MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

January 17, 2013

Take to the (Western) Hills for bluegrass

Annual festival celebrates American music genre

By Travis Sloat
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Jon Davis said he’s been playing an instrument in the family band since he was 8 years old.

“My dad was playing for years before I got started,” Davis said. “I’ve always been around the music. When you’re exposed to it that much, it just seems to come naturally.”

Davis and his family make up the band Digger Davis & Tombstone, a bluegrass combo who hails from College Station, Texas. They are making the Sequoyah Lodge their home for the next two days as they participate in the 34th annual Winter Bluegrass Festival at the former Western Hills Guest Ranch.

Digger Davis, Jon’s father and band patriarch, said the reason they are a band is simply by “the grace of God.”

“It’s been awesome,” Digger said. “We travel 48 states and Canada regularly, and this is hands-down our favorite festival of the year. It’s so laid back, and it’s like everyone here is family.”

The family band started when Digger was playing with a band in Branson and the bass player quit. He asked Jon, who was 8 years old, if he wanted to fill the spot, and that got the ball rolling. When Jon decided he wanted to play the mandolin, the lady of house, Jeannie Davis, stepped up to play bass. Not too long after that, little sister Jamie decided to take over the mandolin, leaving older brother Jon to play the guitar.

Jeannie said she’d never played before in her life, but 14 years of marriage to Digger prepared her for the experience.

“It’s all just so exciting,” she said. “We’re on the road about two months out of the year and play four to five nights a week in our hometown, and it’s fun.”

Digger Davis & Tombstone will be playing today and Saturday, alongside a plethora of other country/western and bluegrass artists such as Brightwater Junction, Heartland Express, The Larry Ford Band and many others. In addition to the live music, festivalgoers will have the opportunity to learn from the greats, with workshops being offered today starting at 12:45 p.m. and lasting until 4:30 p.m.

Around 100 guests gathered in the dining room of the Sequoyah Lodge on Thursday evening and were treated to a mix of artists gathered in a circle, warming up for the days to come. Instruments included a banjo, a dobro, a few fiddles and several guitars. The group played songs such as “I’ll Fly Away,” and “Power in the Blood,” as onlookers enjoyed dinner, tapped toes and clapped hands.

Jack Green, a festival participant, said he comes out each year to hear the wonderful music, but his favorite is the Davis family.

“I’ve been friends with them now for six years,” Green said. “They are a fine Christian group. I’ve heard people say they’d sell their last camel to do something, well I’d sell my last 10 to see them perform. If you’re only going to come one night, come out Saturday to see Digger do his Elvis impersonation. It’s dead on.”

Jon Davis said although they play multiple shows through the year, the Winter Bluegrass Festival is his favorite.

“This show starts the year off right,” Jon said. “Nothing else through the year lives up to it.”

Reach Travis Sloat at (918) 684-2908 or tsloat@muskogeephoenix.com.

If you go



WHAT: Western Hills 34th annual Winter Bluegrass Festival.

WHEN: Today at 7 p.m., Saturday at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.

WHERE: Sequoyah Lodge, Sequoyah State Park (Formerly Western Hills Guest Ranch).

COST: Adults, $15; Children 12 and under free.

INFO: Show information (405) 308-0010; Lodge reservations (405) 273-8578.