ELIZABETHTON — There will be a special Covered Bridge Jam this afternoon and evening at the Elizabethton Covered Bridge Park.

Normally, the free events feature just one act per evening, usually a rising local talent. Tonight, the event will again be free, but this summerconcert has a special name: The Covered Bridge Bluegrass Jamboree and it will feature two bluegrass bands.

The featured act is not a rising talent, but Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers, a band that is already there. As in the International Bluegrass Music Association’s 2019 Entertainer of the Year, the highest award a band can earn within the genre.

Also on tonight’s bill is Hollow Ground, a local band familiar to bluegrass music lovers in East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, and no stranger to the Covered Bridge Stage, as well as the Carter Family Fold. Hollow Ground will start off the jamboree at 5 p.m. and Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers will start take the stage at 7 p.m., the time when the Jams usually begin.

So, how did the Elizabethton Parks and Recreation Department get Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers for its Bluegrass Jamboree? It was just another of those unpredictable things that happened in last year’s erratic and unpredictable year of the COVID-19 pandemic. David Nanney, recreation manager for the Parks and Rec Department, said there was another factor involved: the renovations to the Elk Avenue Bridge.

Nanney said it all started when the Elizabethton Parks and Recreation Department assumed the direction of the Covered Bridge Days, the city’s biggest annual festival, in 2021. Big name acts are always selected to perform on the stage for the festival, and Joe Mullins and Radio Ramblers certainly fit the billand would be a good start for the first year that the Parks and Rec. Department would be in charge of the Covered Bridge days.

When the Covered Bridge Days for 2020 was canceled because of the pandemic, Nanney said Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers were rescheduled for the Covered Bridge Days for 2021. The festival is always held the second week in June, so that is when they were booked. But then, the Parks and Rec Departmentofficials learned that the Covered Bridge Days would have to be rescheduled for September because the reconstruction work on the Elk Avenue Bridge would take longer than planned. But Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers were already booked for the time the Covered Bridge Days had been scheduled in September.

It was then decided to keep the original booking and create the Covered Bridge Bluegrass Jamboree.

Nanney said he expects a lot of fans from outside the region to attend. “I have had calls from four states who said they were coming,” he said.

Nanney said people should bring a blanket or lawn chair to enjoy the four-hour, double-header concert.

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John Thompson covers Carter and Johnson counties for the Johnson City Press since 1998. He grew up in Washington County and graduated from University High and East Tennessee State University

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