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.
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.