For more than 30 years, The Sanders Family Bluegrass Festival in McAlester, OK was a regular stop for fans of the music, as well as the top performers who came to play. The festival was so popular that it came to be known simply as “McAlester,” as have similar large events like The Old Fiddlers Convention, known primarily now as “Galax,” or The National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest & Festival which has been popularly shortened to “Weiser.” When you said you were going to McAlester, people knew what you meant.
Run by the Sanders family from 1977 until 2008, the festival closed down as Freddie and Jo Sanders got older, and found the demands of managing such an event had gotten to be too much for them. With no younger family members ready to take on the burden, it simply shut down. Pickers, fans, and touring artists alike lamented its demise, and there are still plenty of folks in the south central US who talk of the old days in McAlester.
But now, 12 years after the last event hosted by the family, one surviving Sanders has risen to the task, and is reviving the tradition just up the road in Eufaula. On September 25-26 of this year, Eddie Sanders will present the debut edition of Xtreme Bluegrass, hosted at the Xtreme RV Resort, about 30 miles north of the McAlester site.
Like so many bluegrass artists who grew up west of the Mississippi, Eddie learned to pick and sing at his dad’s festivals, hearing and meeting legends like Bill Monroe, The Osborne Brothers, Ralph Stanley, and Mac Wiseman when they returned year after year to play in McAlester. The recently departed Jim Paul Blair wrote a remembrance of the old festival last year before his passing, which is republished on the Xtreme Bluegrass site. Those who remember the great times at the old Sanders Family shows are sure to enjoy reminiscing with him.
Eddie and his partners are trying to return to all the things that made his parents’ festival so enduring. They are bring in strong headliners like Russel Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, Bobby Osborne & Rocky Top Express, Appalachian Road Show, and many others. The younger Sanders will take the stage, just as Freddie once did with his group, Signal Mountain.
Xtreme Bluegrass has also chosen a comfortable host site, with all the amenities festival goers expect in 2020. There is plenty of RV and rough camping, plus a large pool outdoors, and a smaller one indoors. The camp store offers all the items one would need during a weekend away, and there is a playground with swings and activity areas for kids. The park also has a sizable dog run so that Fido can get out of the camper, along with a fitness center and cabins for rent.
Tickets go on sale soon, so start making plans to return to the glory days with the Sanders family.