I think it’s time I pontificated on the lineup for next year’s Graves Mountain Festival of Music, a.k.a. the Graves Mountain Bluegrass Festival.

This is the 20th year of the fest, and as a regular attendee and camper, I can say it is one of the best festivals of any kind in the state. It’s quaint, usually fairly small, and easy to manage. There is a wide range of ages in the (mostly) traditional bluegrass crowd and the music onstage is as good as the picking in the campground.

The only bad experience I’ve ever had there involved sitting next to a young man sporting a swastika tattoo on his upper arm. I didn’t even talk to the guy, and he was otherwise unremarkable, but I wanted to give him a wet willie the whole time. I can only imagine what the WWII vets in the crowd thought.

So aside form that one Nazi (I really need to stress that the Graves crowd is overwhelmingly polite, helpful and sane), everything is great. And the food is even better than that.

The biggest plus for Graves is the setting. Although it’s only about an hour and a half from Fredericksburg, it feels like you’re in a holler in Pound, VA. The scenery is gorgeous and the weather can be significantly different from what what we’re getting here. If you’ve never been to Syria, VA, I suggest you get there as soon as you can.

For years–decades, even–you knew what you were going to get at Graves, music-wise: a healthy dose of bluegrass fest regulars with The Seldom Scene taboot. Regulars included acts like Rhonda Vincent, IIIrd Tyme Out, Nothin’ Fancy, Cherryholmes and the Isaacs. Graves was always slightly more progressive than, say, the Mineral Bluegrass Festival, and would occasionally have Tony Rice or Peter Rowan or The Biscuit Burners show up. They once had Nickel Creek. But for the most part, it’s been a reliably traditional fest.

Things have changed this year. Local bluegrass star Mark Newton has always booked the bands for the festival, and he’s been toying with making it more progressive for years now. It looks like this is the year.

Consider this:

Dark Hollow Bluegrass Band
United States Navy Band’s “Country Current” Bluegrass Group
The Gibson Brothers
Jr. Sisk & Ramblers Choice
Goldwing Express
Shenandoah Drive
Snyder Family Band
Monroeville
Stetson & Cia
Rockin’ Acoustic Circus
Carolina Chocolate Drops
Moore Brothers Band
Mark Templeton and Pocket Change
Mark Newton’s Stillhouse Band
Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen
The Quebe Sisters Band
Balsam Range
The Cleverly’s

That lineup is probably most notable for who’s not on it. And that’s a bold move. I wasn’t familiar with most of these bands, but after a little internet searching, I’m ready to set out my camp chair and make sure my alcohol is properly hidden from view. I’m not sure if this marks a revitalization of the festival, but I have a few friends who never left the campground because they already knew what to expect on stage. I think they might change their tune this year.

The one criticism I have is that there seems to be a bit of a missed opportunity when it comes to local talent. I would have loved to see The Hot Seats or Hackensaw Boys on the lineup, and I would pay extra to see a second-generation showcase of Chris Eldridge and Jay Starling playing together in some capacity. Maybe it just didn’t work with their schedules.

But what is here is not only good music, it’s an exciting change.

After a little YouTube research, here are the five acts I’m most excited about seeing. I’ve never seen any of them live before.

5 — The Gibson Brothers
I’ve enjoyed their music for a long time. They’re not exactly progressive, and they’re not exactly traditional, either. But they can sing as well as anyone.
“The Open Road”
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HE8vofTZkG8[/youtube]

4 –Rockin’ Acoustic Circus
I’m not sure if there’s ever been a cello on the Graves Mtn. stage.
“Take Me”
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCQyRZsLb-A[/youtube]

3 — The Quebe Sisters Band
A triple-fiddle western swing sister act? Yes, please.
“It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie”
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShIR-639GnY[/youtube]

2 — Stetson & Cia
The new project of Cherryholmes banjo and vocal phenom Cia Cherryholmes.
“Save Me Tonight”
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QGQGMWSTdc[/youtube]

1 — The Cleverlys
I have wanted to see this band live since I first laid ears on them. I’m a sucker for a musical comedy act, especially one that can really play.
“I Gotta Feeling”
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXo8_5YCZvs[/youtube]