Charleston Bluegrass Festival, a two-day music and camping event, welcomes musicians from across the U.S. for a weekend of family-friendly vibes and killer tunes | Photo provided

Catch a diverse lineup of nationally acclaimed bluegrass acts and regional string bands in a unique outdoor venue during Charleston Bluegrass Festival. The two-day event returns Friday and Saturday to Woodlands Nature Reserve in West Ashley.

Featured artists include Leftover Salmon, Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway, Keller & The Keels, Kyle Tuttle and Armchair Boogie. For the full lineup and schedule, visit the festival website

Bluegrass Fest takes over Woodlands for its eighth year, merging the love of live music with appreciation for the great outdoors. Families and friends gather each year to camp, kayak and hike over the two-day festival. 

“The Woodlands Nature Reserve is thrilled to debut North Lake Venue, the newest area of the property to be used for events,” said Vince Iwinski, manager for music and events at the venue. “The space features lakeside camping all the way around our second biggest lake. We can’t wait for Charleston to see what we’ve been up to.”

Woodlands addressed its previous parking and traffic issues with the new spot for concerts, complete with two parking lots. 

Kayaking is available at Woodlands Nature Reserve | Photo provided

Charleston Bluegrass Festival founder Eddie White helped create this event by expanding his Barn Jam concept, which brings together local and regional musicians of all genres. He has hosted Barn Jam for more than 10 years at Awendaw Green, an outdoor venue he founded.

“It’s always humbling and exciting to bring people together to experience live music in a family-friendly environment,” White told the Charleston City Paper. “Hopefully, the vibe is like a giant Barn Jam on a beautiful lake on a 6,000 acre nature reserve. The Woodlands is a very special place and we are stoked to be back for another year.” 

An immersive experience

Ten-string acoustic guitar virtuoso Keller Williams told the City Paper he is looking forward to reuniting with acclaimed flat picker Larry Keel and his bass-playing wife Jenny to perform Appalachian psychedelic bluegrass as Keller & the Keels at 8:15 p.m. March 25. 

“It’s so important for people to gather because human connection is important for all,” Keller said.

“It will be great to see loads of smiling faces enjoying the scene,” said Larry and Jenny Keel in an email to the City Paper. “We feel that gathering like this is people’s way of escaping the routine of everyday life. It’s liberating to get together in nature with like-minded folks and just celebrate being alive. Music provides the ultimate enhancement soundtrack.”

Columbia-based act Admiral Radio, husband-wife duo Coty Hoover and Becca Smith, will grace the stage at 2:15 p.m. March 25. Hoover and Smith will perform with a full band, which is “not an everyday thing” for Admiral Radio. 

Last year’s Charleston Bluegrass Festival | Photo provided

“We’re excited for the time we’ll spend around the campfire at night passing the guitar and swapping songs, meeting new and old friends,” Smith told the City Paper. “It’s our favorite thing ever when we get that chance to let our hair down and hang with other music-lovers.”

Admiral Radio will release a new song, “Tragedia,” this spring — its first release in almost a year since the stripped-down EP, Songs From The Vault. Hoover and Smith recorded the new single with Corey Campbell of Charleston alternative act Babe Club. 

“We’re pretty stoked about this new song because it sounds so different from anything we’ve released up to this point, and Corey really made the track shine.”

Smith said Charleston Bluegrass Festival is a chance to unwind and be fully present with one another and with nature. 

“Everyone is immersed in the experience together in real-time. And you’re riding this wavelength together for a moment, which is a really beautiful thing to be a part of as a collective. Especially when you can step away from the screens a bit, physically unplug from that and get outside, breathe fresh air. … The level of connection to ourselves, to one another, to music and to nature just collides. It kind of restores your faith a little bit.”

Woodlands joins music with nature 

In addition to the new venue and lake-side camping, Woodlands is partnering with Y2O Youth to Ocean project to offer kayak rentals on the new North Lake beach area. The organization donates 100% of its proceeds to support environmental education and exploration of nature to underserved, at-risk kids in the Charleston area. 

“We also invite folks to hike the surrounding wooded trails, bring bikes or their own kayaks, SUPs [stand up paddleboards], or inflatables,” Iwinski told the Charleston City Paper. “The sunsets at North Lake are truly breathtaking. No better way than to see it from the water. We’ve also partnered with Eagles Nest Outfitters who are providing cozy double nest hammocks to lounge in around the event.” 

Plenty of family-friendly activities are available at Woodlands | Photo provided

Although Woodlands canceled events last year due to permitting issues, Iwinski said those setbacks are in the rear view mirror. North Lake Venue also solves traffic and parking problems with its location two miles further into the property than the front acreage mainly used for previous events, Iwinski said. The road designated to offload cars from the highway will be eight times longer than the previous road filing cars toward parking. 

“We are so thrilled that once again the music will play, and Charleston music fans can enjoy the fusion between music and nature,” he said. “We have put every ounce of our energy into creating this new venue, and we know everyone is going to have a blast.”

Upcoming Woodlands events include Emergence culture festival April 20-24, the Amor 5K charity event April 29 and the Savage Race May 6. Woodlands has a number of additional music events in the works for later this year, so stay tuned. 

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