Funding was secured through Miami University Regionals with grants from the Ohio Arts Council, Middletown Community Foundation, the Appalachian Community Development Association, W.E. Smith Family Charitable Trust and private donors. The project was released from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.
Mullins is a Middletown native. His father, Paul “Moon” Mullins was a bluegrass fiddler and a legendary radio broadcaster with more than 45 years of service in broadcasting. Mullins has also become an award-winning musician and radio broadcaster. He can be heard daily on “Real Roots Radio,” and he is also the host of the syndicated radio program, “Front Porch Fellowship,” which can be heard on more than 200 radio stations worldwide.
“Joe is very well regarded in the bluegrass music world. He has a very deep connection with Middletown. He also took classes on the Middletown campus of Miami University, so he has a personal connection to Miami University, but ‘Industrial Strength Bluegrass’ was one of the legacy projects of what started off as the Southwestern Ohio Bluegrass Music Heritage Project,” Smith said.
The “Southwestern Ohio Bluegrass Music Heritage Project” has now been “refocused and rebranded” into the “Industrial Strength Bluegrass” project, which resulted a speakers series followed by a book that was edited by Fred Bartenstein and Curtis W. Ellison as well as an album and a music festival, both produced by Mullins.
The evening will begin with a brief presentation on the “Industrial Strength Bluegrass” project and the story of southwestern Ohio bluegrass music, followed by live musical entertainment from Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers. General admission tickets are $20 and tickets for students/seniors and veterans are $15 (plus a $3 order fee will be applied.)
“We wanted to bring live music back to the stage in Dave Finkelman Auditorium, because we haven’t been able to put on a live musical performance there since the outbreak of the pandemic,” Smith said.
Mullins, his family, and his band have been instrumental in furthering and preserving bluegrass music across the region and beyond.
“I grew up in the middle of bluegrass history. I was fortunate to be born and raised in Middletown. Middletown had deep roots in country music and bluegrass music. Mr. Braden, who originally licensed WPFB Radio in Middletown in the late 1940′s, immediately started creating programming that would serve the Appalachian transplants,” said Joe Mullins.
There were tens of thousands Appalachian transplant families that relocated to the Miami Valley after World War II, he said.
“When they moved from Kentucky, Tennessee or West Virginia to Middletown, Hamilton, Dayton or Cincinnati, they brought banjos and fiddles with them, and that kind of music found a home in Southwestern Ohio. It’s one of the very first metropolitan areas to have a real market for bluegrass music on radio and television…They played honky-tonks on Saturday night and churches on Sunday morning,” Mullins said.
He said that rich Appalachian history is documented in the book and on the album, which chronicles the booming bluegrass scene in Southwestern Ohio.
“Bluegrass music really became commercially viable in Southwestern Ohio, which was one of the very first places it did so, outside of the Rural South. My dad was a fiddler and a broadcaster. My dad was hired by the radio station in Middletown in 1964 to build upon that tradition that had been started in the late 1940′s. He was a master at maintaining a large radio audience and doing it with traditional country music and bluegrass music, not only on the radio, but on stage,” Mullins said.
During the concert, Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers will perform songs from the “Industrial Strength Bluegrass” album including the title track the band recorded “Readin’, Rightin’, and Route 23″ as well as some of their own songs.
“This year, we are traveling and performing in 22 states, and have been very fortunate. So, the ‘Industrial Strength Bluegrass’ album was a passion of mine. Miami University reached out to a few bluegrass historians like myself in the region several years ago. A series of lectures and presentations in Hamilton, Middletown and Cincinnati became the context for what became the book. When I found out a book would be published about Southwestern Ohio’s musical legacy called ‘Industrial Strength Bluegrass,’ I thought there should be an album of the same title. You’ll find some of the most significant songs in the history of bluegrass music in Ohio on the project, songs that were first performed, written or recorded here,” Mullins said.
“Industrial Strength Bluegrass” is a 16-track album that highlights the music that the Appalachian migrants made and loved. Other all-star talent featured on the project includes Vince Gill on “Baby Blue Eyes,” Lee Ann Womack on “From Life’s Other Side,” and The Oak Ridge Boys and The Isaacs on “Garden Tomb,” among others.
Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers released the first single from the album, “Readin’, Rightin’, and Route 23,” which spent a couple of months at No. 1 this winter.
How to go
What: Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers and the Miami University Regionals Appalachian Studies to present “Industrial Strength Bluegrass”
When: Fri., Mar. 4 at 7 p.m.
Where: Miami University Regionals Middletown Campus, Dave Finkelman Auditorium, 4200 N. University Blvd.
Cost: Tickets are $20 general admission; $15 students/seniors/veterans. A $3 order fee will be applied.
More info: To order, visit www.miamioh.edu/boxoffice or call (513) 529-3200. No cash sales at door. Those needing disability accommodations should contact the Box Office at (513) 529-5000. Connect with Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers at www.radioramblers.com.