Pickin’ with Dennis

Dennis Agajanian | Christian Music ArchiveOne of my oldest friends is Dennis Agajanian who I first met back in the late sixties when he and his brother Danny were performing around the LA area as “The Agajanians.” At the time, my brothers and I had a group called The Rice Kryspies and we would sometimes play the same gigs — coffee houses, churches, youth camps. Later, when we formed the band Brush Arbor, Dennis played lead guitar on several tracks we recorded for Capitol Records and he contributed a couple of songs he wrote or c0-wrote. We did some traveling together and it was always an adventure. Everyone who knows Dennis has some great and very funny Dennis Agajanian stories.

But he’s a very talented, very kind and generous person who loves Jesus and has spent his life sharing the gospel with anyone who will listen. He has done it on the stage of a Billy Graham Crusade and he’s done it at the local honky-tonk where the clientele are shall we say looking for love in all the wrong places.

We’ve remained friends for all these years and now we’re neighbors. He lives just down the street from me and we see each other from time to time. But we haven’t played music together in pretty much forever.  I was recently asked to help out with a Legacy Coalition event in a couple of weeks and I asked Dennis if he’d be willing to make an appearance. He said he would, and so it looks like we may get to play together some 50 years later. Dennis was once billed as “the fastest flat-pick guitar player in the world” and he still may be, but I’m slow as molasses so I hope he’ll have mercy and pick a couple songs that I can handle. Regardless, I’m looking forward to it.

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So What Have You Been Up To Lately?

Glad you asked that question. One thing I haven’t been doing is posting articles on this website. Sorry about that. I tend to be a private person most of the time. I don’t share much and I definitely don’t overshare. It’s not that I have that much to protect with privacy, it’s just that I think it’s somewhat egotistical to think that people are all that interested in what I’m doing all the time. I’m not that interesting, really. But here we are on my own vanity website, so apparently I’m egotistical enough to think some people might find it for some reason. The least I can do is keep it updated. So here we go.

What have I been up to lately?

I’m still working with the Legacy Coalition, a ministry to help grandparents become more involved in the spiritual formation of their grandkids. I am still the conference director, programming our annual Legacy Grandparenting Summit, which I’ve written about elsewhere on this website. Our last conference (October of ’22) was well attended and featured some great speakers including Anne Graham Lotz, Jim Burns, Miles McPherson and others. It went well overall and was simulcast to over a hundred other locations across the county.

I also host a podcast called Legacy Grandparenting, which is an interesting assignment. I ended up being the host mainly because with my radio experience, I know how to get a podcast recorded and produced. My co-host is John Coulombe, an old friend who is also involved with the Legacy Coalition. We’ve interviewed lots of people so far including Josh McDowell, Tim Kimmel, John Trent and many others. We try to keep it light and interesting.

My Bluegrass Special radio show is still on the air, Sundays from 4 to 7 on Mountain Country 107.9 (now in its 48th year). The easiest way to listen is with the iHeart Radio app. If you download the app on your phone, then you can open it and search for KRLY-FM or Mountain Country 107.9 in Alpine, California. You’ll hear some good bluegrass music from new artists like Billy Strings, Molly Tuttle and the Wood Box Heroes. But I still play classics from the Dillards, Flatt & Scruggs and the Osborne Brothers. The radio show keeps my involved in the music even though my playing days are pretty much over. I did get to play the banjo recently however for a memorial service. The deceased was a big fan of bluegrass music and wanted me to do that for him, so I did. I can still find a few notes on the banjo.

I’m also an overseer at my church, College Avenue Baptist Church in San Diego. We just called a new pastor whose name is Chris Hilken. He’s young and has brought a lot of new energy to the church which has been missing for quite some time. I believe God is going to use him to bring a real revival to College Avenue. It’s fun to be a part of what’s going on there right now.

I’m not traveling much these days because my primary job is to stay home and take care of my wife of 57 years (Marci) who is still the love of my live. Her MS has been somewhat stabilized over the last few years but it has confined her to a wheelchair (a battery-powered mobility chair). She is surprisingly independent thanks to her chair but she needs help with a lot of other things so I am at the ready to help her at all times (mostly). Travel (like in airplanes or long distances) is difficult for her, so our traveling days are pretty much over. Last year we brought all of our kids and grandkids (who live a long way from us) hom for a family reunion and that was nice. We rented a house nearby that was big enough for all of us and had a great time. We took a picture in the back yard and sent it out as a Christmas card. Here it is:


Well that’s about it for now. I’ll try to post some other news as it happens from time to time. All in all, I’m doing fine, grateful to God that I’m relatively healthy (for a 77-year-old) and able to stay busy doing some things that bring me a lot of joy and satisfaction. I hope the same for you.

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God Still Knows How to Make Lemonade

The metaphor about “making lemonade out of lemons” is a common way of saying that there are times when you need to make something good out of something that’s not-so-good.

That’s more or less how I am feeling about this year’s Legacy Grandparenting Summit, which just took place in Birmingham, Alabama. I am the conference director and to use another food metaphor, you don’t really want to know how the sausage got made with this one. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

Our conference theme was wrapped around the idea of 20/20 vision since it was going to be held in September of 2020, but you know what happened in 2020.  Reluctantly but optimistically we postponed the conference to March of 2021. We also decided to make some changes in the program to accommodate live-streaming the conference during the daytime hours only. I had to essentially re-book our speakers and talent, and un-book a few as well.  But as the pandemic worsened during the winter months, we were forced to postpone the conference a second time. We chose a date in October of 2021, hoping that because of the availability of the vaccine, the pandemic would be behind us by then.

The pandemic was still with us in October, but the numbers had been falling for several months. We went ahead with the conference even though many people were still skittish about traveling and attending inside events with a lot of other people. That would include me. I was very concerned, even though I had been vaccinated. I really didn’t want to travel to Birmingham and bring back a souvenir in the form of a positive Covid test.

Our original goal of 15,000 attendees was not realized but with a last-minute surge in registrations, we had somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 who came to more than 100 remote locations across the country. The 500 or so who attended in Birmingham provided a responsive audience for our speakers and talent.

In the days leading up to the conference, the details seemed overwhelming at times (I am not a detail person) but I did the best I could. My biggest worries had to do timing and technology. Due to the limitations we had on time and the need for a lot more digital media, I was afraid things would come unraveled rather quickly.

But as the conference unfolded, things went very smoothly. Thanks to a very skilled and easy-going tech crew at the host church (Shades Mountain Baptist), the first day went without a hitch. And then the second as well. All of our speakers were excellent and none went overtime (at least not much). Our musical talent (Fernando Ortega, Scott Wesley Brown and the Isaacs) were just the right touch. And we had some good laughs with David Pendleton and Ken Davis. Some said this was the best Legacy Grandparenting Summit so far (this was our fourth.)

Someone commented to me that each speaker, each element of the program seemed to build on the other, resulting in a very powerful overall experience. “Did you plan it that way?” he asked. It was all I could do to keep from laughing. If he only knew. From speakers who backed out because of the postponements to last-minute changes in the program to a clueless conference director (me), this thing could have easily been a colossal disaster. It was then I realized that God had gifted us with lemonade. What could have been a bitter disappointment turned into a very sweet outcome and (I trust) a great blessing to a lot of grandparents all over the country. There was no way I could take credit. It was all God’s doing. To him be the glory.

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Daddy Was a Preacher

John F. Rice

My dad, John Forrest Rice

When I was in the band Brush Arbor, our lead singer at the time was Kenny Munds, a great songwriter with powerful vocal chops. After joining my brothers and I, he heard enough stories about our father to write a song called “Daddy Was a Preacher” which we recorded as the B side of a single released for Capitol Records. Kenny told us that he wrote the song about our dad because his own father did not set a very good example, which was the theme of the song.

Our daddy was not a preacher in the literal sense. I never heard a sermon from him. But he pointed us kids in the right direction and let his life do the talking. I wrote a short article about this on Fathers Day for the Legacy Coalition blog:

My father taught me a lot of things, but he didn’t have to say much. The old adage “more is caught than taught” was certainly true of my dad. He rarely, if ever, sat me down and told me what he believed or what he thought about things. But I had my eyes on him. I watched how he treated my mother every day and in the process learned that good husbands love their wives more than their jobs, their recreation, or even their children. I watched how my dad never missed a church service and learned that real men worship and serve God whenever they have the opportunity. I watched my building-contractor father drop significant sums into the offering plate, give jobs to people who were unemployed, donate a new office building to Youth for Christ, and I learned the surprising joy of generosity. All these things and more my father taught me and he didn’t have to say a word.

The song “Daddy Was a Preacher” is a song that I still sing when I get the opportunity. The original Brush Arbor recording of it featuring Ken Munds is no longer available but I still play it on my radio show (usually on Fathers Day). I did the lead singing on a version of it recorded by my old band Pacific-ly Bluegrass. Since you probably won’t be able to find it anywhere else, you can give it a listen here:

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New Home for the Bluegrass Special

Last month The Bluegrass Special’s almost 45-year run on KSON came to an end. I will always be grateful to KSON for giving me the opportunity to host a bluegrass music radio program in San Diego for so many years.

But the Bluegrass Special is not finished! There is another country radio station in San Diego–Mountain Country 107.9 in Alpine (which is where I live) with the motto “Nobody plays more country” and that is not false advertising. They are a local non-profit, low-power radio station serving San Diego’s east county so it doesn’t reach all of San Diego county. But it does have the power of the internet to reach thousands of listeners, no matter where they live.

The new Bluegrass Special will be on Sundays from 4 to 7 p.m., a much better time slot when people are still awake! And instead of two hours, we’ll have three–so I can play a lot more of today’s bluegrass along with classics, oldies, gospel and local artists. I’ll also keep you up-to-date on local bluegrass concerts and events once they start happening again. This will still be San Diego’s bluegrass radio program.

Here are five ways you can listen to the Bluegrass Special every Sunday:

  1. If you are in the east county (Alpine, El Cajon, Lakeside) just tune your radio to 107.9!
  2. From your  computer or any other internet-connected device, use your browser to find TheMountainFM.com. There is a play button on the home page which will start the music!
  3. From your smartphone or tablet, download the Simple Radio app for Android/iOS. Once it’s installed, search for Mountain Country 107.9 and it will appear. Another radio app that works the same way is Live365.
  4. You can also listen on your Amazon Smartspeaker (ALEXA) or any Alexa-enabled device like Kindle Fire Tablet. To listen, you must first say “ALEXA – ENABLE MOUNTAIN COUNTRY ONE OH SEVEN POINT NINE“. You only have to do that once. After that, you only have to say “ALEXA – PLAY MOUNTAIN COUNTRY 107.9”.
  5. On your AMAZON FIRE TV/ROKU device, go to the app store and download the free ALPINE CHANNEL APP. Press play to listen.

See you on the radio!

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We Had a Good Run!

After more than 2300 radio shows, the Bluegrass Special on KSON has come to an end. My last show was heard on Sunday night, September 13th which coincidentally was Bill Monroe’s birthday. I’m glad that I was able to go out with a show paying tribute to the Father of Bluegrass Music, whose song “Uncle Pen” was the first song I played when I went on the air March 7, 1976.

When I got the call from station management this month informing me about the changes in weekend programming (affecting all weekend programs on KSON, not just mine) I was told that the decision was effective immediately, so I didn’t have the opportunity to say goodbye to my listeners–who some of my KSON colleagues called Wayniacs. So, if you were a Wayniac … So long and THANK YOU! We had a good run and I’m very proud to have been the radio voice of bluegrass music in San Diego for so many years.

In an ironic twist of good (or bad) timing, the end of my radio show coincided with my receiving the Distinguished Achievement Award from the IBMA, one of it’s highest honors. Banjoist Alison Brown made the presentation during the virtual awards ceremony on September 30 and prepared a very moving video tribute in my honor which was at the same time humbling and wonderfully affirming. I’m not worthy but I am very grateful.

I will continue to be involved in bluegrass music as long as I can. I’ll be working with the IBMA’s Bluegrass Trust Fund and maintaining my website bluegrassbios.com among other things. I may not be able to play bluegrass on the radio right now, but I’ll definitely be listening. Stay tuned.

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Writing Through a Pandemic

Wayne Rice - Grade 7

Me in the Seventh Grade

Since March, when the lockdown for the coronavirus pandemic began in our country, I have used most of my newfound time at home to work on my autobiography. This may sound rather presumptuous or egotistical to some, but I am not doing this for publication.  Perhaps my grandchildren may someday read it as a way to understand some of their own history. But I have come to realize that I am getting old and that when I look back on my life, I see patterns–I see God at work. He has blessed me beyond measure and I believe that it needs to be documented–not only for my family’s sake but for mine. With all of the discouragement and bad news that has been in the air (and on the air) in recent weeks, recalling and recounting the events of my life has been very therapeutic and encouraging for me. I am reminded of all the people who have been part of my life and who had such a powerful influence on me. I am amazed by all of the opportunities that have come my way over the years. I can see how God guided me through difficult days and helped me make decisions that had enormous impact on my life and the lives of others as well.

This project has kept me busy. I’m not sure when it will end. Of course, as long as I’m alive, the book will never get finished because … well, I’m still alive. But at this date (June 1) I have written more than 150,000 words and I’m really only through about half of my life (up to the year 1981). A lot happened between my birth year (1945) and 1981, but a lot happened between 1981 and today as well. So I’ll keep writing. It has been a very interesting process setting up a timeline. I can remember quite a few events that happened during my life, but I don’t always remember exactly when those events happened. Many of them run together–all the family events, speaking engagements, musical performances and the like. I did not keep daily journals for many years. I did find some old date books of mine which contained helpful reminders of dates and places, but mostly I’ve had to rely on my memory and several boxes of memorabilia and family photos that I have enjoyed going through. I am inserting photographs into this autobiography throughout the book which I think will make it more interesting to the reader, whoever that may be.

As I said, this is not a book that will be submitted to a publisher yet it may be my best work ever. That’s because I believe that God’s best work is found in the day-to-day lives that we all get to live. Regardless how long this pandemic lasts, I would recommend to all that rather than binge-watching another series on Netflix, take some time to reflect on the amazing life that God has given to you. Who knows, it just might become a best-seller!

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Bluegrass Is More Than Music!

Over the past three decades, I have been an active member of the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA). I’ve been on several committees, given a keynote speech, led workshops, produced awards shows and more. But the most gratifying job I’ve had has been serving on the board of the IBMA’s Bluegrass Music Trust Fund. The Trust Fund provides financial assistance to people inside the bluegrass music industry who find themselves in a serious financial crisis. Recipients of financial help from the Fund have included everyone from hall-of-fame recording artists to little-known side musicians and concert promoters. Sonny Osborne (hall of fame banjo player) once told me “You’ve got the best job in bluegrass” and he’s right. It’s an honor to be part of this effort by the bluegrass music community to give back to those who have blessed their lives with so much great music over the years.

The Trust Fund is supported by donations by individuals and organizations and shares proceeds from the annual Wide Open Bluegrass Festival which takes place on the weekend following the business conference. The IBMA is itself a non-profit charitable organization which provides the infrastructure for the bluegrass music industry and helps advance the careers of bluegrass music professionals. A third non-profit is the Bluegrass Music Foundation, which promotes bluegrass music education for children, youth and the general public.

The IBMA is now requesting bluegrass music lovers to include either of these organizations into year-end giving plans. With much gratitude for the positive role that bluegrass music has played in my life, I support these organizations and am happy to recommend them to you for your financial consideration. Here’s a statement from the IBMA:

At IBMA, we believe bluegrass is more than music. It is emergency assistance, music education, career development, and so much more. It is real impact for real people made possible by your support. Please donate now to the combined giving campaign of the IBMA, IBMA Trust Fund, and IBMA Foundation. In addition to your donation, we want to know what bluegrass is to you. Share your own story by posting a video, picture, or statement on social media using #MoreThanMusic.”

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The Cross of Christ

The Cross of Christ John R. W. StottThis time of year I usually try to observe Lent by engaging in a spiritual discipline of some kind that will help me to focus on the events leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

This year I decided to re-read John R.W. Stott’s The Cross of Christ, which I first read some 35 years ago when I was in seminary. More recently, I read Stott’s biography Basic Christian: The Inside Story of John Stott by Roger Steer, and he points out that Stott considered The Cross of Christ to be his magnum opus, his greatest accomplishment as a writer. I have read many of Stott’s books, and they are all excellent. But I would have to agree: The Cross of Christ is more than just another John Stott book. It’s a beautifully written commentary on the central symbol of the Christian faith and what it means for us today.

This reading of The Cross of Christ is probably my fourth or fifth time through the book, so my copy is a bit tattered and underlined throughout. But familiar passages move me to tears every time. One of my favorite passages in the book appears in Stott’s chapter on “Suffering and Glory,” in which he suggests how the cross sheds light on the ages-old question of how a loving God can allow or co-exist with the real world of pain and suffering:

I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross’. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing around his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to the lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross which symbolizes divine suffering. The cross of Christ is God’s only self-justification in such a world as ours.

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Post-Conference Recovery

It has been one week today since we put a wrap on this year’s Legacy Grandparenting Summit conferencei in Fullerton, which went very well. By all accounts, this was the best conference of the three that we (The Legacy Coalition) have produced so far. Certainly it was the best attended, with about 1200 registered for the conference. The speakers, music and other program elements were very well received and when the conference ended, we got nothing but positive comments.

A highlight for me was being able to perform with my brothers Jim and Joe along with my sister Mary. Jim and his current version of Brush Arbor sang a few of their songs (including a new one that Jim wrote about grandparenting), then Mary did a medley of her most popular songs, then Joe and I joined them for a couple of songs with a family theme. We sounded pretty good if I do say so myself, and it felt good to play music in front of such a large and receptive audience.

The conference left me exhausted, although the conference itself was easy compared to the months leading up to it. On the first day of the conference, it felt like I was tipping over the first domino in an elaborate set-up of thousands of dominoes which had been prepared ahead of time. All that was left to do was watch and like everyone else, ooh and ahh at the results as the dominoes fell over the next three days. Fortunately, they all fell perfectly and the conference was a big success. I am grateful to God and for all those who helped make it happen.

You would think that after a couple of days after the conference, I would be able to relax and rest. But I have not been able to do that at all. I have noticed that the anxiety and stress that I had before the conference still exists, even though I have nothing more to do. It’s below the surface. I am beginning to wonder if chronic stress and busyness isn’t a kind of addiction, a type of disorder that doesn’t go away immediately but instead takes time for healing and recovery. After months of feeling anxious about all the incoming emails, texts, phone calls and things-to-do that need attention, I have found that it’s hard to just stop cold-turkey. It feels very strange right now. I keep checking my in-box but there’s nothing there of any importance. I’m not used to that.

So I’m in recovery mode and hoping that it won’t take too long to find a new normal that includes time to read, rest, and take care of some things that I’ve been putting off for a while.

Will there be another Legacy Grandparenting Summit to plan in the future? Yes, there will be. We don’t yet know where or when it will be but I’m sure the planning will begin soon. Whether or not I will be the one doing the planning is something I will need to decide soon. I have many issues to consider, including the fact that I’m not getting any younger.

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