Cody Johnson grew up next door to a North Carolina landmark.
Johnson, a native of Caswell County, lived within throwing distance of the old Camp Springs festival site — home of the state’s first multi-day bluegrass festival — and his parents took advantage of their proximity, attending the festivals put on by Carlton Haney with their son each year.
Time wasn’t kind to Haney or the festival, though, as it has petered out over the years, forcing Johnson, and his wife Donna, to watch the property become overgrown after sitting unused over the years.
Last September, the Johnson’s decided that had to change and bought the Blue Grass Park site that hosted the festival.
“My husband has lived here his whole life and he went to the old bluegrass festival when he was small, his parents took him, and it’s actually around the corner from where we live,” Donna said.
“He has watched it go downhill for ages and he found out the land was possibly available for sale and he talked to me about buying it and we said, ‘okay, we’ll try it,’ and here it is. It’s happening whether we’re ready or not.”
This Labor Day weekend, the Johnson’s will welcome attendees to the site for the 50th Anniversary Camp Springs Labor Day Bluegrass Festival held Aug. 31-Sept. 1.
Russell Moore & III Time Out, Blue Highway, Buttermilk Creek, Sons of the South and Sweethearts of the Banjo are slated to kick off the festival on Saturday.
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Hogslop String Band, The Salt & Light Band, Loose Gravel and world-renowned Ralph Stanley II & Clinch Mt. Boys.
Gate admission is $30 for single-day tickets, while admission for the weekend is $60. Weekend camping passes are also available to purchase for $70.
Along with music, an array of food trucks and vendors will also be on-site over the course of the weekend. In addition, attendees will also have access to bathhouses.
“Tourism, it brings people to the area. It brings people to Caswell County again,” Donna said. “That property is a piece of history. It was the first multi-day bluegrass festival ever in North Carolina and [Carlton Haney] did a wonderful job of bringing it here.”
“It’s really about the history of that property and wanting to bring people back to it.”
Most people undertaking such an event, would have a bit of trepidation about taking on such a project.
However, spending a few minutes with the Johnson’s, shows they aren’t your regular people.
“We kind of just jumped in feet first,” Donna said. “We had some people telling us we shouldn’t do it and we weren’t going to make it, but we knew the history of Camp Springs alone would draw people in.”
While the Johnson’s have had fun getting the event ready and it’s been a walk down memory lane for Cody, it doesn’t mean they haven’t encountered a few hiccups along the way.
“Other than funds, time,” Donna said, laughing. “We bought it in September and in less than a year, we’ve had to clear out a whole lot of land get some grass to grow. There’s been a lot of rain, then no rain, and back to a lot of rain so we’re hoping for good weather.”
“Everybody bear with us and know we’re still working on the property and trying hard to get it back to its glory and what it used to be.”
Donna, in closing, had a simple message she wanted to convey to Caswell County residents.
“Everybody come and see us and support us,” Donna said. “We want to make this work and get the property back to its glory.”