Category Archives: Bluegrass
Just returned from another Huck Finn’s Jubilee in Victorville which is how I have spent Father’s Day weekend for the past 20 years or so. I have been involved with this event either as a performer with my band Lighthouse or as the main stage emcee or both. I also serve as a consultant to the show’s producer (helping with talent selection) each year and I host the Sunday morning chapel service which is where my two worlds (ministry and bluegrass) collide in a big way.
The festival went great this year with a large turnout and great weather. The idea of going to Victorville in June sometimes scares people away because they think it’s going to be too hot. But we have had moderate temperatures and cool nights for several years in a row now. The music was wonderful with outstanding performances by the likes of Sierra Hull, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, Rodney Dillard (of the Dillards), NewFound Road and Roy Clark. It was also great to spend the weekend with my wife, daughter Amber, and our three grandkids Nick, Maddie and Jack. They all had a good time.
I’m always amazed and a bit conflicted that I get to live in two completely different worlds. Throughout most of the year, I’m a pastor, serving on a church staff, doing rather mundane (yet significant I hope) ministry tasks. But on a weekend like the one I just had, I’m not a pastor but a bluegrass music insider, radio personality, stage announcer, friend and colleague to some of the most talented musicians on the planet. I’m amazed by it all and grateful to God that I get to do this.
But I got a quick return to reality when I got home Sunday night. The water supply to our home had been shut off by our neighbor because of a pipe break at the water meter on the street. I spent all day Monday getting it fixed and somehow strained a muscle in my back in the process. But the repair was made, the water is back on and except for the sore back, life is pretty much back to normal. See you next year, Mr. Twain.
In my recurring posts of youth in bluegrass music, I present the The Mizzone brothers, Johnny, Robbie and Tommy from New Jersey. They range in age from 9 to 13 and call themselves the Sleepy Man Banjo Boys (from a verse in Psalms). Pretty amazing stuff.
Slacker.com is a great internet radio station offering just about every genre of music for free, 24 hours a day. I listen to it on my computer in my office and also on my phone (Android).
Slacker is based here in the San Diego area. They contacted me several years ago and asked to serve as a music consultant for their bluegrass station.
From what I understand, that’s what makes Slacker different from other internet radio stations like Pandora. Each Slacker station is professionally programmed by someone who really knows something about the genre. It’s not programmed by a computer.
You can, however, create your own station by using Slacker’s computer. Just enter the name of your favorite recording artist and Slacker will create a customized radio station with music by your favorite plus others who are similar. You can skip songs you don’t want to hear or play songs over and over. It’s pretty cool.
Slacker is free, but the free version includes commercials. Pay a small fee and you can get rid of the commercials and do a few other things that you can’t do on the free version.
The bluegrass station is a sub-genre of Slacker’s “Country” station. Check it out and let me know what you think.
Lighthouse, the bluegrass band I play in (occasionally) reunited for a couple of performances in December.
The first was at the North County Bluegrass and Folk Club in Escondido, an annual tradition for us. The people there are always so generous with their enthusiasm for our music, and this year they not only brought us back for an encore but bought us out of CD’s. (Pity the poor souls who get a Lighthouse CD for Christmas!) But it felt good to play a full set of music with my bandmates. It has actually been a year since we did that last. We only played twice all last year, once in my backyard for Easter and another short appearance at College Avenue Baptist Church in August.
Our second performance was at Shadow Mountain Community Church, part of their annual “Shadow MountainChristmas” celebration/concert. We did three shows, performing one song titled “Follow the Light,” a Christmas song that I learned from the McLain Family Band about 35 years ago. In the concert, we followed a mariachi band (a first for us I think) and enjoyed jamming with them backstage in the dressing room. They couldn’t speak English very well but the language of music seemed to connect us pretty well. I can now pick out a little “La Bamba” on my banjo.
All in all, playing with Lighthouse has been one of the bright spots for me this Christmas season so far. This time of year seems to add so much stress and anxiety, with all the busyness and responsibilities that go with it (especially now that I’m on a church staff). But getting to play some music once again has brought some extra joy into the season for me.
What I need to do now is take some time to focus on the real source of our joy at Christmas, the child who came to us at Bethlehem. Curiously, I am finding that being on a church staff doesn’t automatically make that possible.
This has been a difficult year for Marci and me in many ways … yet also one with many blessings. I know that the shortest route to joy is the path of thanksgiving, so that’s where I must go. As I look back on the year, I see a new church and a new ministry, a new granddaughter (beautiful Layla!), a new kitchen (under rather trying circumstances but new nevertheless), new friends, new experiences (like attending junior high camp at Forest Home and watching our son do his thing), new books in print, new health insurance (Medicare!), and the list goes on. God is so good. The child who comes to us in the manger every year is not only our Savior, but a perfect picture of the goodness of God, the best of all his gifts to us. He is the source of our joy.
What brings you joy this Christmas?
Last week a family band performed live on my radio show called The Anderson Family. They are from Grass Valley, California and had come to the San Diego area to perform at Summergrass and also the monthly San Diego Bluegrass Society “Boll Weevil” gig on the fourth Tuesday of the month. The Anderson Family features dad on the banjo, mom on the bass and their four kids, ages 8 to 16 on the fiddle, guitar, mandolin and Dobro. The youngest plays the Dobro and I’m certain she is the youngest Dobro player I’ve ever seen.
I’ve written before about kids in bluegrass and how they provide an example (for me, anyway) that today’s kids are fully capable of choosing a path other than the one that today’s pop culture and a billion-dollar marketing industry is offering them. I was very impressed by the Anderson Family and I applaud Mark and Christy Anderson for their willingness to set aside the time and make the effort to encourage their children to use their talents and to help them to achieve their goals. In my conversation with them (you can listen to it here) the children told about their daily schedule of practicing and working hard to get better as musicians. They also were given the opportunity to hear and learn from some of their musical heroes who were accessible and willing to encourage and teach them some things. Neither Mark nor Christy are professional musicians.
There’s much here for Christian parents to learn from. I’ve always believed that if we take the time and make the effort to teach and encourage our children to use their talents and gifts to serve Jesus, and if we expose them to enough real-live heroes of the faith who will encourage them also, they may just choose a different path from the one that the world is offering them.
I’ve watched quite a few kids grow up playing bluegrass music in a family band and then abandon it when they became adults, but I’ve also watched many who went on to become some of the most accomplished musicians in the world. In fact, most of our biggest stars in bluegrass and country music today started playing in kid bands or family bands. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the Anderson’s as they get older and I’ll be cheering them on. They have a lot of talent and most importantly the environment where their talent can flourish.
Friday night I came home from a middle school event at College Avenue Baptist Church called Dye Wars (200 kids in a colored-water fight) to find that my face felt funny. I know my face looks funny a good deal of the time, but on this night it felt funny too. The left side of my face felt numb and my mouth felt like I had just come from the dentist after having received a shot of Novocaine. My eyes also felt strange. My right eye seemed heavy lidded and even droopier than normal. Earlier that week I had experienced headaches and soreness in my left ear which continued to persist but a few doses of Ibuprofen usually kept the pain under control. I expected those symptoms to go away soon.
But when Marci heard me complain about these new symptoms in my face, she was alarmed and while I didn’t want to admit it at the time, so was I. The numbing sensations and droopy eye were symptoms commonly associated with a stroke. Strokes are serious. They can lead to paralysis, permanent brain damage, even death. Marci insisted that we go immediately to Urgent Care or to the Emergency Room at the hospital. I really didn’t want to do that, knowing how busy an ER can be on a weeknight, let alone a Friday night. But I knew she was right. This really should be evaluated by a doctor. Self-diagnosis only goes so far.
Urgent Care was closed that time of night so we headed for the ER at Grossmont Hospital. When I told the person at the admissions counter that I had symptoms of a stroke, I was immediately ushered in, even though there was a waiting room full of people with other ailments. They quickly snapped a hospital identifying bracelet on my wrist, drew blood, took my blood pressure, did a couple of quick tests to see whether I could talk and walk, checked all my other vitals and took me in for CT scan of my brain. I spoke with a neurologist who agreed that my symptoms required immediate attention. They could be very serious. He told me that I was going to be admitted to the hospital that night so that further tests could be made and my symptoms monitored by their staff. I would need to wait for a room to become available, however.
Around 3:00 in the morning I was rolled into a room on the fifth floor of the hospital, their “stoke unit,” where all the patients were being treated for strokes of one kind or another. I shared a room with a man who was sound asleep at the time, snoring like a freight train. After they hooked me up to an IV drip and attached all kinds of monitoring devices to my body, they put me through a few drills to test my mental condition. For a moment I felt like that Jack Nicholson character in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” The nurse was asking me obviously simple questions like “what’s your name.” I answered, “Wayne.” She looked at me like I was an idiot because her chart clearly had “John” on it. My legal name is John Wayne Rice. “Well, I go by Wayne,” I told her. She asked me what I did and when I told her I was a pastor, an author, a musician and a DJ on a country music radio station, I’m certain she thought I really was crazy.
By the time they left me alone in bed, it was 4 a.m. and I couldn’t sleep at all. Between the snoring of my roommate and all the other hospital noises (unbelievable), I was suffering more from sleep deprivation than anything else. Every four hours they put me through the same drills, asking me simple questions and testing my motor skills. Everything seemed to be normal. I was hoping they would be able to tell me what I had and let me go home on Saturday but they told me I needed to stay until they had time to run more tests and rule out the possibility of a stroke.
I was getting real depressed. It was becoming clear that my weekend plans were now going to have to be cancelled. I was going to a barbecue at the home of one of our church board members early Saturday afternoon. That evening I had set up an interview with country star Dierks Bentley who was in Temecula for a concert appearance. I’ve been playing his new bluegrass-tinged CD on my radio show and wanted to get some recorded sound-bites from him that I could use on my radio program. Then Sunday morning I had my church responsibilities. And what about my radio show? I realized I didn’t have a backup plan for that at all.
I called Mark Goeglein, one of the pastors at CABC and informed him of the situation. He graciously came to the hospital to pray with Marci and me. I really didn’t want to tell too many other people what was going on because I didn’t know what was going on myself. Mark assured me not to worry about Sunday at church. My class would be covered for me.
It seemed a lot longer, but I was only in the hospital for about 36 hours. I came home on Sunday afternoon. The attending neurologists looked at all the tests they had done on me, the MRI, the MRA, CT Scans, ultra-sounds on my heart and arteries, etc. and concluded that I didn’t have a stroke, nor did I seem to be a likely candidate for a stroke.
So what caused the numbness in my face?
What I have, they said, is a mild case of “Bell’s Palsy.” It is caused by an inflammation or irritation of the 7th facial nerve which controls the muscles of the face. Some cases of Bell’s Palsy result in complete paralysis of one side of the face. My symptoms were not that severe. All I had was a little bit of numbness and a crooked smile.
Bells Palsy, they said, is often the result of ear pain and headaches (bingo), a change in pressure in the ear canal (bingo again, since I had been making weekly speaking trips to Forest Home, elevation 5280 feet), and can often be caused by an unusual amount of anxiety or stress (double bingo.)
The good news in all this is that the condition is usually temporary. The doctor told me that all these symptoms should go away in about two weeks. Meanwhile, with the numbness in my mouth, I’ll just have be careful not to drool on myself.
I was discharged from the hospital about 2:30 Sunday afternoon. On the way home we picked up some rolled tacos at Sombrero’s in Lakeside (hospital food is absolutely horrible) and after taking a shower, I also took a nap before heading off to do my radio show. I can still talk, although I have a hard time with my F’s and P’s. My lips on the left side of my face don’t hold as much pressure as needed to get those sounds right. But I think my program went OK anyway. You can listen to it here.
At the end of the day, I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving, not just for the good outcome of my diagnosis but for the entire experience itself. Being in that hospital bed for a couple days gave me a chance to stop, think, pray and put my trust in God to the test. It has been a long time since I’ve done that and it was good for me.
One of my bluegrass music heroes died this week and along with the sadness that I have felt, I also have felt deep gratitude. Mitch Jayne was the senior member of the Dillards, a bluegrass band from Salem, Missouri that came to California in the early sixties, landed a job on the Andy Griffith TV show and played “The Darlin’ Family” on several episodes which probably are rerun somewhere in the world every day. They also recorded two LP’s for Elektra Records, “Backporch Bluegrass” and “Live, Almost” which in my opinion are two of the most important bluegrass records ever made.
Mitch played stand-up bass with the Dillards and was the band’s emcee. He was a wonderful storyteller and stand up comedian who had a wry self-deprecating sense of humor that always had audiences in stitches. ”We’re the Dillards and we’re hillbillies. I thought I’d better tell you that in case you thought we were the Budapest String Quartet.” he would say in his Ozarky accent while puffing on his pipe. I saw the Dillards in person more than once back in the sixties at folk clubs like the Ice House in Pasadena and I always laughed until I cried. I loved the music they made, but even more I think, I loved how the Dillards entertained. They had the whole package: great musicianship, great songs and a great stage show featuring Mitch’s stories and humor. I always credit the Dillards with being the band that hooked me on bluegrass music, but it’s not because they were the first bluegrass band I ever heard. My dad had several Flatt and Scruggs records around the house when I was a kid. I got hooked on the Dillards’ brand of bluegrass because it was just so much fun.
When my brothers and I formed our band “The Rice Kryspies” (and later, Brush Arbor) we pretended to be the Dillards and I tried to play the role of Mitch. I wanted to be Mitch in the worst way. I did my best to tell funny stories like Mitch and I even tried to pretend I was from the Ozarks too and talk with a southern accent. I didn’t even know where the Ozarks were. When I listen to early recordings of the Rice Kryspies now, it’s kind of embarrassing to hear how much of Mitch’s material I stole outright.
All that to say that I mourned Mitch’s death at age 80 this week. He had a big influence on me and I will always be grateful. Rest in peace Mitch.
One of KSON’s listeners made this sticker for his car, e-mailed it to the radio station and it was then forwarded to me. I really don’t know this person so I’m not sure what led him to do this. He either likes my radio show … or likes guitarist Tony Rice … or maybe he just likes to eat rice while listening to bluegrass? Whatever the reason, I think it’s pretty cool.
UPDATE: I received an e-mail from the 16-year-old girl who e-mailed the photo and she explains: ”My dad listens to your show every Sunday really loud. lol. He had that sticker made at a store down the street and wanted it to be an inside joke that only fans of the show would get. “