Fifty years ago on Labor Day weekend, twangs of bluegrass rang out at the first bluegrass music festival at Camp Springs Bluegrass Park.
The festival grew to be one of the most popular stops on the circuit for top bluegrass performers. Carlton Haney, credited with starting big time bluegrass in this area, owned and operated the park until 1986.
Bluegrass fans can soon relive those early memories when new owners open the park gates for the 50th Anniversary Camp Springs Labor Day Bluegrass Festival on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1. Campers can start setting up at 10 a.m. Friday at the park, near where Caswell County intersects with Guilford, Rockingham and Alamance counties.
Planning for this event began a year ago when Caswell County residents Cody and Donna Brown Johnson bought the 45-acre property located within two miles of their home.
“I grew up here right down the road and my mama and dad (Dean Page Johnson and the late Bill Johnson) used to take me to festivals up and down the east coast,” Cody Johnson said.
Although his family lived only one road over from the park, Johnson said they always camped on the festival grounds for Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.
Now 44, Johnson said he was “born into bluegrass” because of his parents’ love of the music and wanted to bring bluegrass festivals back to the area.
After the park closed decades ago, weeds and trees overtook it but the block walls of the stage remained. Until the stage can be replaced, Johnson said he plans to rent one.
Friends and family, including Johnson’s older brother Chris, have spent hours working on the property and clearing a five-acre field for camping. Although no electricity will be available for campers at this year’s event, Johnson wants to provide it next year.
“It is pretty much a miracle that we have done what we have done,” he said, adding they completely renovated the shower house and restrooms.
Four buildings were on the property — the stage, restrooms, concession stand and an old office building. The office could not be salvaged, but other buildings were made with concrete blocks.
Johnson found time to work on the property outside of his busy job as a city carrier in Graham for the U.S. Post Office. The process of putting together the festival itself has been a long learning process, he said, crediting Josh Trivitt of Moonstruck Management for lining up larger acts.
The Johnsons have a son, Chase, 17, and daughter, Faith, 15. Both attend Bartlett-Yanceyville High School and are active with Trinity Baptist Church in Caswell County.
Johnson said he hopes to offer the venue for future events, such as gospel or country concerts.
“With the generous help of family and friends and God,” Johnson said, “it will be ready when the gates open.”