Sunday, January 18, 2009

Rivertown Bluegrass Society - Conway, SC

We like to visit the Rivertown Bluegrass Society at least once a year these days. Back when we first became really interested in bluegrass music, Rivertown provided the monthly bluegrass events that sparked our interest. It was there, on a winter evening, we first heard Alan Bibey and his band Blueridge. Irene was so taken by his mandolin playing that she decided she wanted to play one, and a year later bought her first mandolin. One of the big days in her life was when Alan Bibey, then, as now playing with Grasstowne, sang his song “Side By Side” at Down Home in Johnson City, TN before stepping down from the stage and handing her the new Alan Bibey Signature Gibson F5 mandolin he had chosen for her in Nashville. It’s still one of her most prized possessions. Over the years at Rivertown, we’ve heard some very good local and regional bands and come to cherish this institution and others like it across the country that keeps bluegrass music alive and vital. Bluegrass is probably the only music genre where a large portion of its adherents also play the instruments and make the music. The local and state bluegrass societies provide a place to jam, a stage to perform from, and early paydays for young bands to test their mettle in front of real audiences. The Rivertown Bluegrass Society meets on the third Saturday of each month at Horry-Georgetown Technical College on route 501 about 15 miles west of Myrtle Beach South Carolina.
Local Gospel Group

Rivertown Regulars

Typically, a Rivertown evening begins around three in the afternoon when members and newcomers begin to show up with their instruments for some informal jamming. At five, a local band will take the stage for a period of open microphone performance. Sometimes two or three bands perform during this hour. Around six, the first hired bands begin to perform. There may be one or two local bands that perform for money and then a better known regional or sometimes national band will perform. Each band will perform two sets of about forty minutes, and the evening often ends with a 50/50 raffle to help defray expenses and a drawing for chances taken on goodies as well as a few door prizes. Admission at Rivertown is $8.00 for members and $10.00 for visitors, although sometimes the rates are higher if there’s a big name national band performing. This week, about 225 paying people showed up for the performance, about half filling the comfortable auditorium which features fine sight lines and good sound.

The Morris Brothers

Mike Morris

Matt Morris

Tammy Holt
On Saturday, a new gospel band played in the open mic as well as a pickup band composed of Rivertown members. After an invocation the Morris Brothers band came out. We’ve enjoyed listening to the Morris Brothers for several years. They are quite typical of good local bands. Mike Morris is a very able Reno style banjo player. In these days when Scruggs style or Scruggs influenced players dominate the banjo, solid Reno style single string players are rare indeed. Mike is fast and accurate. Brother Matt acts as the groups emcee and sings lead, also playing a very creditable guitar. They both play very fine instruments built by local builder Terry Holt. Tammy Holt, and attractive and sprightly blond bass player, has been adding spark to the band for the last year or so. They play first rate covers of classic bluegrass songs and deeply felt and rendered bluegrass Gospel music. Their rendition of “Victory is Sweet” will raise goose bumps on the back of anyone’s neck. The Morris Brothers have two new CDs they’ve just released, one a gospel recording and the other a good mix of instrumental and classic bluegrass covers with a few Matt Morris originals. Write them through their web site to inquire. The Morris Brothers present an engaging and enjoyable show.
The Bluegrass Brothers

Victor Dowdy

Robert Dowdy

Donald Dowdy
The night’s headliner was the Bluegrass Brothers. We hadn’t expected to see them for another week, as they’ll be appearing at both YeeHaw Junction and Palatka in Florida within the next three weeks. Hailing from southwestern Virginia, the Bluegrass Brothers, consisting of Victor and Robert Dowdy on bass and banjo as well as Victor’s sons Donny, a left-handed multi-instrumentalist primarily on mandolin these days, and Steve, who plays a very solid rhythm and lead guitar as well as contributing vocals. They’ve recently added Billy Hurt, Jr. on fiddle who helps to fill out their already strong sound. The Bluegrass Brothers hit the stage with huge amounts of energy, which never flags. Victor plays bass and sings lead with huge vigor, bending low over his bass for passages of slap bass solo that gets the crowd properly aroused. Robert Dowdy, on banjo, contributes strong breaks and even stronger backup work. He also exhibits a sly sense of humor from the side. Donald is that unusual instrumental player, a left hander who plays his instruments upside down. Until a year or so ago he was a guitar player, but he has taken to the mandolin, and performs quite capably, especially since he’s doing it backwards. Steve Dowdy’s singing and picking have become even stronger with his loss of a considerable amount of weight.
Steve Dowdy

Billy Hurt, Jr.

The Bluegrass Brothers are not noted for their finesse or the subtlety of their play. They feature rough, raw, old time traditional bluegrass. Their repertoire contains standards and songs that have become standards with lots of Country Gentlemen and Seldom Scene covers. Their renditions of “Sharecroppers Son” and “Country Poor, Country Proud” perhaps best express the well from which their repertoire is drawn. The addition of Billy Hurt has enabled them to add a good variety of fiddle tunes to their show, and their “Orange Blossom Special” was rousing, allowing all members of the band to shine. In an interesting show piece, Donald, Steve, and Victor all played bass solos (Donald from the southpaw side) on "Grandfather's Clock" with energy and skill. This band has extended its repertoire in the past couple of years and modulated its tone a bit, but they are a make no apologies, in your face traditional bluegrass band. They know their audience, and their audiences respond appropriately to them.

Will the Circle Be Unbroken
Evenings at Rivertown usually draw to a close around nine. It was a good evening, ending with a grand finale of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” People visiting or living in northeastern South Carolina or southeastern North Carolina can attend meetings of local bluegrass associations nearly every Saturday. They provide good, inexpensive entertainment and lots of opportunities to jam in a pleasant and welcoming setting.