Saturday, May 3, 2008

Bluegrass on the Waccamaw - Conway, SC - Preview

The twelfth annual Bluegrass on the Waccamaw will be held on Saturday, May 10th at the Old Peanut Warehouse in downtown Conway, SC beginning at 12:30 and running until 10:00 in evening. This small festival is the brainchild and realization of Jennings Chestnut and his wife Willi and is one of the most unusual small festivals held anywhere. First, it’s free. That’s right, this festival, presenting top national bands as well as local and regional talent has been presented free to public each year for more than a decade. Back in the mid nineties, Jennings realized that the price of a day at a bluegrass festival was reaching levels beyond the means of many who have enjoyed the music in the past or would enjoy being introduced to it. He decided to begin offering this festival “free to the public” and set about figuring out how to make it happen. Through the cooperation of a number of sponsors and year-round hard work by the promoter to raise funds, the festival has presented some of the finest bluegrass bands anywhere in this free format. Now chartered as a 501 c (3) not for profit organization, Bluegrass on the Waccamaw continues to offer the best in bluegrass music on the second Saturday of May each year.

The Old Peanut Warehouse - Conway, SC

Jennings and Willi Chestnut

The other day we had the pleasure of attending a typical event characterizing Jennings’ fund raising efforts for his festival. From his small Mandolin Shop on Main Street in Conway, we went over to the family living center of the First United Methodist Church of Conway for the Rotary Club meeting. While we ate a tasty and filling chicken barbecue lunch, Jennings introduced Robert Napier on fiddle, Alan Bibey on mandolin, and a couple of his friends on guitars to provide the day’s entertainment. Robert Napier is the house fiddler for the Alabama Theater in Myrtle Beach and has toured with the likes of Tammy Wynette. Alan Bibey, who lives nearby, is currently one of the three principles with Grasstowne, which will be performing at Bluegrass on the Waccamaw, is one of the finest mandolin players anywhere. How many people can call on folks like this to help promote a small, local event? Between songs Jennings talked about the history of the festival and told Rotarians of their opportunity to purchase raffle tickets. Jennings visits these kinds of events year round raising money to support the festival. Recently, he has also begun seeking grants from private and public sources.

A Chestnut Mandolin

Scratch Band at the Rotary

Robert Napier Entertains at the Rotary Club

The final fund raiser for Bluegrass on the Waccamaw is a barbecue dinner inside the Old Peanut Warehouse on Friday night before the festival. Tickets for this event are $25.00 and a limited number are sold. Entertainment will be provided by the Jeanette Williams Band. In addition to an evening of fine bluegrass music, this catered event offers folks a local culinary favorite called Chicken Bog and other local and regional specialties.

Grasstowne at Bluegrass on the Waccamaw 2007

Alan Bibey

Steve Gulley

Headlining Bluegrass on the Waccamaw on Saturday will be Grasstowne and Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out.. Interestingly, Alan Bibey, now of Grasstowne, was one of the original members of IIIrd Tyme Out about fifteen years ago. Of the other originals, only Russell Moore remains with IIIrd Tyme Out. Grasstowne was formed about a year and a half ago when Steve Gulley, Phil Leadbetter, and Bibey decided to form a new band seeking to combine their respect and love for traditional bluegrass with a more contemporary sound. Grasstowne’s first CD The Road Headin’ Home has been a terrific hit, achieving first position on “Bluegrass Unlimited” magazine’s top twenty list for several consecutive months. Songs from the album have reached the top of the BU singles list and “Devil’s Road” is currently rising on the Sirius satellite radio hit list. This is a not to be missed band, which will be headlining at bluegrass festivals for years to come. There is no band that boasts any better musicianship than Grasstowne. Leadbetter, Bibey, and Gulley are all at the top of their game. Jason Davis on banjo, while only 20 years old, has played with several major bands and gets better every year. Jayme Booher on bass provides just the beat this band needs.

Russell Moore

Wayne Benson

Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out have come through their recent shake-up a stronger and tighter band. Who would ever think their bus driver would be able to replace the fabled Ray Deaton singing bass on Gospel quartets, but that’s exactly what happened. The addition of Wayne Benson on mandolin and Edgar Loudermilk on bass have strengthened the band. Russell Moore remains one of the very best lead singers in bluegrass music, while Steve Dilling is a fine banjo player. Benson, of course, belongs on the same stage with Bibey and returns to IIIrd Tyme Out at an appropriate tyme. These two bands offer the best that bluegrass has.

Steve Dilling and Russell Moore

The Lewis Family, bills itself as America’s first family of bluegrass Gospel music, and deserves the label. After more than fifty years of performing at festivals, in churches, on radio and TV and anywhere else, they have become a connection between the early days of bluegrass and the present. Little Roy Lewis provides energy, enthusiasm, and comedy to this family group. His three sisters, though aging and unwell, continue to take the stage with grace and good humor. Lewis Phillips, sister Janice’s son, serves well on guitar and back-up banjo as well as contributing a pleasant voice. This band remains a favorite of many fans across the nation.

The Lewis Family at Bluegrass on the Waccamaw - 2007

Zeb and Samantha Snyder are two very young musicians who bear watching. Zeb, at age 12 is a wizard flat picker on his Henderson guitar. His winsome sister, Samantha, plays a mean fiddle and her smile lights up an audience as she sings. Both will bear watching as they mature. The rest of the lineup is composed of local and regional bands which will prove to be both lively and entertaining.

Along the Riverwalk on the Waccamaw

Bluegrass on the Waccamaw is held on the second Saturday of May at the Old Peanut Warehouse in Conway, SC. It is free and runs from 12:30 until 10:00 PM. The goal of providing “World class bluegrass” is met every year. Be sure to walk down to the Riverwalk along the river to hear the jammers congregating there during the festival. It’s worth your time and effort to get out to Conway for this delightful event.