Berk Bryant

Bluegrass Beat
By Berk Bryant

September - definitely one to remember. On the other hand, it seems to have passed so quickly I can't remember it all. There was the beginning of the month with the Strictly Bluegrass Festival, the middle of the month with images of destruction such as we have never seen on the home front, and now my deadline (a very poor reference or terminology) is here and I am just attempting to get this done. So much of this month has blurred that gathering it all together seems to stir it more.


The Strictly Bluegrass Festival was, to say the least, interesting. Storms hit Friday and - thankfully - held off Saturday. Out of the storms came some good moments.

Friday night it was time for Ralph Stanley to go on stage and a storm raged, with thunder, lightening and a downpour of rain. I had followed Ralph into the area under the stage, where we found a couple of chairs and sat. We could hear music and singing coming from above us. Ralph mused that it sounded like his boys. I suggested that if it was them and they were on, somebody would find him.

A little later Gary Brewer came down and told us that the music was a tape playing. He told Ralph that the decision to play or not would be his call. The rain and storm had subsided a bit. Gary told Ralph that we could all go to the house, or we could let the people that were still there gather around on stage and Ralph could sing and play for them there - no mikes, no sound system. Ralph asked how many people were still there. Gary told him about 100-plus. Ralph's response was that if that many fans waited through all of that storm and were that dedicated he didn't feel like he could not play for them. "We'll do it." (Ralph, that's just one of the reasons you are the great artist you are - head and shoulders above many, perhaps most). And for about an hour they "did it."

A couple of good sides from this. I had the best opportunity to sit and talk/visit with Ralph I think I have ever had. I really enjoyed it. A second good bit that came from this was expressed to me by James Alan Shelton. In an e-mail note, James had this to say: "That was a fun show, in spite of the rain. You can really play together better when you are close to each other instead of being spread out over 20 feet. It was the most fun I've had pickin' in a long time!!!"

James, I for one fully agree with those sentiments.

Needless to say, the show went well for the adoring fans gathered around one of their most favorite performers.

Big Bluegrass Bash in Town

Everyone knows as you read this that IBMA World of Bluegrass is here! It's all happening Oct. 1-7 at the Galt House right here in Louisville. It really is the place for bluegrass fans to be. It's a lot like an annual family reunion. A means to stay in touch with friends, renew acquaintances, even make new friends and just enjoy the event for everything it has to offer.

Hartford Tribute Cruise on Belle

That same week - Friday, the 5th - a special event. There is going to be a John Hartford tribute cruise on the Belle of Louisville. The Belle will begin boarding at 10 a.m., cruise at 10:30 and return to the dock at 1:30 p.m. This is not an IBMA event, but it does have their blessing.

There will be an $8 charge. ALL ticket proceeds will go to the Sara Cannon (Minnie Pearl) Cancer Center. For several good reasons, the cruise will be limited to 600. The Belle has given a break on the cost of the cruise for this event, as they have - and feel - a close relation with John, who had been on the boat many times and promoted the Belle many times.

As I am writing this, some of the participants expected to be there are Leroy Troy, Hog Operation (who already contributed much to enable this event to take place), Dean Sapp, Laurie Lewis (if she is able to get here - the plane/flying thing), Chris Sharp and others. Maybe Dry Branch Fire Squad and Jamie Hartford, John's son. Some others are in the works at this time. Please keep in mind that acts are subject to change. Remember this also: So many acts are more than ready to participate; let's do this for John.

What else is happening?

Music Ranch USA, West Point: Oct. 5, Gospel with the Bowman Family. Oct. 6, Country Classics with Terri Cundiff and C.T. Robinson. Oct. 12, Verland Hatmaker and Rockin' Rancheros. Oct. 13, Country Classics with Betsy Perkins. Oct. 14, Talent Round Up at 2 p.m.. Oct. 19, Blue Hollow Bluegrass Band. Oct. 20, Country Classics with Nathan Jackson & Candance Lynn, and Jim Roberts ("Jimmy Jack Escue"). Oct. 26, Rockin' Rancheros. Oct. 27, Country Classics with Linda Hunt, Doug Richardson and Johnny Polinsky. Nov. 2, Gospel.

Shepherdsville should be ready to go about the middle of the month. I do not have a schedule as of now, so listen to Sunday Bluegrass, WFPK, 91.9 FM, Sunday night 8-11.

The 6th annual Stringbean Memorial Bluegrass & Folklife Festival, Jackson Co., Ky., Oct. 3-6: Lonesome River Band, Lynn Morris Band, Ryan Holladay, Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time, James King Band and others.

IBMA World of Bluegrass & Trade Show: The very first week of October. The Galt House will be overflowing with the tops in bluegrass music, fans by the thousands, friends by the - well, you count yours - showcases, and ending the week with the Fan Fest Oct. 5, 6 and 7. One you don't want to miss.

Thursday, the next week (Oct. 11) starts the annual Tennessee Fall Homecoming at The Museum of Appalachia, Norris, Tenn. Another one you wouldn't want to miss.

Well, that's more than enough for this time. Remember to tell your e-mail family and friends that WFPK is streaming. Go to and listen to Sunday Bluegrass, 8-11p.m. Don't forget - join the cruise for John.


Could you put the following in a sidebar next to Berk's column, space permitting. If that isn't possible - and I suspect it isn't - could you put a note (in a box or in parenthesis, etc.) at the end of his column, saying something like this:

See page _ for information concerning proposed changes at the Country Music Hall of Fame.


Since bluegrass and good traditional country were all in the same class many years ago, meaning it was all referred to as country, I am passing along an e-mail I received as I was writing this. Read it and draw your own conclusions - Berk Bryant.


September 16, 2001

Dear Colleagues:

Some of you have heard of the recent wholesale firings at the Country Music Hall of Fame last week. If you have not, be advised that what used to be the Country Music Foundation Library and Archives has been severely decimated.

Ronnie Pugh, a veteran of 22 years as the CMF's premier reference librarian and author of the definitive biography of Ernest Tubb, was summarily fired and given an hour to leave the premises; he was escorted outside by a security guard.

Chris Dickinson, the brilliant editor of "The Journal of Country Music," who was brought to Nashville from St. Louis specifically to take over the "Journal," was similarly fired. Also let go were other members of the library staff. Two other individuals involved with the new tourism department "resigned."

According to HoF director Kyle Young, this is part of a restructuring in which the emphasis of the HoF will be more toward glitzy, high-profile efforts involving current hot stars. In doing so, it seems to be that the HoF is abandoning its original mission statement of preserving the history of country music - and possibly compromising its status as a non-profit educational institution. At present, there is only one person really working in the library and archives - a pleasant and well-trained archivist, but one who knows little about country music, or about the world class archives they have there. She routinely called on Ronnie or Bob Pinson for help in finding things and answering queries from researchers.

Which brings up a secondary effect of this cold action. Bob Pinson, the dean of country music discographers and legendary historian, an expert who has through the years selflessly helped many of us in our research, had been working part time as he eases into retirement. But now he says - and this is a quote -"when they cut their ties with Ronnie, they cut their ties with me." The great country music discography manuscript, some 15 years in the making, was within a day's work of completion. Bob begged Paul Kingsbury and Kyle Young to at least let Ronnie help him finish this, but was turned down. The manuscript was left sitting on Ronnie's desk. Its fate is uncertain.

Staffers also feel that "The Journal of Country Music" will be changed from its present form and stripped of any historical material, and turned into a slick, Garthian fan magazine full of eye candy for the high rollers who contribute to the HoF. Chris Dickinson, who gave her heart and soul into making the "Journal" a quality publication that would attract scholars as well as newsstand readers, feels crushed and angry. She is planning to return to Chicago soon, where she earned her original reputation as a tough, insightful journalist.

We were able to plant a story about this in the Nashville Tennessean, but it ran Wednesday morning, amidst all the coverage of the WTC disaster. Nonetheless, it did alert some people in the music community about what had transpired. It turns out that the HoF Board of Directors had not even been told about this "new vision" and change of direction, and some of them were quite upset. They met in emergency session last Thursday, but Kyle Young was able to defer their criticism by insisting they were trying to "micro-manage."

The HoF powers are hoping that they will weather this storm and protest and in a week or so go back to business as usual. I hope this does not happen, and several of us locally are trying to determine what steps can be taken. Essentially, the Hall of Fame is sitting on the world's finest archive of country music, and not properly curating it.

Several of you have asked me if you could write somebody. For now, you might consider faxing your thoughts to either Marty Stuart, the honorary board chairman, or to Bruce Hinton, the actual chairman of the board. Their fax numbers are: Marty Stuart, c/o Rothbaum and Garner: 615-259-1107; and Bruce Hinton: 615-880-7450

Chris Skinker is putting together a fuller list of addresses and we will forward to those interested later.

I'm not sure that much can be done to reverse this situation, but I think we owe a debt to Ronnie Pugh and Bob Pinson for all their good help over the years. We owe it to them to at least try.


Charles Wolfe