• 50°

Bluegrass duo tops fair entertainment

Lawrence County Fair-goers this year will have a bluegrass good time.

Monday, June 18, 2001

Lawrence County Fair-goers this year will have a bluegrass good time.

"We’ve tried a lot of different music but this is something we haven’t tried in a long time," said Doug Clark of the Lawrence County Fair Board.

"The Stevens Sisters," a bluegrass duo from Tennessee, will headline the county fair on Friday night, July 13. The sisters are Beth and April Stevens, who released their first album, "Sisters," in 1996. They have been seen around the country since.

"I think we’re pretty lucky to get them," Clark said. "I think they will be as big of a draw as the country music is every year."

New bluegrass is not the only difference in the fair this year. In addition to a new roof on the old 4-H building, there have been more repairs to the grandstand. And, Saturday, July 7, features an entire day, morning to midnight, of horse shows – the annual 4-H show and an open class show, Clark said.

Sunday afternoon will feature a gospel sing, as well as wrestling at 7 p.m.

Monday night is the first demolition derby. Tuesday evening follows with the mid-size derby. Bullriding is Wednesday night and Thursday is the tractor pulls. Another demolition derby is slated for Saturday, July 14.

As always, the fair is for all people, young and old, and the board looks forward to presenting a good show, in addition to all the wonderful 4-H and FFA events all week, Clark said.

"It’s all for the kids," he said.

And, the talent that will be on stage will be exceptional, Clark added.

Rounder Records Group that markets The Stevens Sisters music calls them one of the most popular groups on the Bluegrass circuit.

They have thrilled audiences since childhood with their exquisite voices, their multi-instrumental virtuosity, and their captivating Southern charm.

Beth and April grew up in the town of Hampton, Tenn., a tiny hamlet of 2,000 people just a stone’s throw from the Appalachian Trail.

Beth and April Stevens parents, Douglas and Betty, introduced them to bluegrass and country music at an early age.

By the age of 12, Beth had picked up the banjo. "After two or three weeks she was already on ‘Cripple Creek’," Douglas told Bluegrass Now magazine, "and she could play it. So we got her a Mastertone Gibson banjo, and she still plays it today."

April, six years younger than her sister, began studying mandolin at age eight. Once they had mastered their initial instruments, they moved on to anything with strings they could get their hands on. Now, besides the banjo, Beth also plays guitar, Dobro, bass, and piano, while April pitches in on fiddle, guitar, bass, banjo, and piano. And in the Stevens Family’s exciting stage show, they’ve been known to play three or four instruments in the course of one song.

They soon began performing locally with their guitar and fiddle-playing father, Douglas, and when Mom Betty joined in on bass, the Stevens Family Band was formed. Years of hard work and hard touring paid off, and the Stevenses became one of the best-loved bands on the festival circuit.

In the meanwhile, of course, young Beth and April continued their schooling. Beth moved on to East Tennessee State University, one of two universities in America offering coursework in bluegrass music performance. There she played in the ETSU Bluegrass Band, along with 3/4 of Alison Krauss’ early ’90s Union Station lineup — Adam Steffey, Barry Bales, and Tim Stafford (now with Blue Highway). Beth graduated with a degree in Psychology. Sister April currently attends ETSU herself, and is pursuing a degree in Business Management.

The sisters made an immediate splash on the radio, rocketing into the top 10 on the Gavin Americana chart, and receiving a great deal of airplay on bluegrass and country radio as well. Now the rest of the country knows what the Southern bluegrass crowd has known for a long time.

"We grew up playing bluegrass," says Beth, "but we like blues, country, gospel, pop, and rock and roll, too."

This versatility is evidenced on their original contributions to Sisters, which range from the aggressively bluesy "What About Me" to the poignant country storytelling of "Jeanie and Tommy," and the straight-ahead Stanleyesque bluegrass sound of "Who’s Crying For You Now."

Whatever the style of music, the beautiful sisterly vocal blend of Beth and April is a constant. "No one taught us harmony," explains Beth, "we could just always do it. We didn’t know what it was, tenor or alto or whatever, it just came out."