‘Dukes of Hazzard’ star goes Americana with music fest

Ben Jones says Washington, Va., is the most "Americana town in America." (Courtesy Rappahannock Americana Music Festival)
The Rappahannock Americana Music Festival takes place from noon to 10 p.m. May 17. (Courtesy Rappahannock Americana Music Festival)

WASHINGTON — Whip out the banjo. Former congressman and “Dukes of Hazzard” actor Ben Jones is bringing a little bit of country to the D.C. region this weekend.

The Rappahannock Americana Music Festival debuts Saturday in Washington, Va., and features live bluegrass, folk, country and roots bands.

“We invented picturesque and quaint out here in Rappahannock County,” says Jones, who played mechanic Cooter Davenport on the CBS show.

“We thought it would be perfect, since we’re the most Americana town in America.”

Jones and his wife, Alma Viator, who is also co-organizing the festival, have lived in the area since 1998. He first visited Rappahannock in the 1940s and fell in love with the small-town feel of Washington, he says.

Jones eventually opened Cooter’s Place, in Sperryville, Va. Initially a roadside tribute to his beloved character on “The Dukes of Hazzard,” the venue grew to host live music and even a car show known as Dukefest. It closed down in 2003.

It was during his early years in Washington that the former two-term representative decided to dabble more seriously in music. He had always admired the sounds of the South — from jazz and blues to bluegrass and country.

“It’s the music of the people,” he says. “It’s not about the Hollywood recording industry.”

The 72-year-old now fronts Big Buster and The Dirty Dawgs, who will perform Saturday afternoon at the outdoor stage.

“As you start getting into the Blue Ridge Mountains, the weight just starts coming off your shoulders,” he says, recalling his first impressions of the region.

“It’s sort of like a time warp. You start going back in time to when people made their hamburgers by pattying them up by hand.”

With a new festival in the works, Jones considers himself a “recovering politician” and doesn’t miss his lawmaking days.

“Congress has become more divisive and mean,” he says. “There isn’t a place for people like me.”

When he’s not organizing the Americana music fest, Jones is busy running another Cooter’s Place, an online store and museum filled with “Dukes of Hazzard” memorabilia. There are two brick-and-mortar locations, in Nashville and Gatlinburg, Tennessee, that also host live music and other events.

“This is a lot more fun than Congress,” he says.

The Rappahannock Americana Music Festival will be split up into two parts. In the afternoon, live bands will perform in the village green. Enjoy local food from farmers and vendors, and sip on wine from Little Washington Winery and Vineyards.

Dinner will be served from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and then live entertainment moves indoors to The Theatre at Washington, Virginia.

Tickets are $40 for both stages or $25 for each. Rappahannock Americana has more information.

Watch Jones in “The Dukes of Hazzard” below:

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