After the afternoon’s Lewis Family performance I asked Little Roy Lewis if he would be willing to play my banjo. While mostly recognized as a clown who provides structure and drive to his family’s bluegrass gospel performances, Little Roy is often under- estimated by people for his musicianship. He is one of the really fine banjo players as well as doubling on guitar and auto harp. I expected he would play a song or two on my banjo, perhaps lasting five minutes, had it back to me and tell me it was nice. I would have been happy to hear that. Instead, one of those magic moments that happen in bluegrass occurred.
After tightening the head,
Soon Derwin Hinson, a talented multi-instrument player from nearby
In bluegrass jamming, a player often calls a song other players have never heard before or don’t know well. He kicks off with a chorus and players are expected to pick up the tune and play either backup or to solo when their turn comes. In some ways it’s like a competition, while in others it shows the most complex and intricate cooperation. More like jazz than rock or blues, bluegrass requires both individual excellence and close group cooperation. The complex interplay of the instruments, each taking lead or working together with the other instruments to back up either the soloist or the singer takes skill and intense listening. Players are expected, too, to be able to sing choruses in close three part harmony. The total effect is exhilarating and awe inspiring. In gospel songs a fourth part is often added as groups sing a-cappella. Irene and our fellow volunteer and friend Lynn Butler watched, sharing my enjoyment at hearing my new banjo and her mandolin played at their very best. Later Irene continued to watch while spending some time with Little Roy’s three sisters, with whom he has performed for half a century.
According to Neil Rosenberg’s Bluegrass: A History the first bluegrass festival was held in