Canoegrass festival mixes summer camp vibes with bluegrass, folk acts



As an enthusiastic proponent of active, outdoor fun, it’s no surprise Canoegrass organizer Tom Helbig of Tomfoolery Outdoors cooked up some interesting new twists during its two-year break. The eighth festival, returning to Masters Outdoor Retreat in Houston, Friday through Sunday, Aug. 5 through 7, has a lineup of progressive bluegrass and folk acts like the Goldsberrys, the Repeating Arms and Amber Hargett along with a few outside-the-box artists.

“Canoegrass has been a grassroots movement,” Helbig said. “We’re not the biggest festival in the world and that’s intentional. We don’t want to be the biggest festival in the world. We want it to be somewhere where you can get to know your neighbor and there is little to no trouble. Everything is about love, good vibes, great music and playing on the water.”



Adult summer camp

After five years at Adventures on the Great Miami, Canoegrass moved in 2018. Its current location is a private 12-acre property near Sidney with a two-acre pond. After a second year at Masters Outdoor Retreat, the festival was sidelined in 2020 and 2021 due to coronavirus concerns.

“Masters is great,” Helbig said. “The lake has a zip line and a blob. There’s a sand volleyball court and playground and that all creates this summer camp vibe. It’s on private property so it really provides an opportunity to expand and include more family activities and more adult camp-type experiences. We’re not susceptible to the river changing levels. Being on private property also gives us a lot more flexibility. We basically surround the lake with everybody camping around it so that makes it really festive. People really love it, and it creates more of a community vibe.”

Bluegrass and more

Saturday night is the biggest musical departure with the New Old-Fashioned, Woody Pines and Jah Soul.

“We’re definitely focused on progressive bluegrass, folk and Americana but we’re throwing in a wildcard band or two each year,” Helbig said. “Jah Soul is the primary one and they’re going to do a couple of folk songs with their spin on it. A couple of other musicians are going to sit in with Jah Soul on their closing set. It’ll be a lot of fun. I think people will love it. We have some ripping progressive bluegrass bands all weekend long, but Saturday night is going to be electric. The New Old-Fashioned is doing more of a folk set and then their rock ‘n’ roll set. Woody Pines does Delta blues, ragtime and folk so it’s a pretty fun mix. This will be Woody’s third year at the festival. We’re very fortunate to get him on the schedule again.”



Beyond the festival

Next up for Tomfoolery Outdoors is the final installment of the Pickin’ Adventurous Series presented with Mother Stewart’s Brewing Company in Springfield on August 14.

“With that series, we do a hike, bike and a paddle with music along the way,” Helbig said. “The weekend after Canoegrass, we have our last Pickin’ Adventurous Series of the season. It’s a paddle at Buck Creek State Park. We take one of my giant paddleboards, which are 15 feet long by six feet wide, and put it in the lake. We’ll have Biscuits & Gravy, which is Harold Hensley and Cassandra Barker. They’ll play as we paddle around the lake. People will be in their canoes, kayaks and paddleboards and follow us along the lake while they play. It’s a lot of fun.”



The Pickin’ Adventurous Series inspired a new Canoegrass feature

“We’re really excited because we’re adding some giant paddleboard shows,” Helbig added. “They’re sponsored by The Brightside and will kick off the festival each day. We’ll have the Goldsberrys on Friday. They’re a bluegrass trio. Then we have two solo artists on Saturday and our farewell concert will be a duo and two solo artists and we’ll paddle around on our floating stage.”

Driven by fun

While Helbig is uncertain what the winter holds, he will be in Dayton through the fall.

“I’ll be involved in the Wagner Subaru Outdoor Experience as a vendor the first weekend of October,” he said. “I’ll be in the area through October, hosting events and doing guided experiences. I’ll be offering guided paddleboarding, flyfishing and custom bike events.”

Music begins at 11 a.m. Friday, 10 a.m. Saturday and 9:30 a.m. Sunday. Weekend Canoegrass passes are $120 in advance, $125 at the gate. Ticket prices are $75 Saturday only and $30 Sunday. A full weekend pass is required for Friday entry.

Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or e-mail at


What: Tomfoolery Outdoors presents the 8th Canoegrass featuring the Goldsberrys, the Repeating Arms, Amber Hargett, the New Old-Fashioned, Jah Soul and others

Where: Masters Outdoor Retreat, 5486 State Route 467, Houston

When: 1 a.m. Friday, 10 a.m. Saturday and 9:30 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 5 through 7

Cost: $120 weekend pass in advance, $125 at the gate. Individual tickets are $75 Saturday only and $30 Sunday. Full weekend pass required for Friday entry.

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