Rickey Rakestraw can remember the audience sitting on boards atop segments of power poles during the first few Raccoon Creek Bluegrass Festivals his parents hosted in the mid-1970s.
“It was very primitive,” Rakestraw recalled.
Now, a wooden covering keeps the July sun and rain off the audience and performers in a 365-seat permanent amphitheater. The festival site is equipped with some camper hookups, and a children’s area keeps young attendees occupied while the adults enjoy the sounds of fiddles and guitars.
However, one thing has remained constant — members of the Rakestraw family are still organizing the annual festival on the same 10-acre site where it began four decades ago .
The 2019 edition of the Raccoon Creek Bluegrass Festival is scheduled for July 12 and 13 at Raccoon Creek Music Park at 332 Music Park Path in Dallas.
Nine acts are set to perform over two days, including musician and producer Rebekah Long and eclectic Atlanta music-makers Smokey’s Farmland Band,
Long’s credits include everything from performing as the bass player in a number of bands, to handling production and engineering on the “Daughters of Bluegrass” album box set.
Throughout its history, the event has attracted musicians from throughout the country to the family-owned festival grounds off Braswell Mountain and Tibbitts roads in north Paulding.
Rickey Rakestraw is a retired power line maintenance worker. He also is a longtime member of the band Fontanna Sunset and has performed with or knows many of the festival performers following his five decades as a professional bluegrass musician.
Raccoon Creek has always been a family-operated venture, with relatives and neighbors working as event staff. The event operates with a 10-person staff who work the concession stand and assist with parking and the camping area.
Rakestraw’s parents, Wylie and Annette Rakestraw, founded the festival around 1975. Rickey and his sister, Rene’ Hardy, pitched in to help operate it, he said.
The festival has seen some national entertainers, such as Patty Loveless, perform either for a full set or a few songs, Rakestraw said.
Crowds have reached almost 1,500 in some years, said Rakestraw’s daughter, Alaina Swofford.
Over the years, Rakestraw said he primarily oversaw operations of the concession stand, including its home-cooked barbecue and Brunswick stew many returning audience members looked forward to, he said.
Hardy and her husband, Wendell, began overseeing the event in the early 2000s after her parents could no longer do the heavy lifting involved in pulling together a multi-day festival, Rakestraw said.
However, the Hardys decided in recent years to give up primary responsibility for promotion and bookings. Rakestraw then stepped in to manage it, he said.
“So many people wanted to keep it going,” he said of the festival.
Swofford became the third generation in the family directly involved in organizing the festival after taking responsibility for booking the music.
She said the event is labor intensive but she “can’t imagine” not helping with it every year.
“It’s been a part of my life and my family’s life,” Swofford said.
She said she worked to bring some musical diversity to the concert lineup in an effort to attract younger music lovers to the show long known for traditional bluegrass.
For example, Friday night’s closing act, Smokey’s Farmland Band, blends musical influences ranging from bluegrass to gypsy jazz and Cajun.
“We want to get our younger generation to hear this music,” she said.
Rakestraw said he foresees handing off control of the event to younger generations of the family who must decide if they want to keep organizing the annual event.
“That’s going to be their decision to make,” he said.
Swofford said she plans to keep the festival alive in future years.
She also supports renting the facility to outside groups to help pay the costs of hosting the annual festival.
“I think we’ll always have a bluegrass festival in July,” she said.
Times for the Raccoon Creek Bluegrass Festival are Friday, July 12, from 6 to 10 p.m.; and Saturday, July 13, from noon to 10 p.m.
For more information, visit www.raccooncreekmusic.com.
6-7 p.m.: Kris Anderson and The Would Be Thieves
7-8 p.m.: Old Mill Road Band
8-9 p.m.: Frances Mooney & Fontanna Sunset
9-10 P.M: Smokey’s Farmland Band
Noon-1 p.m.: Rickey Fields and Friends
1-2 p.m.: The Wiseman Brothers
2-3 p.m.: Band of Brothers
3-4 p.m.: Doug Flowers Band
4-5 p.m.: Rebekah Long
5-6 p.m.: Kris Anderson and The Would Be Thieves
6-7 p.m.: The Wiseman Brothers
7-8 p.m.: Band of Brothers
8-9 p.m.: Doug Flowers Band
9-10 p.m.: Rebekah Long