Sunday, May 10, 2009

Bluegrass on the Waccamaw - Review

Becoming a part of a bluegrass festival from the inside offers quite a different, and in many ways more interesting, insight into the joys of being associated with bluegrass music and the difficulty of putting on a first class bluegrass event. Jennings Chestnut, who owns a small mandolin shop at 304 Main Street in Conway, SC has been associated with bluegrass music for more than forty years. This was the thirteenth edition of Bluegrass on the Waccamaw, a "free to the public" day-long bluegrass festival held in the Old Peanut Warehouse along the Waccamaw River in downtown Conway. The festival, always held on the second Saturday in May, features a strong lineup of national bands along with local and regional ones. Just as important as the quality of the music, however, is the family-like environment and informal come-and-go feeling.

Jennings Chestnut - Promoter

While the work for us, as volunteers, begins on Wednesday, Jennings begins work on next year's festival a few days after this year's ends. Several years ago, Bluegrass on the Waccamaw became a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization because of its contributions to the bluegrass community of low country South Carolina and the folk culture of Horry County and Conway. In order to continue making bluegrass music available to those who otherwise might not be able to attend a bluegrass festival, Jennings must raise money all year round in the form of grants and contributions.

Warehouse Ready for Decoration and Furnishing

The Old Peanut Warehouse, built sometime in the nineteenth century, is a wonderful old wood frame building with a spacious interior and a porch, ideal for bluegrass performance, from which the late South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond once gave a speech. The inside of the building is used for a benefit supper and musical showcase on Friday night before the festival and on Saturday serves as the staging area for the bands ans well as the home of a justly famed buffet table for bands, their families, and staff members.

Volunteers Set up Vending Tent

Bunting's a Necessity
Volunteers put in two solid days of preparation for the opening dinner. Meanwhile, outdoors, tents are delivered and erected, porta-johns set on the site, grounds mowed and cleaned, traffic patterns adjusted, and all the small details that must come together to put on a festival of any size move forward under Jennings' direction. There's only one person who has the overall vision and is responsible for seeing that all the myriad activities come together on Friday evening and again on Saturday.
The Faces of Volunteers
Steve Hinman

Lynn Butler

Board Member - Donald Smith

As dinner time approaches on Friday evening, the band arrives, the caterer delivers the food, and a sense of excitement begins to grow. This evening's showcase band will be the Darin & Brooke Aldridge Quintet. Darin is familiar to many in this audience through his previous association with Charlie Waller and The Country Gentlemen as well as its successor band, The Circuit Riders, who have appeared previously at Bluegrass on the Waccamaw. This is his first appearance here with his wife and their new gospel band. Meanwhile, Larry Dickerson, who owns a couple of local restaurants, has delivered the Chicken Bog dinner, and people are beginning to arrive.
Larry Dickerson - Caterer

Buffet Line - Willie Chestnut Serving

Brooke Justice Aldridge at Sound Check

Brooke & Darin Aldridge Quintet

Darin & Brooke

The Quintet offers stirring gospel music along with polished bluegrass singing and picking. The band has been designed to support Brooke's wonderful voice while offering plenty of changes of pace with the singing of Darin and Eddie Biggertaff as well as solo work by Darin on mandolin, Perry Woddie on Dobro, and Chris Bryant on banjo. This year should be a breakout one for this fine band. As the evening ends, the volunteers re-arrange the tables and chairs to prepare for the arrival of the bands the next morning.

Saturday dawns clear and warm with the promise of a very hot day to come. A slight breeze offers relief from the heat, but it's going to be a hot one with plenty of good music to keep things warm.
The Riverwalk on the Waccamaw

Emcee Dale Morris Interviews Jimmie Stone - First Band
Brenda Butler Constructs Cake in a Bowl
Jimmie Stone & the Southland Boys

Finding Shade
Under the Tent

Beneath the Highway Bridge

Flatt City

One of the important features of Bluegrass on the Waccamaw is its educational mission of spreading bluegrass music to young people. Local string teacher and musician at the Alabama Theater in Myrtle Beach Rober Napier appears this year with some of his string string students. From quite young to middle aged, his students learn the universal language of music with a particular emphasis on the classic fiddle songs and playing together by ear.

Robert Napier and His Students

Nothing every happens by coincidence at Bluegrass on the Waccamaw, so it makes a lot of sense that the Snyder Family Band follows the student musicians. Zeb and Samantha Snyder (13 and 10) are young in age but seasoned in experience and way beyond counting in skill. They have won contests and performed for several years. As Zeb moves into adolescence, his picking has the maturity of a man twice his age. Samantha's fiddling is already maturing, and her voice will come along with age. Professional musicians come out from back stage to hear them play and adults want to be in pictures with them. Impressive!

Samantha Snyder

Zeb Snyder with his Father Bud

Alan Bibey Conducts Mandolin Workshop

As the afternoon continues, the pace picks up. Out front, bands are playing. Other bands arrive by tour bus or in cars driven by individual band members, some coming from as far away as Nashville. Musicians go down to meet pickers at the workshop tent to present instrumental and song writing workshops. Back stage, the buffet is busy as hungry musicians, security police, families, and guests eat and visit. There's an air of anticipation as well as happy greetings as musicians who often don't have time to visit at other venues spend time together chatting. It's a lively and enjoyable scene.

Lizzy & Rebekah Long with Phil Leadbetter

Larry Dickerson and His Crew at the Food Tent

Sometimes a Little Nap Helps

For some time it's been obvious that Little Roy Lewis' sisters would not be able to continue to perform for much longer. That time has, sadly, arrived, and Polly, suffering from severe deterioration, her elder sister Miggie, and Janice have retired from the road. Meanwhile, Lizzy Long, has recorded with Little Roy and Earl Scruggs, and is now beginning to tour with her own band, now featuring Little Roy Lewis. Lizzy plays a variety of instruments and has added her twin sister Rebekah on bass, as well as Ricky Rakestraw on guitar and Doug Flowers on mandolin and harmony vocals. The band is solid and the addition of Little Roy makes them entertaining. They're off to a good start and have picked up many of the dates the Lewis Family was forced to abandon.
Lizzy Long on Resophonic Slide Banjo

Little Roy Lewis

Little Roy & Rebekah Long

Kenny Ingram - Banjo Great

Steve Gulley - Songwriting Workshop

Grasstowne has now been on the scene for a little over two years. They've established a reputation for impeccable musicianship and excited audiences with their skill and soul. Alan Bibey may be one of the best mandolin players in the world, not just in bluegrass, but in a range of genres. Phil Leadbetter has won awards as Dobro player of the year from both IBMA and SPBGMA. Steve Gulley is recognized as one of the top singers in the music, as well as a talented producer, and IBMA award winning song writer. Along with the extremely talented young Jason Davis on banjo and the recently added Travis Greer on bass, they're a force to be reckoned with. Their new CD is in final production, and should hit the streets sometime this summer or early fall.
Alan Bibey
Steve Gulley

Phil Leadbetter

Jason Davis

Travis Greer

Rocky Springs has been a fixture of the bluegrass community in eastern South Carolina for years. He was scheduled to act as emcee and to perform at Bluegrass on the Waccamaw this year. Very sadly, he collapsed and died at Reno Fest in Hartsdale, SC a few weeks ago. Jennings Chestnut presented his wife Phyllis with a posthumous Lifetime Commitment Award givent annually at Bluegrass on the Waccamaw.

Phyllis Springs & Jennings Chestnut

Jennings Presents a Photograph and Commemorative T-Shirts
Phyllis Springs, Her Daughter, and Rocky's Sisters

The Larry Stephenson Band has established a record of high quality and good entertainment over the years. Larry's pure tenor voice is one of the very best. He's recently been joined by veteran banjo great Kenny Ingram and young Kevin Richardson, a hot picking guitarist. Micheal Faegan, formerly of the Larry Sparks Band, has joined Stephenson on fiddle and Kyle Perkins remains steady as a rock on bass. This excellent band closed Bluegrass on the Waccamaw for the year.
Larry Stephenson

Kenny Ingram

Kevin Richardson

Washburn Guitar Winner

Officer Joe Hudson with the Snyder Kids

Very close to the ten o'clock deadline, the music ended, the crowd went home, and the volunteers completed the cleanup. Another Bluegrass on the Waccamaw was successfully completed.