Poppy Mountain Interviews
by Art Menius
Poppy Mountain Interviews by Art Menius 9/12/00
I came here on a cold frosty evening, eight years ago, the year before this festival started. We met right where you and I are sitting. [the mainstage green room] We had a great big round table. Marty was wanting to put on a bluegrass festival, but he said, ‘I don’t think it will ever go.’
Me and him and his brother Melvin and Chris Pinion that runs the festival over in Olive Hill for the Shiners sat here and talked. Marty said, ‘Let’s get out and walk around a bit.’ Me and Marty went out the back and up the hill, cold, rainy, and frost on the ground. We came back in, and he said, ‘What do you think?’
I said, ‘Well, Marty, from my experience if this is run right it will be big. It will be a gold mine.’ That is exactly what’s happened, because it is just like setting a tree out. It has grown every year; this makes the eighth year. Marty had a little bit of cold feet at the beginning. He doubted it would ever make it. I said, ‘If I was a gambling man, which I am not, I’d bet my last dollar on this.’
He said, ‘How much money should we spend the first year on talent. I can’t spend more than $10,000.’
I said, ‘You ain’t going to get no orchestras for that. You have to pick your headliners. How much do you want to spend on advertising? You get out of it just what you put in on advertising. The Bluegrass Unlimited is a must. That’s the next thing to the Holy Bible in bluegrass. So we kind of throwed it together.
Marty was kind of afraid about this hill here. It was kind of steep, and it wasn’t black topped the first two years. So we went ahead and took the chance. Well, man, the first year people just came in from everywhere.
I think the name is what triggered the whole thing. There was an old man named that lived here called ‘Poppy.’ Marty said ‘Poppy Mountain,’ and I said, ‘That’s the name right there. That’s a name that will capture peoples’ attention.
The advantage he has at this place is the ground and all the acres. He has so much room to expand here and do things with the festival that other people don’t have. Like a tree if you put fertilizer around it then it’s going to grow, and that’s exactly what has happened here at Poppy Mountain.
Marty is a go-getter. He’s a businessman. He doesn’t start something and not finish it. He goes in for the home run. Marty has had some many people who have helped him support this. He’s had some of the best talent in the world here, and every year that the people come here, they get a surprise. People don’t know what to expect from one year to the next. It keeps your attention.
He has 500 electric hook-ups and he’s adding more. He told me that next year he’s going to add a little race track where these go carts can run. They can fish, they can ride horse, they can hunt squirrels, they can ride trains. They got so many things here that they can do that you don’t find at other festivals. He has an automatic drawing card here even if there was never one g-chord struck on the stage.
November I’ll be in the entertainment business for fifty years and I have never known a festival that has grown and took off and become known around the world like Poppy Mountain. It’s a honey jar drawing flies. Marty has so much to offer here it is hard to lose.
I live in Ashland, about fifty miles from here.
[Melvin goes on to describe, on my prompting, his early days with the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers and how he and Ray came to join the Clines.]
Q: What makes this festival work so well.
I think it’s just hard work. We advertise the year round, and I plan on it, and I live with it night and day. I just put my whole heart and soul into it. You see the way I greet the people. I’m with them from early in the morning until late, late at night to make people happy. The word of mouth is what I think made Poppy Mountain.
I have always loved bluegrass, and my father loved bluegrass. He loved festivals. I was over around Vanceburg – the Dave Evans & River Bend festival – and I saw so many people having a good time that I thought that some of these days, I’m going to have me a bluegrass festival, and I’m going to do it right.
A few years later I got this place. My brother, Chris Pinion, and Melvin Goins and my dad met up here and talked about it. I said, ‘Let’s do it, but if we do it, I am going to push it as hard as I can to be the number one festival in the United States.’ My plan from the word ‘go’ has been to do everything I can to make it number one.
I’ve had a lot of people that have helped. I treat them right, and they tell other people. It doesn’t take long to take a dollar and double it. The next day it’s four, and the next day it’s eight. That’s just about the way it has been here. It didn’t double this year, I can see. But it has grown, and I have more campers than in 1999. I have right around 1200 hookups.
Q: The RV area’s are all in manageable sizes.
We have the campers separated out. The people that want to stay up all night and jam and have a good time we have out this a-way on Jammin’ Ridge. We have our handicaps over here. We have our mediocre people that like to party sometimes and stay up a little bit back to the left. I have the ones who want peace and quiet way back around there.
The many activities have been a plan of mine. I built the train. I have always been an old car man. I saw how I could use them, finally. The old cars really aren’t good for anything on the road, but this festival has been good for them. I like police cars, taxis, and fire trucks. It fits in perfectly with this crowd. They love getting in them and riding them. That’s how that evolved. Step by step. Every year I add another piece or two.
Q: A person who didn’t care about bluegrass could have a great time here.
I believe they could.
We could have a campground here year-round, but I don’t have time. I’m too busy with bluegrass. You see me everywhere. I’ve been to every festival I could get to this year. That’s what makes it grow. Get out and meet the people. Ask them to come. The more people you can shake and howdy, the better it is.
Free firewood’s a plus. We’ve cut wood all week long, and every body here has a fire. It takes a lot of firewood to get that done.
This building [the big barn back of main stage] was here. That’s about it. I leveled all the hills and put in all the electric. The year before last the snow collapsed the roof of this building. $150,000 in insurance, but no snow insurance! It’s been tough. I don’t know about doing it again or not. I’m proud of it. I’m glad I did it, but if I had to wait eight more years on it, I couldn’t handle it.
Before next year’s festival, I’m going to level the hill behind the showcase barn. I’ll make it flat back to that gate. That will make that field hold five times as big.
The tenth year’s when I really plan to have it all done. I said I’d do it for ten years. I’m going to advertise for ten years. I’m going to push at everything for ten years. When I get to the tenth year  I’m going to have a big blowout. I’m going to have everybody I can and have the facility ready for them. I can handle the crowds.
Q: Anything you’d do differently?
If I could do anything that I’d like to do, it would be from day one that I opened the gates – no alcohol. It’s too late now. I think it’s under pretty good control. That would be the number one thing if I were starting over. And I probably might say from the beginning no four wheelers. Yet I have them under control for the most part.
I had IIIrd Tyme Out at the festival a couple of times. Sandy Knipp and me talked to them, and it just worked out. Ray told me, “We think we’re the number one band in the United States, and we think you’re the number one festival. Let’s go in together.
Sandy was emcee. He helped me promote it some. Sandy just got sick, and wasn’t able to do it.
We did a show. I met Sandy Knipp. He is an awful nice guy, who used to help Marty promote and book this show here at Poppy Mountain. Sandy had some problems with his kidneys, and I called Marty and said I wanted to do a fund raiser for Sandy. So I got a bunch of bands together, and we did a fund drive and show to raise money for Sandy. That was the first time I really met Marty. He came out to our bus that night and said, ‘Guys, how would you like to host Poppy Mountain.’
I said, ‘We can talk about it.’ We had played this festival only one time at that point. The response that we got… We have a big fan base in here. I just like the lay out, the set up of the festival. So we worked out the business part of the arrangement. Marty told us that the first year we became the host band; it took a 60% growth. I think it took a 40% growth the next year.
Together I feel that Marty Stevens and IIIrd Tyme Out have built one of the greatest bluegrass festivals going today. Last year when the weather was better, I bet there were 150 jam sessions going. IIIrd Tyme Out loaded all our instruments into that ’49 Plymouth band wagon, and we’d go to a jam session and pick awhile, then pack up and go to the next session. We did that all night almost and had the best time in the whole world.
Yesterday I was riding with my grandson and my wife in the golf cart, and we were going through the camping area. People offered us food and cake where ever we went.
It’s just like a big family here, man! Everybody hollers and waves at you. Everybody knows everybody. If somebody gets stuck, a half dozen help get them out. That’s what our music is all about. That’s what makes bluegrass music such a special music.
Q: This is great festival for kids.
It sure is. My son’s here. He plays bass with Lou [Reid & Carolina]. My grandson’s here, and he’s absolutely had a blast here. They have so much stuff going on. The have fishing. They have horseback riding. They have a small carnival on the hill. Hayrides. All kinds of stuff that entertains the kids. They have pool tournaments for the adults. We just keep trying to come up with new ideas to make something entertaining for everybody so that everyone who comes to the festival can enjoy themselves.
I booked all the bands on this festival. For two days I parked campers. If someone has a problem, I find the person who can take care of it for them. I get the checks and give them to Col. Matt Paul to pay the bands. Whatever comes along I try to do it.
This is our third year.
This is the biggest straight bluegrass festival – I’m not talking about MerleFest or Telluride – that I’ve ever been to. We had 20,000 people in 1999. This is Kentucky. This is a Ralph Stanley, Lonesome River Band, Mountain Heart, Blue Highway, IIIrd Tyme Out kind of audience.
Poppy Tim Cahall
How did I get involved in Poppy Mountain?
If you mean Me (as in PoppyTim Cahall.), I met Marty and Lois some years ago at the IBMA World of Bluegrass in Louisville as I was passing out Poppy Mountain Fliers. I passed out fliers from any GREAT festival. I thought Poppy Mountain had potential. I was putting talent onstage in Ohio at the Pony Wagon Days celebration in St. Paris and among places around Dayton. I doing a stint with Steve Allen of WYSO 91.3 and writing a bit for Col. Tom Carter’s “Bluegrass Community Hitching Post” out of Columbus, Ohio. I had been working the then Winterhawk Festival and others from time to time. Marty asked me what I thought of Poppy Mountain and I, not knowing who he was, said, ‘It’s cool! You have to attend!’ He told me that anyone with that much enthusiasm should come work for him. He promised me a lot to leave Dayton and move to Morehead. I’m glad I came to work Poppy Mountain. It’s a bigger festival BUT the basic festival operation remains the same.
What makes Poppy Happy?
Poppy Mountain has something for the entire family to enjoy. If you’re into jamming. Poppy is definitely one of the most jamming festivals around! People jam constantly. Out on “Jammin Ridge” the music seldom stops! If you like trails. Poppy has over 25 miles to ride your ATV’s and hiking trails lead to our seven fishing lakes to enjoy (private property in Ky means no license!). Maybe it’s the free taxi Rides all over the mountain in the twenty-plus classic automobiles that may have drivers such as Melvin Goins, Ray Deaton, Russell Moore, James King, or just about anybody else imaginable from our wonderful volunteers! The horse back riding is very popular among the younger set as well as some of our more mature guests! The prizes seem to be pretty exciting as Saturday Night approaches and everyone is anticipating winning the car we give away each year among other prizes. It is such a pleasure to attend other wonderful events and see similar things borrowed from Poppy Mountain! The young folks area and the large screen projected TV appeals to the many guests that return each year to Poppy Mountain!
Now if it’s Marty your talking about as “poppy”, he likes to see people coming up the mountain each and every year!
Who is the C in the CMT barn?
As many folks close to us here, they know the “nickname” of the Poppy Mountain Showcase Barn was put together rather quickly and it’s looks are attributed manly to the folks most proud of it — Carrie and Marty Horton and Tim Cahall!!!! Others really sweated it out 3 years ago to complete it on time too. Paul Webb, Joe and Janie Hamm, and Owen Burton put may hours into it! This barn is in our opinion, one of the prettiest stages in the festival circuit! It now has a permanent sound system mounted in it as well as the capacity to do great summer shows in it! Thanks to Dick Webb and our pal. Ernie!
What gives you the greatest satisfaction?
The greatest satisfaction comes from Knowing that we gave a really great time to the guests! We can only improve the world if we do it, and this is my way of making the world a better place as well as trying to make a bit of a living! Sunday Morning as we wave to all our guests and invite them again to the next festival, tears can be seen falling from each of our eyes with happiness! I also have a lot of satisfaction knowing that we have been an asset to the local community as well as our bluegrass community in that the services we have given in lines of parade donations, benefits, helping with other shows, and etc. With the webcasts from Acoustic Box Office, lots of folks have a better knowledge of Poppy Mountain. Poppy Mountain is becoming known for it’s benevolence as well as bringing the economical impact up for the surrounding counties! Poppy Mountain is satisfied too, knowing people are starting to notice us and what we are doing. PoppyTim was invited to participate in the inaugural Leadership Bluegrass Class 2000. He was very satisfied to have attended and honored.
How can Poppy Mountain be made better?
Poppy Mountain, like anything can stand growth. We have the need for a fantastic volunteer program and our youth area is currently under growth. We have seen many wonderful ideas at other shows and perhaps will incorporate them into our show. There is always room for anyone to reach a further potential! And that is exactly what Poppy Mountain has! If any festival has the organizational abilities and time to spend on it seriously and people behind them with support (mainly your volunteer work force), besides having a great show and guests coming (which is the most important factor), they will succeed! Better relations with agents, artists and other festivals are really important to me. Working together shoulder to shoulder does have its advantages when you don’t undermine others.