Sam Karr, founder of Sam Jam, says he’s been a fan of Bluegrass music and festivals nearly all his life. “I grew up with my father and his friends all going to Bluegrass festivals, and them taking all their kids along with them,” he recalled recently. “The bands we listened to became some of my favorite groups, and I grew up listening to them on records and cassettes.”
In 2004 something happened that would forever change how Sam enjoyed his Bluegrass music. ”My nephew was turning 21. I had taken him a on trip with me to the IBMA event and he fell in love with Bluegrass music. I live in a area where I had several acres of land, so I told him for his 21st birthday party, I was going to hire a Bluegrass band to play in my backyard and we’d have a big blowout party.”
So Sam hired the Mark Newton band to play at his nephew’s party that year in his backyard in Marshall Indiana. “We had about 30 people there and we threw it down,” he exclaimed. “We had so much fun, and the next year all the folks asked if we were going to do it again; So we did. And it continued to grow. I hosted it there for four or five years, until it got so big that my neighbors ran us off,” he quipped. “We had tents all over the yard and had added several more bands over the years. I wouldn’t take a vacation. I’d just hire a big name band to come play at our backyard festival instead. I lost money, but I had a blast,” he laughed.
Knowing it was time to find a bigger space for his backyard jam, Sam began to look for another spot to host the festival. A friend named Robby Taylor who was affiliated with Miller Lite encouraged him to move it to a space in Cincinnati – Miller Lite would sponsor it and see if it could really grow. It was a huge success, but again, limited space, so they had to move once more. Sam met Rick Greene in 2009, a public affairs professional, at Rudy Fest. Rick pitched the idea of SamJam moving to the Pike County Fairgrounds where it would have room to really grow. “I went up and looked at the fairgrounds, and man, it just blew my mind,” Sam exclaimed. “So we started over, again, from ground zero.”
Since then, SamJam has grown into one of the premier Bluegrass festivals for may folks, not just from the surrounding area, but across the country. The 2018 version held this coming Labor Day weekend at the Pike County Fairgrounds in Piketon, Ohio, features five days of music with some of the industry’s top headliners including, Daley and Vincent, Flat Lonesome, Claybank, Dave Adkins, Sideline, Lonesome River Band, Doyle Lawson, and many more.
To find out more about attending SamJam 2018, visit
www.samjambluegrass.com, and listen to our expanded interview with Sam Karr on our podcast, Americana Music Profiles.
written by Greg Tutwiler