Bluegrass legacy

Photo by Susan G. Wright

DJ Stepp, Ken Stone and Ike Bacon are an Earl Park bluegrass legacy in keeping the music going for the town’s annual festival.

The Earl Park Fall Festival is fortunate to have Ken Stone on the roster for managing the bluegrass portion of the events.

He first came to the festival as an instrumentalist in 1979, and he’s been coming almost every year since. For the last 15 years he’s been the chairman of the musical performances scheduled at the Earl Park event.

“I’ve had a recording career, and when I turned 30, I settled down and planted roots,” Stone started. “Part of my roots has been coming here to the Earl Park Festival.”

“It’s very family-oriented here at Earl Park,” Stone continued. “I have a lot of family memories of performances, and recollections of coming here over the years, as do many of the performers and audience members who come annually.”

The music runs Friday through Sunday and Stone likes to hire groups that are “up and comers” or veterans that that may not have a formal recording contract to mix up the type of performers and give a leg up to the musicians trying to get a recording contract.

Having a supportive person in the the music world is a real gift, Stone said. “I try to be that for the acts and I’ve been blessed to have had many in my life, Ike Bacon being one of them.”

Bacon has fame of his own as a nationally known mandolin artist, making, playing and recording songs. As a family friend of Stone, Bacon took Stone and a couple other friends down to the Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival in southern Indiana, which led to an epic moment for Stone — playing backup for Bill Monroe, the godfather of bluegrass. This was recorded in a documentary High Lonesome and Stone is in the finished product for a total of a couple seconds, but to be a teenager meeting Bill Monroe was memorable for both men. Stone played fiddle and Bacon was just a proud friend.

DJ Stepp is currently the stage manager of the festival, helping Stone make sure that microphones are where they need to be, and taking up the slack that may include helping a group get settled. Stepp’s connection to the Earl Park Bluegrass Festival is even deeper than the companionship of Stone and Bacon, as his grandfather was a founding member of the festival board and created the existence of the bluegrass stage.

“My grandfather didn’t have a musical bone in his body, but he knew what worked,” Stepp said. Stepp’s Grandfather Hardebeck chaired the bluegrass portion for many years, and then Bacon took over for eight years before Stone. In time, Stepp will take over more from Stone.

Stepp comes from Knoxville to assist with the festival, “It’s a homecoming, as I grew up just six miles from here,” he said.

Stone joins in with a few bands sometimes, and he will play a dedication song, something to celebrate the family member, the memories and the love of the music.

The Earl Park Festival continues to be successful, with its connection to the families, the town and the heritage of the fun-filled events.