Although Billy Self had played in a bluegrass band for several years, he says he didn’t know anything about putting on a bluegrass festival. But a desire to help struggling veterans--including a nephew--led him to create a festival in 2019 near Chillicothe, Ohio, that now attracts national acts and continues to grow.
Instead of an entrance fee, Self asks attendees to bring six items of non-perishable food that will be used to help feed local veterans.
“The best part of it is when you get at the end of it and you see how much food you collected,” Self says. “It’s great to take the food to the pantries so you actually see what you work your tail off for.”
7 Mile Bluegrass is not only the festival’s name, but of the band Self, a guitar player, singer, and songwriter, started in 2013. He and a bandmate lived seven miles from each other, hence the name. A local landowner had asked him to establish a bluegrass festival on his property. Self agreed once he realized he could gather food for veterans.
“The first year, we didn't have any support. It was me and my brother and the band. We expected, you know, a hundred people. And I hired what bands I could afford. Me and my brother paid a lot of money out of our pocket to make it happen. And we had some friends that helped sponsor it. And we had close to 1200 people.”
Additional sponsors signed up the second year, and attendance more than doubled.
“We weren’t expecting a big crowd,” Self recalls. “I'm like, ‘Wow, this, this is pretty cool!’ We raised a lot more food and filled some trucks for the VA.”
Now a 501 C-3 has been established to support the festival, and there’s a team in place to make it work.
“I didn't think I'd make it this far as an amateur. I didn't know anything about running a festival, but we've got some good bands, and everybody's excited to come out.”
Among the artists coming to this year’s festival, which takes place July 27-29, are the Lonesome River Band, Little Roy and Lizzie, Junior Sisk, My Brothers Keeper, Echo Valley, and Prairie Wildfire.
“The Prairie Wildfire girls are coming up from Wyoming, and in addition to playing, they're going to give some lessons,” Self explains. “They said, 'We're going to take a donation and put it towards the festival.’ So I thought that was great.”
Self says some people come to the festival to help the veterans but don’t know much about bluegrass. And they get hooked.
“It's family-friendly, the camping's free, and you can put your camper anywhere you want as long as we can get it in,” Self says. “You can put up a tent in the shade. And the jamming never ends." You wake up at six in the morning to people still jamming.