Without a local woman’s love of a distinctive style of music, the East Troy Bluegrass Festival might have never happened.

Now in its 26th year, the festival returns Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 7 and 8, from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Located at East Troy Village Square Park, 2881 Main St., the event has a popular food court and a market for local crafters, artisans and vendors.

But mainly, it’s about the music, said Vanessa Lenz, executive director of the East Troy Area Chamber of Commerce.

“Now considered one of the top bluegrass events in the region, the East Troy Bluegrass Festival was started from scratch back in 1994, and today — along with the famous Alpine Valley Music Theatre — is credited for making music deeply rooted in the local community,” she said.

She said the festival was founded by artistic director Melissa Sherman, who fell in love with bluegrass as a young girl.

According to Lenz, Sherman found little time to go to shows or jam while raising three children and running her business, Melissa’s Country Baskets and a Touch of Heart, in East Troy.

Sherman started the event instead, raising money for prizes and asking her friends to play for nothing.

Three years in, a private donation brought in Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys.

“The performance set high standards for the festival, and Sherman has worked to increase the quality of the bands each year,” Lenz said.

This year’s event features a packed lineup which includes David Davis and the Warrior River Boys Sept. 7, and Carolina Blue on the main stage Sept. 8.

In fact, there’s so much bluegrass on tap that the Piper Road Spring Band is playing twice Sept. 7.

Piper Road also has an after-show Sept. 7, at 6 p.m., at the East Troy Brewery, 2905 Main St.

What is bluegrass?

According to the Bluegrass Heritage Foundation, the style of music traces back to people who came to America in the 1600s from Ireland, Scotland and England.

Bill Monroe is often credited as the one who coined the phrase “bluegrass music,” since in 1938 he adopted the name Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys.

Played on traditional acoustic instruments and sung with strong vocal harmonies, bluegrass has continued to thrive through the years.

The East Troy Bluegrass Festival has been vital to the local scene.

“Our festival helps to celebrate and preserve the bluegrass genre and give bands a platform to play on,” said Lenz. “Impromptu jams on the south side of the square give fans a chance to jump in on the action.”

Tradition plays a key role in deciding the festival lineup each year, she said, but Sherman often strives to bring in artists who present other variations of bluegrass, which has crossed over into pop culture recently.

“This has helped attract younger fans to the music, which usually has a fan base of 60- to 80-year-olds,” Lenz said.

Festival lineup

On Sept. 7, the event kicks off with an open stage jam for bands, duos and trios.

The Jefferson County Bluegrass Band performs at 11 a.m., the Templetons at noon, Piper Road Spring Band at 1 p.m.

A band scramble is at 2 p.m., followed by Cox’s Army at 3 p.m. and David Davis and the Warrior River Boys at 4 p.m.

On Sept. 8, a gospel service featuring the Siegmann family begins at 10 a.m.

Banjo, mandolin and guitar contests occur at 11:30 a.m.

The MilBillies perform at 1 p.m., Squirrel Gravy at 2 p.m., the Mark Hembree Band at 3 p.m., and Carolina Blue at 4 p.m.

Admission to the East Troy Bluegrass Festival is $10 per person for the weekend.

Free admission for children ages 15 and younger.

Guests should bring their own lawn chairs.

For more, visit easttroybluegrass.com or email vanessa@easttroy.org.