Jackson County and Appalachian Fire
Y’all, I played all weekend. I’ll resume our regularly scheduled programming and the push pin mandolin tour with my next post.
Years ago when my son went to look at colleges, we took a trip to Cullowhee, N.C., the home of Western Carolina University. He took one look and said, “Dad, this is where I want to go. It’s like Harvey County with mountains.”
Not only did he go to school there, but after he got his degree he settled in the area. I have to agree with him; it is very pretty country.
Every so often he’ll hear about an event and call. “Dad, you need to come to Western this weekend. They’re having a bluegrass festival out at the Jackson County Recreation Park.”
“Who all’s playing?”
“Shilo. Rumor has it Opie Poindexter is their mandolin player today.”
“Wow. I need to get there. I haven’t seen Opie in years. (Opie is a former Galax International Fiddler’s Convention mandolin champion.) “Anyone else?”
“Cliff Searcy’s outfit?”
I cupped the phone in my hand. “Marfar! You wanna go visit Tommy?”
So off we went.
Jackson Rec Park is in a valley nestled right in between a couple mountain ranges. It was just the kind of festival I dig. There was a big green lush lawn and the mountains cupped around the field like a natural amphitheatre. They had a politically correct kid’s playground; the kind where all the edges are plastic and rubber to reduce the risk of head injuries. (Docs always scout out a new place for such things.) Some fellow walked a couple of beautiful liver and white Springer Spaniels who would become your life-long friend for a pat on the head.
The sun beat down at first, but there were a few tents for shade. As soon as the sun dipped near the western shoulder of the mountain ridge it cooled down. A breeze rustled through the stage mics; it sounds like the rumble of thunder for those of y’all not used to being around sound equipment. Don’t forget to try the Cherokee Indian fry bread. Indie woulda loved that. Great stuff.
I got out my mandolin. A young middle aged man approached the stage. He was a burly sort with a beard flecked with gray, a firm handshake and a ready smile. He walked with the spring of a fellow who was an althlete. He stuck out his hand, and we shook.
“Nice mandolin,” he said. “Looks like a Montana era Gibson.” I lowered my sunglasses and he looked in my eyes. “Son of a gun. Tommy Bibey, it is you.”
I grinned. “Cliff Searcy, I presume?”
“So pleased to meet you.”
We chatted for a moment, but Appalachian Fire was up next, so I let them get to their warm-up. They were a fun band. It was all Fedora hats and baseball caps, New York State fiddling, and wild Hawaiian shirts. They had a fine girl singer, Ranee Stepp, and I loved her version of ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky.’ When bunch of middle aged guys from across the demographic board can make such fine music with a young lady who is barely more than a kid, I know this kind of music will not be lost. I like to see the young people in it. Music is the tie that binds.
All in all it was a fine festival. Opie is a great mando player, and I always learn from him. FlintHill was there, and Michael Burgess is one of my favorite songwriters. He has placed tunes with bands like Lonesome River and the Darin and Brooke Aldridge Quintet. Their banjo man is one of the best you’ll hear, and the guitar man is a pretty dang hot picker too.
For me, bluegrass music is all about the people. A genuine tough guy ex-football coach with a soft spot for English Lit, kids, and folks in Nursing homes is the kind of human being I continue to find in my bluegrass journey. We plan to do a few charity gigs together. Someday I’ll visit his class and tell ’em when I was a boy we always paid mind to Coach, and they better too, or some day they’d regret it. I don’t think I’ve seen the last of Cliff Searcy and Appalachian Fire too, ’cause they are true bluegrass.
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