First Annual South Carolina State Bluegrass Festival
Photos by Ed Huffman
Reprinted from Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine
February 1971, Volume 5, Number 8
Bluegrass came to South Carolina on Thanksgiving weekend November 27-29th. The festival was held at the modern and relatively new Myrtle Beach Convention Center. It offered fans a welcome-wealth of conveniences. People …. you may not believe this …. but the Convention Center has real bathrooms!
I was told that the Friday night audience was small but enthusiastic and by the time we arrived Saturday morning it had grown considerably. The Country Gentlemen were on as we came in and their Bluegrass arrangement of the Beatles “Yesterday”was just terrific. No matter how many times one may see them perform their “Cripple Creek” its always fun to watch and hear perfection for certainly the Gentlemen’s style of comedy is unique.
Chubby Wise’s rendition of Clayton McMichen’s “Georginia Moon” was especially good.
Then came the man that everybody had been waiting to see . . . Bill Monroe . . . “Sittin on Top of the World” and “Rawhide” were my two favorites from that segment of his show. Monroe seemed to be in such a good mood and the audience kept him busy answering requests. A little boy about 8 or 9 stood up among the request shouting and as Bill leaned forward on the stage to hear him repeat his request the boy, apparently frightened all of a sudden . . . lost his voice for three seconds or so pause then yelled out as loud as he could “play ‘Highway of Sorrow’”! Monroe, with a big grin on his face yelled back: “Well O.K.!” It was a touch that the people liked. Bill called out banjo picker Doug Hutchins (Virginia) who gave a terrific rendition of “Lonesome Road Blues”.
Jim Monroe’s “Mary and the Miles in Between” was outstanding. Charlie Moore then took a leave of M.C. absence to take his turn at the microphone. He introduced thirteen year old “Jug” Rogers from Georgia who played mandolin. After doing a fine job with “Help Me Make it Through the Night”, Charlie ended up fralin’ “Slewfoot” on the 5-string.
Roy Martin was running the show so close to the printed schedule that you could actually make the painful decision of which group to sacrifice hearing to go get some chow.
In my opinion the laurels of the festival should go to Jim and Jesse. To say they were overwhelming would be the understatement of the day. “When I Stop Dreaming”, “Cotton Mill Man” and “It’s a Long Way to the Top of the World” were almost too good to listen to. Harmony that fine plain hurts to hear. If they get any better, guess I’ll have to give up festivals! They had already made an instant fan of me from their performance this past summer at Shoal Creek Country Music Park in Lavonia, Georgia. Carl Jackson (their banjo player) has had a birthday and is now seventeen.
Of all the numbers Don Reno and Bill Harrell did, “Fields on Fire” was, in my mind, the highlight of their afternoon performance. While I sat there thinking things couldn’t get any better afternoon melted into night. As usual, the parking lot was full of pickers goin’ strong.
Since I had been in on a “secret surprise” for some time, the part of the day I had personally been looking forward to finally arrived. After a show that left the audience howling, “Snuffy” Jenkins and “Pappy” Sherrill were honored by the festival with the presentation of plaques signifying the outstanding contributions they have made to bluegrass music in South Carolina over three decades. A congratulatory letter from Radio Station WIS in Columbia was read after Don Reno finished the presentation. I was very proud for them.
The Shenandoah Valley Cut-Ups were in their usual fantastic form all week-end and I heard that they did a lion’s share of the work on Friday’s program. The only thing better than one fiddle is two, and Chubby Wise and Tater Tate together are an unbeatable combination. Then Mac Wiseman came on and gave one of the best performances I’ve seen from him all summer long. The fans response was terrific and they kept bringing up so many written requests that Mac finally acknowledged that “The mail’s coming’ in purtty good down here”! He gets a sound out of his guitar that I don’t believe anybody else will ever equal. The audience itself was studded with musicians who had come to hear musicians. Odell Wood (of the Smokey Ridge Boys, recent winners of the Reidsville national string band contest); R.C. Harris, banjoist from Statesville, N.C.; and dobroist Curtis Burch, Jr. from Brunswick, Georgia to name just a few.
Ralph Stanley and his Clinch Mountain Boys get me every time with “Rank Stranger”. I guess that’s my all-time favorite of theirs.
The re-union concert was what anybody could have ever expected and more. Bill Harrell’s singing with Monroe just could not go without mention. Glen Mowery, the president of Bill Monroe’s fan club, came all the way from Oklahoma to present Bill with a plaque acknowledging him as the “father of Bluegrass” and the newest member of the Country Music Association’s Hall of Fame. The plaque was most attractive, shield shaped, and encircled by smaller shields with Bill’s most famous songs engraved on them.
As the stage lights dimmed and the seats emptied, I wondered just how many people who had attended really knew what they had heard that night. Sometimes it’s so easy to sit there and forget that these marvelous men may not have had anything to eat for the last six or eight hours …. traveled about 250 miles to get there …. and probably slept only a few hours the night before …. yet put out the music with unmatched flawlessness …. don’t ever be fooled into thinking that it’s not very hard work. . .