegrass are calling and asking to play personally because they have heard we have such an great event. They want to visit us in West Virginia.”

One just-announced change is the addition of two acts to the Pickin’ lineup: Ira Dean – formerly part of the country trio Trick Pony, winner of the American Music Awards Top New Artist and the Country Music Association’s Artist of the Year – and the Mississippi-based bluegrass band Volume Five.

Dean, now touring as a solo artist, will perform at Pickin’ on Saturday in place of Colt Prather, who cited family commitments when he announced last week he would bow out.

Volume Five, also set to perform on Saturday, is among the nominees for the International Bluegrass Music Association’s 2012 Emerging Artist of the Year award.

“Hosting 33 bands that range from highly traditional

bluegrass to rockabilly country means Pickin’ offers something for everyone,” Ball said.

Also at the festival, chefs will vie for thousands in cash prizes as well as the title of West Virginia State BBQ Champion. Other attractions: a bluegrass band competition, arts and crafts displays, food vendors, a Kids Korner with activities for youngsters, a beer garden (for guests age 21 and older), camping and more

The festival unfolds at the Lazy A Campground in Back Creek Valley, a bucolic hideaway in the mountains of southern Berkeley County.

The onetime farm is located nine miles west of Interstate 81’s Exit 5 at Inwood.

Want to know more?

  • To get tickets or to see a schedule of music acts and other details on the festival, go online to www.panhandlepickin.com or call the Convention and Visitors Bureau at 304-264-8801.
  • Tickets are affordable: a three-day pass costs $60 per person; a one-day pass is $25; and visitors 12 and younger get in free.

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