Saturday Night at the Old Schoolhouse: Bluegrass Is Back in Lucketts

For nearly 50 years, the tiny village of Lucketts has hosted the biggest names in bluegrass—and helped launch the careers of a new generation of traditional musicians.

Like most live music, the Lucketts Bluegrass concert series took a hit during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with organizers canceling most live performances in 2020 and 2021. But this fall, the series makes a triumphant return, with favorite national acts and exciting new voices.

Karen Capell and Jeff Ludin are a husband and wife team of bluegrass aficionados who play a big role in keeping the music alive in Lucketts. The couple are board members for the Lucketts Bluegrass Foundation, which has organized the concert series since 2007. Capell books the bands for the series, and Ludin is the foundation’s past and incoming president, volunteering with the technology and business aspects involved with running a thriving 21st century nonprofit. 

“The great thing about bluegrass is it really is a community,” Capell said. 

Capell and Ludin live in Fairfax County but have been die-hard Lucketts bluegrass fans for more than a decade and have helped guide the foundation through challenging times. It started in 2008 when Capell and Ludin read a listing for the series in a Washington, DC paper and decided to check it out. They won a pair of tickets to catch a second show in a raffle that night and were hooked.

“We just kept coming,” Ludin said. Soon they were making financial contributions to support the foundation and were asked to join the board of directors. The two retirees say they were often the youngest people in the room at board meetings and felt a calling to help build a series that would keep longtime fans coming back while attracting new audiences.

Ludin is also a board member of the Bluegrass Country Foundation, launched in 2016 to support Bluegrass Country programming after Washington, DC’s WAMU radio station took the show off the air. Ludin has worked to create synergy between the two foundations and began advertising the Lucketts series on Bluegrass Country’s streaming and HD radio platforms.

“We noticed we were starting to get some younger people,” Ludin said.

Husband and wife team Karen Capell and Jeff Ludin play a big role in keeping the tradition of music alive at the Lucketts Community Center. [Renss Greene/Loudoun Now]

Capell, a Maryland native, longtime bluegrass fan and amateur fiddle player, has taken on programming the series with zest and passion, lining up a mix of famous favorites and up-and-comers. 

“Lucketts has always loved traditional bluegrass. I don’t want to get rid of that entirely. We have a lot of really great traditional bands, and some of our young bands are traditional in style,” Capell said. “Bluegrass is a growing changing music. … We have a number of bands that are more progressive, and they do pull a younger crowd. But our longtime patrons like them, too.”

The couple regularly attends the annual International Bluegrass Music Association Convention, which features showcases and opportunities for venues and bands to connect. They’ll head to Raleigh, NC later this month with the 2023-24 season in mind. 

“We get exposed to a lot of new bands,” Ludin said.

But the couple says Lucketts’ stellar reputation also has plenty of bands knocking on their door. The series has been an internationally known institution since the Johnson Mountain Boys released their Grammy-nominated live album “At the Old Schoolhouse” recorded there in 1988.

“If you know bluegrass, you know that recording,” Capell said.

Launched in 1974, the Lucketts bluegrass concert series has hosted national acts including Ralph Stanley, The Seldom Scene and the Country Gentlemen. The series has continued with support from Loudoun County Parks, Recreation and Community Services, which renovated the old schoolhouse and made it the Lucketts Community Center in 1981. The county completed new renovations in 2014 to celebrate the building’s centennial anniversary. The concert series has been volunteer-run for decades with support from the Lucketts Community Center Advisory Board. In 2007, the nonprofit Lucketts Bluegrass Foundation was created to run the program in cooperation with the community center. The series has attracted national and regional acts—and fans from around the DMV and beyond.

“The last few years have been hard on the organization,” Capell said. With COVID closures and the death and retirement of several key volunteers, the board worked to keep the foundation up and running while supporting the musicians at the heart of the series. At the height of the pandemic, the foundation paid bands to perform in the empty auditorium, recorded the shows and broadcast the performances on Bluegrass Country on Saturday nights. 

“We don’t exist if the bands don’t survive,” Ludin said.

Among the many mementos of the long musical tradition in Lucketts that hang at the community center: a special recognition from the Virginia Folk Music Association. [Renss Greene/Loudoun Now]

The organizers are coming into the 2022-23 season (which runs Oct. 15 through April 22) with optimism but a little uncertainty. The foundation is ramping up with two performances per month instead of weekly concerts of years past, and Ludin and Capell hope diehard fans will return. The 2022-23 series features familiar names like Ralph Stanley II and the Clinch Mountain Boys, Nothin’ Fancy, Dry Branch Fire Squad and Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers along with rising stars like Liam Purcell and Cane Mill Road and Seth Mulder and Midnight Run. 

Series opener Colebrook Road is one of Capell and Ludin’s favorite pre-COVID finds. The couple discovered the Harrisburg, PA-based quintet when they earned top honors at the DC Bluegrass Union band contest in 2016. Their initial plan was to offer the contest winner an opening slot at the Lucketts series that fall. 

“They were so awesome we gave them a whole show,” Capell said.

Colebrook Road played three Old Schoolhouse shows before COVID and return for a fourth time to launch the new season Saturday, Oct. 15. 

Founded in 2009 by lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Jesse Eisenbise and mandolinist Wade Yankey, the group is known for occupying a cool niche between traditional bluegrass and genre-bending progressive sounds. Colebrook Road serves up both original tunes and unexpected covers.

“We have pretty eclectic tastes as a band. … We’re not traditional bluegrass, we’re not super progressive bluegrass. We’re just our own thing, and I think part of it is because we have such varied backgrounds for what we grew up listening to and we listen to today,” said Jeff Campbell, the group’s bass player and tenor vocalist. And so far, the band’s eclectic approach has been a hit with Lucketts audiences. 

For Campbell, playing the old schoolhouse is an honor because of the historic setting and enthusiastic audiences.

“Part of it is because it’s been around for a long time. The setting is really cool. The crowd is always really appreciative and they’re very attentive,” he said. “…Rowdy gigs are fun, but it’s also nice to have a room where people are actually listening.”

For Campbell, like for so many musicians, coming back to live music over the last year has been rewarding, and finally returning to the old schoolhouse is especially sweet.

“We’re doing the cool gigs at the cool venues that we’ve been to before. When we show up, we know the people that are there. It just feels good.”

The Lucketts Bluegrass Foundation hosts a free outdoor concert featuring Crandall Creek Saturday, Sept. 10 at 5 p.m. at Lucketts Community Center, 42361 Lucketts Road, Lucketts.

The Lucketts Bluegrass indoor concert series kicks off Saturday, Oct. 15 with Colebrook Road and runs through April 22. Doors open at 6 p.m. and music begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $22 for adults, $5 for youth 5 to 17 and free for children 4 and under.

For a complete schedule, tickets and information, go to luckettsbluegrass.org. For more information about Colebrook Road, go to colebrookroad.com.

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