March, a promise of a new awakening. Usually March is caught somewhere in a paradox and can't seem to really make up its mind: "Am I going to be cold, wet, windy and hanging to the memory of winter, or am I going to let go and become SPRING?! There's April, all dressed up in daffodils and the like. Then there's those ‘April showers that bring May flowers.' Well goody for you. Actually I, March, will just continue to enjoy myself with my usual mix of uncertainty and do them all a favor. Put up with me for a few weeks and you'll really enjoy those other two, enjoy them like your first springtime BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL." OK, sorry, got a little carried away.
There have been some memorable times in February. No, not those guys in the top hats out there yanking that poor groundhog critter out of a perfectly good warm bed in the early morning crack of dawn. Flooding him with TV camera lights and getting all excited, "HE SAW HIS SHADOW." Probably did if he was awake enough to even peep. Frankly, I think Ole Phil should have just bitten that dude —nothing serious, just a little nip — and waddled back to bed and said, "Call me in a couple of months. I don't have nothing to do with the weather anyhow."
No, that wasn't one of those memorable days, but I'll tell you what was: Friday, the 11th. Karl Shiflett and the Big Country Show did it like it ought to be done at Shepherdsville [Music Place]. Karl is stuck in the '50s and glad to be there. One mike, and as smooth a show as you've seen for a long time. They all played that mike like it was theirs. Not once did anyone miss a break OR get in one another's way. It was just like I had seen Flatt & Scruggs do it so many times. These guys hit the stage like they meant it and didn't let up. No wasted time, no notes or program sheet; they were there to put on a show and, to quote Wendy Bagwell, "Honey, they did." They weaved, ducked, dodged and danced with that mike and never missed a beat. This is a group that to watch them work is right up there with listening to their music. Karl Shiflett and Big Country Show is a show to see. Don't miss your next opportunity.
I know this is way ahead, quite a bit more than I usually mention something, but just thought I would clear up a date for some folks. A listener [to Sunday Bluegrass, WFPK] called me at home and asked about the dates of the Fall Homecoming at the Museum of Appalachia this year. Seems some friend of his was about half convinced that the dates had changed. Well, they haven't (as in have not). Still the second full weekend in October, this year October 12-15. This is all the warning you need to plan now.
What's going on around? I'll tell you what I know.
• West Point: March 4, Once Again Tammy Wynette, featuring Linda Hunt of Radcliff; March 11., St. Patrick's Day show; March 18, Spring Elvis Show with Verland Hatmaker; March 25, Narvel Felts Rockabilly.
• At Shepherdsville it's BLUEGRASS. Sand Mountain Boys were to be there on the 3rd but had to cancel. At this time I do not know who will be filling in. March 10, friend and favorite of many fans here in the area, Randall Hylton; the 17th, Doyle Lawson; the 24th, The Johnny Collins Band; and March 30 (Thursday), this is the "must see DO NOT MISS, I REPEAT – BE THERE," show. Jim & Jesse and the Lewis Family all under one roof the same night. Don't kick yourself Friday morning, the 31st, and give some miserable excuse: "I thought it was tonight" or "I forgot." WRONG answer. In fact, folks, don't miss another one.
• For those who may want an excuse to take a little trip, as if you really needed one, March 11, Mountain Heart & Dale Ann Bradley & Coon Creek will be at Renfro Valley. March 18, the Osborne Bros. will follow, joined by cousin Dean Osborne & Eastbound. Did I ask this before? Maybe, but we'll see if you remember. Some of you may have to do a little digging for this one. RCA issued on a 45 an instrumental titled "Jean's Song." Shortly after its initial release, another release, same tune and artist, came along and is the title you possibly remember. A small hint: your first impression/guess of the artist is very probably right.
• Almost forgot to mention: I believe Gary Brewer is planning to have another Rambler Jamboree at the School for the Blind on the 11th, I think. I don't have details now but I am sure Gary will get them to me and I will pass it on some Sunday night. I was hoping to be there last month but did not make it. Maybe this time.
Our friends from Switzerland will be making a Spring tour. The Kruger Brotheres will be arriving in the U.S. on May 15. They have open dates among dates in Bonner Springs, Kansas, Maryville, Tenn., Union Grove, N.C., and many more. This spring/summer tour will have them here until August when they return to Switzerland for contracted dates. The Krugers are fast building a solid following here in the states.
Bill Evans made the following comments in Banjo Newsletter January 2000 issue, in an article entitled "The Banjo in 1999":
"1999 was also a strong year for European banjo players . . . . Foremost among these players is Swiss composer Jens Kruger, who is establishing himself as the most talented player to emerge in the last decade. He certainly deserves the early title of most prolific banjo artist of the new millennium."
Bill, I can support that wholeheartedly. After all, having been featured banjo for the likes of Dry Branch Fire Squad and certainly no slouch on the instrument, you should know. Speaking of instruments and instrumentals, remember that question a few paragraphs back? Well, like I said, your first impression/guess was probably RIGHT. An all time favorite guitar picker, Chet Atkins, did the recording. Title of the re-release was "The Poor People of Paris." I could play it for you, both versions. [Didn't know you could pick the guitar, Berk! Or did you mean you could play it on your radio show? Either way, we'd like to hear it. – Ed. Em.]
• I heard last week and got a "third" to the story today, which is Feb. 18th. Uncle Josh Graves, of Dobro and Flatt & Scruggs fame, had his left leg amputated above the knee. This became necessary because of a blood clot. I do not know exactly when the operation was done but have heard he is doing fine and is in good spirits, cracking jokes and the like. Say a little prayer for him and hope everything continues to go well and improve.
• Also a note about Brother Oswald. Have heard that he is about the same and hasn't lost his sense of humor. Keep him in mind also.
• I had a call Saturday afternoon, the 19th of February, from a very good friend, Bill Stewart. I just knew it wasn't a good call from the time I answered. Bill was calling to pass along the unwelcome news that his brother Gene Stewart, known to many of you here, had passed away the night before at 9:45. Bill told me he wanted to call me because he knew I had known Gene and they considered me a good friend. I had visited with Gene often when he worked in Bacon's in Shively. Gene was a wonderful musician, as are all of the family, and certainly played a big, perhaps underrated and unsung, role in country music — traditional country music.
Among many stories, he told me one day about the time cutbacks were made on recordings during the WWII era because of material shortages. Recording was being stopped and artists and musicians were rushing to record as much as possible before the shutdown. Gene had run back and forth to different parts of the country to help get these recordings done. He was a friend and an excellent musician. We will miss you, Gene Stewart, and rest peacefully. Thank you, Bill, for letting me know about this when and as you did.
OK, I don't know about you but I AM READY FOR SPRING! Guess it's time to go get a buttercup, they're probably up and blooming by now. And when the time comes to open the windows, especially Sunday nights, turn that radio up a little bit louder and let's share this good bluegrass music with all the friends and neighbors. (That's WFPK 91.9 FM, Sunday nights, 8-11).