We busted a gut in getting here. Just shy of 2,000 miles (1,937 to be precise, 3,117 kilometres) we drove in six days, from North Carolina’s Outer Banks Bluegrass Island Festival via a deep Deep South detour. We probably would have stopped by anyway given Sparta’s self-proclaimed title of ‘Bluegrass USA’. There just wouldn’t have been as much urgency if not for the nigh A Lester Flatt Celebration, the 1-day bluegrass festival held annually in honour of the most revered of the town’s former revered bluegrass sons.

The Larry Stephenson Band. What a thrill it was to meet Kenny Ingram at this event. A Lester Flatt Celebration 2017, Liberty Square, Sparta, Tennessee. October 14, 2017.

Founded in 1809 and named after the famed Greek city-state, Sparta is small-town musical Tennessee with some big-name former and Bluegrass Hall of Fame-enshrined residents – Benny Martin and Lester Flatt (Blake Williams, a Bill Monroe Blue Grass Boy for a decade and Lester Flatt’s last banjo picker, and Josh Swift, IBMA’s 2017 Dobro Player of the Year and former member of Doyle Lawson’s Quicksilver, are also Sparta natives). Present-day Sparta is grabbing this association with both hands and running with it, even going so far as to brand itself as ‘Bluegrass USA’, and who could blame them if doing so is going to attract the likes of bluegrass-lovin’ us.

…the high-pitch, close-knit harmony of voices, guitars and banjos – sending out that unmistakable sound of bluegrass. That distinctive sound has been emanating from Sparta and White County for so long and in such profusion that we have become, proudly, Bluegrass USA!


As mentioned in our dedicated Sparta, Tennessee post, the town curiously, and for all his accolades, doesn’t seem to put a whole lot of effort into highlighting its association with Benny Martin. It’s Lester Flatt that gets all the love round these parts. And it all culminates in the free 1-day IBMA Award-winning bite-sized bluegrass bonanza held in his honour that is the annual A Lester Flatt Celebration. The central Liberty Square is cordoned off; the lights of the square’s 1930’s Oldham Theater, a true neighbourhood cinema house and one of the last reaming such edifices left in the US, truly bedazzle; the vendors are out in force; everyone is in fine and friendly fettle; and the bluegrass is of a standard one might expect given the stellar lineups the organisers seem to attract year after year.

Flatt Lonesome. A Lester Flatt Celebration 2017, Liberty Square, Sparta, Tennessee. October 14, 2017.

Topping the bill this year were the youthful Flatt Lonesome, ably supported by The Grascals and the Larry Stephenson Band and all propped up by Sparta native and event regular cum comedic emcee Blake Williams and his cobbled together band of friends (Justin Moses, Wayne Benson, Wayne Southards and Terry Smith on this particular day).

How dare Charli from Flatt Lonesome photo bomb my lineup picture. A Lester Flatt Celebration 2017, Liberty Square, Sparta, Tennessee. October 14, 2017.

A Lester Flatt Celebration 2017 | The Gallery


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