The annual bluegrass ‘pilgrimage’ to Omagh takes place over the coming three days for a music festival that has stood the test of time.
Now dubbed Bluegrass Omagh, the festival has been taking place at the Ulster American Folk Park for the past 28 years.
Richard Hurst, who is visitor services manager at the park, where the event takes place, said: “I was here when it started in 1992. It was part of an initiative through Bord Failte and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. From memory I think we had about 1,200 over the first weekend.
“It was a two-day event for the first three or four years before adding the Sunday.
“It was a challenging time to try and attract tourism in Northern Ireland, but it’s grown from strength to strength.
“We’ve received fantastic support from council and have been lucky to secure other funding.
“It would be fair to say the festival hit its peak audience in 2007/08 when upwards of 12,000 people came to the region over three days.
“We’ve been through challenging times with the recession but we’ve battled on. The festival has been going for 28 years unbroken.
“For the last five years we’ve had 7,000 people attending. We’re expecting anywhere between 6,000 and 8,000 this weekend.”
He continued: “It’s become a pilgrimage for bluegrass fans.
“There will be people camping and caravanning at Omagh Rugby Club.
“We’re very thankful that many car parks have been made available for visitors and there’s a free shuttle bus to and from the town.
“There will be one or two in the audience who have been to all 28 festivals.
“On stage we have Bangor musician Geordie McAdam who has been the continuum. He’s performed at all 28 festivals.
“Performing in Omagh has become a real feather in the cap for American bluegrass musicians.
“I’m inundated with artists and agents getting in contact wanting to play here.
“We could put on about five festivals in a year.”
Bluegrass Omagh takes place from today until Sunday and will bring together award-winning bands and performers from North America and Europe with the very best bluegrass acts from across the UK and Ireland.
This year’s headliners, bringing their popular and growing brand of bluegrass music to the festival, is industry and fan favourites Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers.
Joining them from across the Atlantic will be Chris Jones & The Night Drivers, Hoot & Holler, Bill and the Belles.
Scotland’s Martha L Healy, likened to Nanci Griffith and Gretchen Peters, will make her festival debut.
Local acts who will take to the stage during the three-day festival, include Co Down musicians The Broken String Band, Northern Exposure from Lurgan who are made up of twin brothers Pete and Patsy Toman, Pete’s son, Jonathan Toman, and Brendan Hendry, as well as Omagh’s very own Knotty Pine String Band.
For more information about the festival and to purchase tickets, call 028 8224 3292 or visit nmni.com/BluegrassOmagh