If you like bluegrass music, be sure to schedule a visit to the Longbranch Improvement Club on Saturday, July 26 from 2 to 6 p.m. for its annual bluegrass festival.

Also plan to stop by if you appreciate world-class barbecue, a chance to snag great deals through a silent auction, or just seek a family-friendly place to spend a summer afternoon.

The event, now in its third year, raises money for the programs and services at Longbranch Community Church. But organizers say it’s more than a run-of-the-mill fundraiser.

“It’s a great family day for Longbranch as much as a fundraiser,” said chef Oliver Coldeen, who will be serving up pulled-pork sandwiches at the festival. “It’s a local festival and community outreach.”

Admission is kept free so that all community members will feel welcome to stop by and enjoy the music. Instead, funds will be raised through the sale of barbecue chicken and pulled-pork sandwiches, as well as a silent auction.

For many years, the Longbranch church had put on an annual salmon bake in the summer as its signature fundraiser event. However, with the price of salmon rising steadily, basing a fundraising event around it was becoming less viable. In recent years, up to half the money raised at the event was going to pay for the cost of salmon, which church members felt cut too deeply into profits.

In agreement that the event should be kept affordable for families, the decision was made to end the salmon bake and replace it with something less expensive.

As the church already had a bluegrass jam on the third Sunday of every month from 6 to 8:30 p.m., a bluegrass festival seemed like an easy alternative. Pastor John Day is a musician himself, and the congregation enjoyed turning out for the monthly jam at the church.

It seemed the church was beginning to make a name for itself on the Key Peninsula as a place to go for great bluegrass music and a fun crowd, he said. With this in mind, “we decided to retool it into a bluegrass and barbecue festival,” Day said.

He said the festival would not happen without the dedication of many church members.

“Ruth Bramhall has been a major workhorse running the silent auction,” he said. Area businesses have donated high quality items, including handmade silver jewelry crafted locally. According to Day, the silent auction is a must-see for those interested in unique, locally made items. “You can get something nice for a steal,” he added.

There also will be games and face painting for the festival’s younger visitors.

Showcasing traditional, classical, as well as gospel bluegrass, the headliner band will be Coyote Hill Bluegrass out of northeast Oklahoma. With a local connection (band member Daniel Day is Pastor Day’s brother,) the Longbranch church is lucky to land the popular band, which is planning a busy cross-country summer tour.

Other bands scheduled to play at the event include The Old Time Fiddlers, a group of musicians from Pierce and Kitsap counties; as well as The Bluegrass Minstrels, from the Key Peninsula; and Day Brothers, a trio that includes Pastor John Day, his brother Daniel, as well as a third brother from Portland.

With awesome food and music that will keep you tapping your toes, the Bluegrass Festival is a “can’t miss” event. “It’s a good time for the whole family,” Day said.

For information about the festival, contact Longbranch Community Church at 884-9339.

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