Category Archives: Bluegrass
Every year on Father’s Day weekend, my two worlds (music and ministry) collide at Huck Finn’s Jubilee, the biggest bluegrass festival in Southern California. A couple years ago, it won the IBMA Award for “Bluegrass Event of the Year.” I’ve been attending this festival in Victorville, California for most of it’s 34 years (same age as my radio show) and it is always enjoyable despite the fact that the weather can sometimes be brutal. It’s usually too hot, but there was one year when we actually froze to death. We’re expecting hot weather this year.
For years I have served as stage announcer (emcee) for the festival on the main stage Saturday night and all day Sunday. I also conduct a nondenominational chapel service on Sunday morning which draws about 300 people or so who are camping for the weekend. My band Lighthouse provides the music and I get to preach a gospel message, usually with a Fathers Day theme. This year, I’m focusing on Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son which he told to illustrate the amazing grace and love of God the Father.
Marci and I are still stuck in a hotel, waiting for our house to be restored after the fire. Really, we’re waiting for our insurance company to pay for the work being done. Once that happens, we should be able to move back in. All of our belongings are being held for ransom it seems.
I’m hoping that being at Huck Finn will provide a little break from the stress this situation has caused us. I know we’re going to hear some good music!
Here’s a fun sing-a-long that my old band Brush Arbor did with Johnny Cash and his family (Mother Maybelle Carter, June Carter Cash, Anita Carter and his daughters Rosie and Rosanne) on an NBC-TV special in December, 1973. We’re on the back row wearing our “Nudie Suits.” The clip opens with a quick shot of Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass, who was also on the show.
There are more clips posted on YouTube from the TV show including “Daddy Sang Bass” which features the entire cast of the show and close-ups of Brush Arbor (Ken Munds, Dave Rose, Dale Cooper, Jim Rice, Joe Rice and me.) Larry Gatlin is also standing with us (in the middle) and there are some fun shots of Carl Perkins and Johnny’s brother Tommy Cash.
There are also two musical performances by Brush Arbor from this TV show: “Brush Arbor Meeting” (introduced by Johnny Cash) and “Let’s All Go Down to the River” featuring instrumental solos by each of us and Dave Rose’s famous “balancing on the bass” routine.
Marci and I went to see Alison Brown last night at a local San Diego supper club called Anthology.
Yesterday’s San Diego Reader carried an interview with Alison which included a nice mention for my radio show:
“And I tuned in every Sunday night to Wayne Rice’s Bluegrass Special on KSON. He’s still on the air and probably has one of the longest running bluegrass radio shows in the country. So, as it turned out, San Diego was a great place to learn to play bluegrass, even though that might sound a little counterintuitive.
Alison grew up here in San Diego, then went to Harvard University where she majored in finance. She became an investment banker with Smith-Barney but later ditched her banking career for a stint with Alison Krauss and Union Station. She later formed her own group The Alison Brown Quartet, which is more jazz-oriented than bluegrass. She now owns her own successful record label with an impressive roster of artists.
Her show at Anthology was fantastic. Yesterday was Marci’s birthday and while Marci doesn’t usually allow banjos at her birthday parties, she made an exception for Alison, who wished her a happy birthday from the stage.
I began my youth ministry career as a club director for Ventura County (California) Youth for Christ in 1963. Folk music was getting real popular about that time (Joan Baez, the Kingston Trio, Bob Dylan, the New Christy Ministrels) so we formed our own folk groups as a way to be “relevant” with teenagers. The first group I had was a trio patterned after Peter, Paul and Mary called “The Accidents.” I played the upright bass in that group. Then, after hearing the Dillards (who were playing folk clubs around Southern California and appearing on the Andy Griffith TV show), I learned to play banjo and formed a bluegrass group with my brothers called “The Rice Kryspies.” My wife Marci played the bass.
Harry White, who was Ventura YFC’s sound engineer, recently unearthed some old tape recordings of early YFC rallies, several of which featured The Rice Kryspies. The recording below was made on May 10, 1969–exactly 40 years ago. The introduction is by Ventura YFC director Roger Cross (who later became the president of Youth for Christ/USA). The song you’ll probably recognize. Just keep in mind that the Beatles were still together in 1969. This was very cutting edge stuff back then!
An interesting post from the Dallas Morning News religion blog:
“My grandfather had this conversion experience and went to West Virginia Wesleyan. He was kicked out of a church in 1919 for playing the banjo with the youth group. Obviously everybody knew the banjo was an instrument of Satan! … Beware the demon banjo.”
Funny, same thing happens to me all the time.
OK, I know bluegrass isn’t going to replace hip hop anytime soon as the music of choice for teenagers, but I’m no longer surprised by groups like the The Doerfels who suddenly appear out of nowhere. I don’t know too much about this family band except they are from Florida and just released a new CD featuring some of their original songs. The senior member (T.J. on banjo) is only 20 years old, joined by his sister Kimberly (19 on fiddle), and brothers Eddy (16 on mandolin), Joe (14 on bass) and Ben (13 on guitar). Check out this video:
I sometimes point to groups like this when I hear some of my colleagues express pessimism about the extent to which parents and other adults can influence teenagers in today’s media-saturated world. Let’s be honest here, teenagers who embrace and perform bluegrass music are not the norm. These are kids who have grown up in an environment, usually provided by their parents, where they have had constant exposure to the music and lots of encouragement from a community of bluegrass music fans.
I’ve spent time with many of these young musicians, like Nickel Creek (Chris Thile, Sean and Sara Watkins) who grew up here in the San Diego area. Also the Cherryholmes family, who also came from Southern California and have become one of bluegrass music’s biggest success stories. There are many more just like them. The Wright Kids, who were finalists on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” show and The Clark Brothers, who won Fox TV’s “The Next Great American Band” competition a couple of years ago. I’m always impressed not only by the talent and skill of these kids on their musical instruments, but with how well-adjusted they are and how articulate and comfortable they are around adults.
So how did these kids become such accomplished bluegrass musicians? Did they find the sound of the banjo and fiddle too cool to resist?
To understand these kids, you have to meet their parents. I’ve met some of them and it’s clear that they made a choice when their kids were little to create a family culture that was centered around bluegrass music. In almost every case, these kids were home schooled and taught music as part of their curriculum. They made field trips to bluegrass festivals where they learned to play (jam) with adult musicians who were more than happy to show them how to improve their playing. I also have a hunch their parents turned off the TV and spent a lot of time playing and singing with their kids.
I know most people would shudder at their thought of their kids forming a bluegrass band, but I do think there’s something we can learn from these families about how to raise children up in the Christian faith.