The Arcadia Valley Mountain Music Festival in Ironton has become a beloved annual tradition for fans of bluegrass, gospel, and country music. In addition to performances by professional groups, the festival offers ample opportunities for jam sessions.

The Arcadia Valley Mountain Music Festival is known for its Pickin’ on the Square jam sessions. Anyone with an instrument or a desire to sing is invited to join in the music-making.

By Caroline Dohack

For mountain music enthusiasts, the historic Iron County Courthouse Square in Ironton, Missouri, is the place to be. For more than thirty years, Ironton has played host to a music festival celebrating the myriad forms the genre can take.

The Arcadia Valley Mountain Music Festival will be held May 17 and 18. But it doesn’t really end there. The spring festival is the first of two music festivals—the second will be held October 18 and 19—that bookend weekly Friday-night jam sessions known as Pickin’ on the Square. All of these family-friendly events are free and open to the public.

“We started it as a fundraising festival for the revitalization and beautification of our area,” says Carol Kelsheimer, who has been involved with the various festival planning committees since 1993. 

The festival proved popular and became an annual event. Under the guidance of Bobby Powell, a local musician and promoter who owned a popular music venue called the Arcadia Valley Jamboree, the festival fine-tuned its focus on mountain music, a flexible classification that allows for variations of bluegrass, gospel, rock, and country.

“He wanted Ironton to be similar to Hardy, Arkansas,” Kelsheimer says, referencing an area known for its dedication to the preservation of Ozark musical heritage. “We’ve continued on with it, and we have a good turnout every spring and fall.”

This spring’s festival musicians include:

  • The Punches, a family band from Fredericktown known for gospel and bluegrass
  • London Miscisin, a local 17-year-old self-taught multi-instrumentalist who plays gospel, blues, rock, and oldies
  • A trio composed of guitarist Shannon Cox, who has played with popular artists like Blake Shelton and Chris Jansen; Eric Thompson, considered a rising star among harmonicists; and Southern gospel vocalist Jenny Pitchers Revelle 
  • Dave Black Band, a piano and steel guitar duo from Bonne Terre who play gospel, country, and 50s favorites
  • Jimmy Hill & Friends, an easy listening, bluegrass, country, gospel and soft rock-focused outfit from Ellington
  • My Brother’s Keeper, a progressive bluegrass band from Ohio

In addition to performances by these acts as well as Pickin’ on the Square, the Mountain Music Festival includes a farmers market, food trucks, and arts-and-crafts vendors.

In addition to live music performances and jam sessions, the Arcadia Valley Mountain Music Festival includes a farmers market, food trucks, and arts-and-crafts vendors.

Kelsheimer says the festival draws musicians and fans from across the region, and they continue to show up even after the fall festival brings the official events to a close. The drive to gather and make music together is so powerful that, in recent years, the pickers have started playing throughout the winter months. Kelsheimer says that when the weather gets bad, they move to the local senior center.

“We’ve had as many as 20 to 25 pickers—string bass, steel guitar, mandolin, banjo, piano. For two hours, they just sit and sing and enjoy being with one another,” Kelsheimer says. “We serve refreshments to the people who are there and it’s just a fun night.”

All photos by Susan Smith Kline.

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