Another Great Week in Mexico

the teamLast week I led a group from College Avenue Baptist Church to Ensenada, B.C. Mexico to build a house for a family living in poverty and to conduct a VBS (Vacation Bible School) program for neighborhood children. There were 36 of us in all who went, ranging in age from 4 to 70 (or so).  We had quite a few families on the trip this year—parents with their kids—which is one of our goals.  I don’t think there is a much better way for parents to pass on the values of the Christian faith than to serve together on a mission trip.

I organize the trip at CABC but it wouldn’t be possible without the immense amount of work that YUGO Ministries does before we ever get there. They work closely all year long with local pastors in Mexico to identify families in desperate need of housing and get things ready for us. By the time we arrive, the slab has been poured and the building materials are all in place. All we have to do is provide the labor and get to work. YUGO also provides a top-notch base camp where we are given sleeping accommodations, meals and times of worship and teaching from the staff.

puerta de cieloThis year we worked with Pastor Carlos Santana of the Puerto del Cielo church (an Assembly of God congregation) just southeast of Ensenada.  The family of five who we built the house for lived a short distance from the church in a deplorable dirt floor shack with a tarp for a roof and walls made from sticks and scraps of plywood. When we arrived, they told us through an interpreter “We have been praying for this for a very long time.” It is an awesome experience to be the answer to someone’s prayers.

house & shackWe built the house in just four days (Monday through Thursday) and like most YUGO houses, it turned out to be a beautiful home—complete with a functioning kitchen (stove and refrigerator), table and chairs, bunk beds, area rugs on the floor and other amenities.  We presented the family with the keys to their new home on Thursday afternoon and while I’ve witnessed this scene many times before, I’m always deeply moved by the joy that a simple three-room house can bring to a family who have never had one. I can only imagine how they must feel every night as they turn out the lights and go to sleep on those soft new mattresses under a strong roof and surrounded by solid walls that won’t fall down.

kids at VBSBecause the Puerto del Cielo church is located in a heavily populated neighborhood, our VBS program attracted more than 150 children. We weren’t prepared for that many kids but we managed to stretch our resources and make it all work. Children came from all over the neighborhood to play games with us, sing songs and hear Bible lessons prepared by our team. It was thrilling to hear the children recite Bible verses from memory yo yoand listen so well to stories about Jesus. This year we gave all the children t-shirts with “Cristo me ama” emblazoned across the front and we sent them home with Bible story books in Spanish that they could read with their parents, siblings or friends.  A Mexican pastor told us a few years ago that he went to a VBS program just like ours when he was a child. “I went for the candy,” he said, “but the seeds of the gospel were planted in my heart.”

I had one little mishap on Thursday afternoon as I slipped and fell onto the gravelly dirt road in front of the house we were building. I came down hard and cut a gash in my hand and leg, but I wasn’t hurt too bad. Mostly I was embarrassed. I was moving a little too quickly on the sloping path looking for the keys to the rental van which I had somehow misplaced. I was feeling a bit anxious at that point–and apparently it showed on my face. As I picked myself up and limped over to the van still looking for the lost keys, our construction supervisor Ricardo came over to me, put his arms around my shoulders and whispered “Pastor Wayne, I love you. Don’t be discouraged. Everything is going to be all right.” It’s amazing how Jesus sometimes speaks to us through other people. Everything was indeed all right. The van keys showed up, I dusted myself off and the rest of the day was pretty much perfect.

I’m always exhausted after my week in Mexico, but it’s a good kind of exhaustion. Every year I wonder if I’m getting too old for this … but I keep going back. It has of become a kind of spiritual discipline for me, a way to get re-centered and to have an immersion experience in self-denial and service to others.

taco shop

Our happy place for late night taco runs.

Overall, we had a great week. Thanks to YUGO for making it all happen and thanks to CABC for supporting us so well with finances for the house and lots of prayer support from the congregation. We’ve made plans to do it again next year (same week in August) so if you’d like to go with us, give me a shout.  If you’d like to know more about Yugo Ministries, visit their website www.yugoministries.org.

Below is a highlight video of the week made by YUGO. It includes another church from Irvine (a Chinese congregation) who were also in camp, building a house on the other side of Ensenada. You’ll see many of our team, the children we served, the family and the house dedication.

Summary August 9-11 Irvine Open & College Avenue Baptist from YUGO Ministries on Vimeo.

 

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Legacy Grandparenting Summit in November

I’ve been working pretty much full-time with the Legacy Coalition for the past six months or so planning and now promoting the first-ever national grandparenting conference. The word is getting out and we think it’s going to be awesome. Click on the image below to visit the website. Hope you can come!

SpeakersEmail

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Remembering Merle

merle haggardMerle Haggard turned 79 today and then died. He had been ill for a good while although he was planning to fulfill some concert dates in the near future. Today was also my father’s birthday, who would have turned 95 had he lived this long. Dad loved to hear Merle Haggard sing and so it was quite a thrill when my brothers and I (with our band Brush Arbor) went on tour with him.

We didn’t get to spend much time with him at all on that tour (five shows). We were the opening act and had a different dressing room. But one evening after the concert there was a large crowd waiting outside where Merle’s busses (license plates HAG1 and HAG2) were parked. So Merle ducked inside our dressing room to wait until the crowd was dispersed. He was tired, so he just found a chair and lit up a cigarette.

Haggard Tour

Brush Arbor on tour with Merle, 1973

We didn’t say much at first but after a while we introduced ourselves and made some small talk, some of which turned to the economy. The economy was big news in 1973 and the stock market had recently crashed, there were long lines at gas stations because of an oil shortage, and a lot of people were losing their jobs. As a result, attendance at Merle’s concerts were noticeably down. We were playing arenas that could hold 15,000 people but there were a lot of empty seats.

Merle said,  “I just feel bad for the working man. It’s not the rich people who are are getting hurt. It’s the poor working man. Families can’t afford to put food on the table much less buy tickets to a concert. It’s a crying shame.” He didn’t say much more as I recall.

But what struck me at the time was that his comment was exactly what so many of his songs were about. He really believes this stuff, I thought to myself. This isn’t just a show to him. He actually does care about the people he sings about, those Okies from Muskogee.

So that’s my biggest memory, my lasting impression of Merle Haggard. He was authentic, the real deal. Those kind of guys are hard to find in the music business these days. Rest in peace Merle and thanks for all the great songs you left us.

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The Legacy Coalition

When I resigned my position as Pastor to Generations at College Avenue Baptist Church last year, I had to keep telling myself (and everybody else as well) that I was NOT retiring. I was simply taking time off from ministry to get our home ready to sell, sell it, find a new home, buy it, and then move all our stuff from the old place to the new (or get rid of most of it, which we did.) The process took nine months and we are grateful to now be in a place that is much better for both of us, especially for Marci, who has MS and can’t get up and down stairs. It’s a nice compact one-level home that we believe God in his mercy provided for us at just the right time.

But now what? What does God want me to do next?

I didn’t have to wait long to get an answer to that question. In May of last year I met Larry Fowler, a 30-year veteran of children’s ministry with Awana Clubs. He mentioned that after becoming a grandparent, he tried in vain to find some decent resources on grandparenting. There were thousands of books on Christian parenting, he said, but only 7 (seven!) that he could find on Christian grandparenting. And several of those were now out of print. So, he was considering the idea of starting a new organization to help fill that void—one that could provide resources and training for Christian grandparents. He wondered if perhaps I could give him some advice—since I had experience in starting an organization providing resources and training for youth workers a long time ago.

Larry’s vision for starting a ministry to help grandparents really resonated with me. I had seen all the research that had been done over the years on spiritual influences in children and youth. Grandparents consistently came in third, right behind mom and dad. After grandparents came significant adults like teachers, mentors, youth and children’s ministry workers. I had spent 30 years of my life helping youth workers, another 20 years of my life helping parents … maybe now was the time to start helping grandparents!

So Larry invited me to a meeting in August of last year in Chicago at Awana headquarters to explore the idea of starting a new ministry to help grandparents.  About 25 ministry people were there, each offering their perspective on the need to help grandparents and what it would take to get a new ministry going. After much discussion and prayer, it was decided to put the wheels in motion to launch what would eventually be called “The Legacy Coalition.”

I came back from Chicago pretty convinced I wanted to be part of this new effort even though it seemed impossible to me at the time. I would have to work entirely on a volunteer basis. There were no funds to support it (yet) so anyone who got involved would have to donate their time and expenses. I wasn’t even sure what I would do. But the vision was compelling and it felt like the right thing for me to do and now was the right time to do it. So after discussing and praying about it with Marci, I said yes to the invitation to become part of the staff of the Legacy Coalition, even without a clear idea of what all that would involve.

We officially launched in January. The board of Awana Clubs International agreed to adopt The Legacy Coalition as a subsidiary until it is able to become independent. This allows us to operate under the auspices of Awana and utilize many of their staff assets in HR, marketing, finance and the like. Larry Fowler recently resigned from his position at Awana in order to be able to lead the Legacy Coalition full time. I am one of several staff members (directors) spread out all over the country. We meet weekly by teleconference. My specific job on the staff is Director of Conferencing. I have been working pretty much full-time planning the first-ever national conference on grandparenting which will be held later this year (November 15-17) in Frisco, Texas (more on that in a later post.) We have another regional conference taking place in May in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

Honestly, the Legacy Coalition feels more like a movement than it does an organization. I could write pages on all the cool things we’re doing but I’ll refer you instead to our freshly-minted website here.  Our goal is to see grandparenting ministries start up in hundreds of churches across the country and for millions of Christian grandparents to become more intentional about leveraging the love and influence they already have for their grandkids.

What we need most right now is funding. We are looking for hundreds of people (and churches) who share our vision for helping grandparents and have the means to support us, even if it’s just a small amount each month. None of us will be able to keep this going without some financial support. Meanwhile, we are all working hard and expecting that God will provide if he wants us to continue. I believe he does and I’m very excited and energized by what God is doing already through the Legacy Coalition.

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40 Years on KSON!

Wayne on KSON top 40 chart

On the cover of KSON’s Top 40 chart in 1978

It was on March 7, 1976 that my radio show, The Bluegrass Special, went on the air for the first time.  I can’t remember a time in my life when I have been more nervous.  When the clock hit 6 PM (the original air time for my show) I played my intro music from a scratchy LP by banjo player Carl Jackson, wiped the sweat from my brow, opened up the microphone and said “Woohoo! It’s time for the Bluegrass Special” probably in a very high pitched voice because I was only 13 years old at the time. Make that 30 years old, but my voice was still pretty high pitched. I then played the first song, Bill Monroe’s “Uncle Pen.”

That’s about all I remember of that first show, because that was a long time ago, folks. On Sunday March 6, we will celebrate the show’s 40th anniversary and begin its 41st year.  That’s a total of approximately 2080 radio shows. I say approximately because my show was pre-empted more than once for special events and there was a two-month disappearance in 1989 when KSON combined its AM and FM stations. At that time, all the programming on KSON-AM went away (including my show). But after hearing from listeners, I was invited back and given the 10pm to midnight slot on KSON-FM where the show has remained ever since.

15 years ago, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the show with a Grand Ole Opry-style concert and live broadcast from the packed East County Performing Arts Center in El Cajon. It was big party and one of my all-time favorite memories. Some have asked if we’re going to celebrate our 40th anniversary in similar fashion? Well, the answer is no. Maybe on the 50th if I live that long and the show survives.

Still, 40 years is something worth celebrating. 40 years of anything is quite an accomplishment. Certainly KSON’s Bluegrass Special has to be the longest-running program in the history of San Diego radio. But it’s not me who deserves the applause. I’ve just been the lucky guy who gets to play the best music in the world on the radio every Sunday night! The real applause should go to the listeners who have kept the show on the air and the terrific folks at KSON. The radio station has gone through four different owners, a dozen or so program directors and the endless ups and downs of the broadcasting industry. Most radio consultants would say (and probably have said) that country radio doesn’t need a bluegrass show. But KSON’s response has been “We’re going to have a bluegrass show anyway. People like it and it works for us.” Numbers don’t lie and the numbers show that we have a good share of the Sunday night radio listening audience. Our promotions director Chris Turner likes to call my listeners “Wayniacs,” most certainly a term of endearment.

So, a big thank you to KSON and all the Wayniacs out there who listen every Sunday night. You have been a blessing to me and to all the musicians and record companies who continue to make incredible bluegrass music year after year. It has been a good run and I hope we can keep it going together for a while longer!

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What Can I Say? I’m a Lucky Guy.

Marci Wedding 350 years ago, the most beautiful woman in the world said “I do” when asked if she would take this man (me!) to be her lawfully wedded husband. I continue to be amazed by my incredible good fortune.

I am sometimes asked about “the secret” to a long and happy marriage. Quite honestly, I know of no secrets. I usually say “I got lucky.” Marci hates for me to say that, but it’s my way of saying that not only did my bride smile on me that day but so did God Almighty. The Lord knows I do not deserve her. I’m not worthy. Yet God in his great mercy gave me Marcella Kaye West on January 27, 1966, to have and to hold, from this day forward, til death do us part, and she has not only been willing to put up with me for 50 years but has filled them up with unimaginable joy. Whenever I see her smile (which is to say, whenever I see her) my heart overflows with gratitude to God. My love for her grows every day and has become so much deeper and sweeter today than when we said our vows half a century ago.

What I am most grateful for is that I have a wife who loves Jesus more than me. She has been a godly example to me of faithfulness to God. I listen to her pray every evening and I am humbled and blessed by the intimacy and beauty of her prayers. She truly loves God and loves people. Even with a debilitating disease that has severely limited her ability to walk and do the things she loves to do, she looks forward to each day with joy and wonder and gratitude.

So I am indeed a happy (and lucky) man on this day of celebration, grateful not only for my wife who I love so much but for all of our friends and family who we both of us love and who have contributed so much to our 50 years of marriage. Thank you!

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Best Bluegrass Albums of 2015

It’s time2015 to make a list of the top 30 bluegrass albums of 2015, as heard on KSON’s Bluegrass Special December 27. If you missed it, you can listen at kson.com/bluegrass through the end of January. This list doesn’t mean that the album listed higher is any better than the album listed lower. It only means that of the more then 125 bluegrass albums that were submitted for airplay this year, these are the 30 I played the most on my radio program.

1. Flatt Lonesome “Runaway Train” (Mountain Home)
2. The Steep Canyon Rangers “Radio” (Rounder)
3. Band of Ruhks “Band of Ruhks” (101 Ranch)
4. Volume 5 “Voices” (Mountain Fever)
5. Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out “It’s About Tyme” (Break a String)
6. Dale Ann Bradley “Pocket Full of Keys” (Pinecastle)
7. The Gibson Brothers “Brotherhood” (Rounder)
8. The Steeldrivers “The Muscle Shoals Recordings” (Rounder)
9. Johnny Warren and Charlie Cushman “Purely Instrumental” (no label)
10. Darin and Brooke Aldridge “Snapshots” (Mountain Home)
11. Robert Earl Keen “Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions” (Dualtone)
12. Shannon and Heather Slaughter “Never Just a Song” (no label AP Direct)
13. Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver “In Session” (Mountain Home)
14. Mountain Faith “That Which Matters” (Mountain Fever)
15. Ronnie Reno “Lessons Learned” (Rural Rhythm)
16. Steve Gulley and New Pinnacle (Rural Rhythm)
17. Della Mae “Della Mae” (Rounder)
18. Ralph Stanley and Friends “Man of Constant Sorrow” (Cracker Barrel)
19. Kathy Kallick Band “Foxhounds” (Live Oak)
20. Sideline “Session 2” (Mountain Fever)
21. Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road “Country Grass” (Pinecastle)
22. Big Country Bluegrass “Country Livin’” (Rebel)
23. Hammertowne “Highways and Heartaches” (Mountain Fever)
24. Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley “Before the Sun Goes Down” (Compass)
25. Chris Jones and the Night Drivers “Run Away Tonight” (Mountain Home)
26. The Grascals “And Then There’s This” (Mountain Home)
27. Springfield Exit “That Was Then” (Patuxent Music)
28. Donna Ulisse “Hard Cry Moon” (Hadley Music Group)
29. Various Artists “Orthophonic Joy” (Sony Legacy)
30. Blue Mafia “Pray for Rain” (Pinecastle)

 

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On the Renovation (or Not!) of Old Hymns

A few years ago College Avenue Baptist Church did the unthinkable by pulling the plug on its two Sunday morning worship services. These services, one held in the gymnasium, the other held in the sanctuary, divided the congregation according to their preferred worship styles. One service was casual and hip, featuring music by contemporary artists heard on Christian radio. The other service was formal and not-so-hip, featuring worship music by hymn writers who are now dead. As you can guess, the hip service attracted young people; the formal service attracted all the old folks.

But those days are long gone at CABC. Today, everyone attends the same worship service.  Old folks and young folks (yes, even children!) worship together in the same place at the same time. The emphasis has been on congregational unity and intergenerational discipleship.

But this has not been an easy transition for the church or its worship leaders.

I was reminded of this last Sunday when our worship music team (bless their hearts), after a couple of contemporary songs, led the congregation in the beloved old hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” The hymn, written by the English theologian Isaac Watts (1674-1758) is one the treasures of the church, a familiar old hymn with an elegant musical score.

But not so fast. Apparently there is an alternate version of this hymn which is set to the Celtic love song “O Waly Waly” (or, “The Water is Wide”). It is this version that our worship leaders have chosen for our congregation this week.

215px-River_wild_movie_posterDuring the first verse, I look around the sanctuary and see puzzled looks on the faces of older worshippers who aren’t sure they know how this hymn is supposed to go. The words are familiar but the music, the melody … I’ve heard it before. Wasn’t it the soundtrack to the movie “The River Wild” a few years back? There’s confusion in the air and it’s obvious that very few people are actually singing.

The hymn ends and now it’s time for the offering. The ushers – or hospitality team — come forward and our worship leaders begin singing another hymn while the plates are being passed. This time it’s “Be Still My Soul” by Katharina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel (1649-?). Given that our pastor is teaching this week on the subject of busyness, it’s a good choice right before the sermon. The young woman who is singing lead on this hymn has a lovely voice, but wait … she has changed the melody. I don’t remember it this way. And a new chorus has been added … with a heavy drumbeat. Now I’m wondering what this song is all about. The beat of the drums and the sentiment of the hymn seem to be at odds with each other.

<sigh>

Look, I try not to be a chronic complainer or curmudgeon. My wife and I attend worship every Sunday with the hope that everyone in the congregation (young and old alike) will be able to worship together in unity. I’m all in when it comes to intergenerational worship. But having sat through many good (and not so good) attempts to pull it off, I’ve learned a few things.

First, despite its messiness, intergenerational worship is worth the effort. I love seeing children (even the little ones who have no clue what’s going on) in the worship service sitting with their parents, taking in all that’s going on. That’s how we pass faith on down from one generation to the next. Kids need to see their parents worshipping God. It makes an indelible imprint on them. Likewise, it’s good for older people to get out of their comfort zones and to experience worship in new ways. It’s good for them to be around young people who love and worship the same God they do but have different ways of expressing themselves in a worship service.

Music is of course the elephant in the room that stirs up the most grumbling and disunity. It doesn’t have to be that way.

I don’t believe old folks (like me) really want to stay stuck in the last century nor do they want their churches to die of attrition (which they will do it they don’t connect with young people). This may be a bold thing to say but old people can handle today’s new music. Well, maybe not all of it, but certainly they can handle more than most people think. They just need to be exposed to it in a positive and inclusive way. Sure, there will always be resisters but most seniors don’t have a problem with new music at all. They hear it all the time. What they do have a problem with is music (in a worship setting) that is impossible to sing. Honestly, way too many of today’s worship songs were never meant to be sung by congregations on Sunday morning. They were meant to be sung by recording artists in recording studios and concerts. A radio hit may have a catchy hook in the chorus but that doesn’t make it appropriate for congregational singing. Too many worship services resemble karaoke bars.

But back to intergenerational worship. Is it possible for all age groups to worship together even when they don’t all agree on the style of music? Yes, absolutely they can. It’s possible for a worship service to include new music along with a few golden oldies. Why not? The musicians—at our church anyway—are very capable of playing any kind of music they want. I’m a bluegrass musician and even I can handle a set list with back to back songs by Mercy Me and Fanny Crosby.

I confess that I am guilty of leading Amazing Grace to the tune of Gilligan’s Island … but never in a worship service. I’d like to suggest that it would be wise for worship leaders who are leading intergenerational worship to refrain from getting too creative with those old hymns.  A hymn should be sung in a version that is as close to the original as possible, the way older members of the congregation remember it. In my way of thinking, this shows respect not only for the hymn but also for the congregation.

There are exceptions of course. Some old hymns have been renovated with good (or at least acceptable) results. Chris Tomlin’s “My Chains Are Gone” version of Amazing Grace is a good example of this although I remember it took a while for some people to wrap their brains around the idea that Amazing Grace needed any improvement at all.

And while “When I Survey” doesn’t need movie theme music to make it relevant, Tomlin added his “Oh the Wonderful Cross” as a bonus chorus and it works very well. Maybe all future renovations of hymns should be put in the hands of Chris Tomlin.

We still have pews at our church with seldom-opened hymnbooks in the pew racks. Occasionally I pull one out and browse through it.  There are some treasures of the church in there. There are some real stinkers in there, too, but that’s for another article. Truth is, there is a lot of great music from the past that younger Christians should hear (and learn to sing). And there are a lot of great songs for worship being written today that certainly deserve to be heard by generations of worshippers yet to come.

What do you think?

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Remembering Bill Keith

bill_keithBill Keith, newest member of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, died on October 23, less than a month after being inducted into the IBMA’s prestigious Hall of Fame. Bill accepted the honor in person at ceremonies held in Raleigh, North Carolina. Confined to a wheelchair, he uttered a brief but heartfelt acceptance speech, thanking his many friends and fans for the recognition.

I first learned about Bill Keith some fifty years ago from other banjo players in California where I live, who were learning to play what they referred to as “Keith-style” banjo. I didn’t know who Bill Keith was at the time but I heard the “style” and was very intrigued by it.  I learned that Bill Keith was a young banjo player working with Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys (although in Monroe’s band, he was known as “Brad” Keith because there could only be one Bill in the Blue Grass Boys.) After working with Monroe, Bill played with a number of other bands including Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band

“Keith-style” banjo meant that the notes played on the banjo did not harmonize with each other in an arpeggio style like Earl Scruggs and my hero Doug Dillard played. Instead the notes flowed along in a melodic style, one note after the other, sort of like the flight of the bumblebee which I had learned as a child to play on the piano. Most Keith-style banjo players like to play fiddle tunes note-for-note.

When Steve Martin made his acceptance speech at IBMA this year (upon receiving the IBMA’s Distinguished Achievement Award) he commented that his banjo journey consisted of a series of “OH NO” moments–those times when he heard a newer, better way to play. He recalled how as a young Scruggs-style player, he first heard Bill Keith. “OH NO,” he realized, “Now I have to learn how to play like that!” I laughed at the truth of this because that was my experience exactly. I did try (and try and try) to learn how to play in the Keith-style, but I never mastered it. I learned to play “Soldiers Joy” and “Sailor’s Hornpipe” enough to get by, but that was about it. I never did get the concepts in my head, so I had to memorize those tunes. If I made mistake along the way I would get hopelessly lost and have to start over. But I have always loved to listen to the great Keith-style players (and there are many)–guys like Carl Jackson, Larry McNeeley, Alan Munde, Bela Fleck, Scott Vestal, Noam Pikelny. Out here on the west coast, the first one I heard (and admired) was Pat Cloud.

Bill Keith's Lilly Brothers Speech-1Many years later, I had a chance to meet Bill Keith and even work with him on one project. When I was producing the IBMA Awards Show in 2002, I asked Bill if he would present the Lilly Brothers for induction into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame. He agreed and I met up with him in Louisville on the day of the awards ceremony. He had not yet written his speech for the Lilly Brothers. I told him that we really needed a copy of the speech before the show. So he went straight to his hotel room and scratched out a lovely tribute to the Lilly Brothers on a sheet of Galt House Hotel stationery. A few minutes later, we transcribed it to the show’s teleprompter and the induction of the Lilly Brothers went without a hitch. I have hung on to that sheet of paper … it’s a little piece of bluegrass music history.

During rehearsal for that show, I mentioned to Bill that I had purchased a pair of his famous “Keith tuners” (tuning pegs for the banjo which allowed you do tune a string up or down on the fly) many years ago and that they were no longer operating properly. I wondered if he could give me some advice. He simply reached into his backpack and handed me a pair of brand new tuners and said, “Try these instead. Send your old ones back to me and we’ll fix them for you.” I did and he did.

My only other encounter with Bill Keith was after the 2006 awards show, which I also produced. The show had gone well but there were some controversial moments during the show which had everyone talking. Among them was our decision to combine the individual instrumental awards into one presentation rather than the usual six (requiring six acceptance speeches), mainly to save time on the show. Not everyone was happy with this decision. After the show was over, I went back to the hotel and got on an elevator with Bill Keith. Seizing the opportunity, he pointed his finger at me and said in so many words that he was quite offended by how we had marginalized the individual instrumental award recipients. “How could you do such a thing?” which of course was not a question but a reflection of his frustration and concern. Dell Davis (my co-producer) and I received a lot of criticism from a lot of people regarding that particular awards show (on another issue entirely) and most of it was completely unwarranted. Bill’s criticism, however, was not unwarranted. Had I been been able to produce another awards show, I would have fixed how we handled those instrumental awards.

There are people who add immensely to your enjoyment of life and Bill Keith was one of those people for me. I will always respect and admire him for his immense talent and his generosity, not only to me but to others. Thank you Bill for all that I learned from you and for giving me the chance to know you personally.

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A Celebration of Bill Monroe’s Birthday

The “Father of Bluegrass Music” is Bill Monroe, the first recording artist to incorporate into his band the five acoustic instruments (mandolin, 5-strinbill monroeg banjo played three-finger style, fiddle, guitar and string bass) that make up a classic bluegrass ensemble. He was born September 13, 1911 in Rosine, Kentucky, 104 years ago. September 13 fell on a Sunday this year so I played a lot of Bill Monroe music on my Sunday night radio show. For at least a month, you can listen to it in it’s entirety at kson.com/bluegrass.  Included are performances of Monroe songs by Monroe himself as well as other artists including Ricky Skaggs, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Tom T. Hall, Robert Earl Keen, Dwight Yoakum and Elvis Presley.

I do recount on the show a couple of personal Bill Monroe experiences from the days when I was a member of Brush Arbor. We opened for him at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood and that’s one time when I was so nervous I remember breaking into a flop sweat. During one of our faster songs, my thumb-pick flew off my thumb and landed somewhere in the audience. Fortunately, my brother Jim had an extra thumb-pick nearby and handed me one.

We also played a bluegrass festival that same year (1973) which was called “Bill Monroe’s Golden West Bluegrass Festival” in Norco, California. The promoter of the show invited us to play but wouldn’t allow us to set up our drums. Bill Monroe intervened, however, and gave us permission to go ahead and set up our drums on the stage, which was generally a no-no at bluegrass festivals. Today it’s a lot more common, but that experience convinced me that a lot of bluegrass fans put more limits on the music than even the Father of Bluegrass Music himself did. He always encouraged young musicians to play their own music, not just copy what everyone else was doing. Bluegrass music today is much richer and still alive and well because of that.  Happy birthday, Bill Monroe!

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