Fiddle and banjo players will team up with artisans and food vendors to create an atmosphere of fun and harmony at the inaugural American Mule and Bluegrass Festival. Put on your dancing shoes and prepare to sing along with Rhonda Vincent and The Rage, the most decorated bluegrass band. Uncle Shuffelo and His Haint Hollow Hootenanny, Tennessee Mafia Jug Band, The Grasskickers, The Borrowed Mules, and Brush Arbor Revival will join Rhonda Vincent and The Rage to bring melodies and joy.
One of the main goals of the event will be educating visitors about the history and value of mules, according to Marty Ray Gordon, organizer of the festival.
The American Mule and Bluegrass Festival will welcome visitors to the Calsonic Arena in Shelbyville, Sept. 13-18. The festival will feature various events, including bluegrass concerts; crafts fair; mule show, mule clinics, mule logging competition and mule demonstrations; square dancing and cloggers; a wagon train; chuckwagon cooking; Pickers Alley with a stage, where pickers and bands will showcase their musical talents.
Gordon decided to launch the initiative a few months ago. A team of supporters joined Gordon to create an event aiming to unite the community and help charities. “I had been sitting around, looking at the news, frustrated with all the stuff that’s been going on,” Gordon said. “I decided to do something to help somebody.”
Gordon decided to create a fun festival and provide funds for worthy causes. He wanted to entertain visitors and educate them about mules.
“We have mules, we raise mules, and we train mules,” Gordon said. “My wife and I show mules.”
His appreciation for mules began in his childhood when he spent time with his grandfather, Ray Tenpenny, who was a legendary walking horse trainer, said Gordon.
“I was raised with mules,” Gordon said. “My grandfather was born in 1908, and
he always had good mules. I used to work with him in the field. When I was a young man, he told me most people underestimate the value of a good mule.” One day, when they worked on the field, Gordon’s grandfather said, “You will find out about the value of a mule today.”
“When you work and you have a good mule, it makes things easier,” Gordon said.
“My grandfather raised six kids during the depression with a good mule. He always thought people didn’t recognize how much mules helped.”
His grandfather, who is listed in the Walking Horse Hall of Fame, was one of the pioneers creating the walking horse industry, said Gordon.
Gordon inherited determination and dedication from his grandfather and uses these qualities to aid organizations in need. The American Mule and Bluegrass Festival will provide entertainment with the goal to raise funds.
“We decided to include bluegrass to get people to come and listen to music,” Gordon said. “At the same time, we will educate people about mules. The mule has pulled people out of the Great Depression. The mule pulled us out of war – mules participated in every war we had. There’s no reason mules can’t help to provide funds for charities and help them get back on their feet. That’s what I’m trying to do – leverage the mule and give some entertainment through bluegrass and crafts. The mule, the bluegrass, and the crafts are all American- made. What the mules are going to be pulling for now is charity. In the past they ploughed the dirt, put the seed in, pulled the loads. Now, we are loading the wagon with charities.”
The five charities the event will support are Shelbyville Soup Kitchen, the Boys and Girls Club of Bedford County, the Habitat for Humanity, the Center for Family Development of Shelbyville, and Horse Play of Coffee County.
“We will showcase the mule, the bluegrass and the crafts to support these organizations,” Gordon said.
One of the event’s highlights will be educating the youngest visitors. “We want to educate the youth and people who want to learn about
mules and the equipment,” Gordon said. “We will have a learning center, where kids can become a junior mule skinner. They will learn how to hook mules up, about the parts of the harness and the implements that they pull.”
Children will have a chance to earn a mule skinner certificate. “We will also have a petting zoo,” Gordon said.
Pickers Alley will provide opportunities for those who’d like to show their musical talents.
“Pickers Alley is going to be an area where we invite pickers to play on the barn porches,” Gordon said. “There will be dedicated porches where the pickers can play. And we will provide opportunities for them to pick on a stage outside. We will have a stage outside and a stage inside the Calsonic Arena. We will have an award for the best picker.”
Visitors will have a chance to sign up for a drawing to win Angel, a 2-year-old mule.
“Angel will be given away the last night of the event, Saturday night,” Gordon said. “If you win her and don’t want to take her home, you can auction her off. And all the money will go to charity.”
Vendors will ensure visitors enjoy tasty meals and American craftsmanship.
“We expect to have food trucks so people can expect to eat good food,” Gordon said. “We have about 30 spots for vendors to display their handmade crafts.”