Bluegrass in its many forms is indigenous to the Southeast and Midwest with an epicenter in the Appalachia areas of the Carolinas, Kentucky and Tennessee. The music evolved from the Scotch-Irish settlers of the British Isles. In the old world the women were the singers and the men played instruments with the violin being a primary sound. In America, banjo, mandolin and guitar music were added along with a range of other instruments and sounds. Bill Monroe and his brother, Charlie, popularized bluegrass in the late '30s and '40s along with band members such as Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt, all were consummate musicians. Excellent musicianship and a high tonal voice became the hallmark of bluegrass. The somber ballads of bygone days are still sung but there are also gospel and upbeat sounds to raise any spirit.

Saturday, April 29, 2006: We finally made it to the bluegrass music mecca of Cumberland County. Our fellow RHA officers and friends, Vince and Charlene Richardson, are ardent bluegrass fans and we joined them for an evening at the second annual Spring Porch Festival at the Pic-N-Barn. About 22 miles south of Fairfield Glade or 15 miles from Crossville on Lantana Road (Hwy. 101), then a right turn on Midway Rd. and a left on Allen Burgess Rd. We pulled in at 4 p.m. The parking lot was filling up since the festival's featured bands that began playing at 1 p.m. for the two-day event. Each group would play two sets of a half-hour or more, with the music continuing until about 11 p.m. Cover charge for a potential 10 hours of live music was only $5 per person. No alcohol is allowed but there is a first-rate assortment of food available at reasonable prices in the Barn's dining area that doubles as an after-set clubroom for performers. Host Janice Burgess is also lead singer of the Bac-Trakers bluegrass band. She and her family operate the Pic-N-Barn on the Burgess family homestead that is also the former sight of her husband Delmer's sawmill.

In addition to playing two sets on their own, Janice and a few of the six-member Bac-Trakers band joined with an old friend from South Carolina, fiddler Claude Lucas, a fiddle player with 62 years of experience. A husband and wife team, two members of Lantana Drifters, another Cumberland County bluegrass band, joined in on washboard and added train whistle sound effects for Washbash Cannonball.

Claude took down the house with his special skill, known as "eephing," that must be heard to be believed. How would you describe the sounds that imitate a hungry mule at 5 a.m. on the farm? The result was toe-tapping, joyous, upbeat music that would put the Rolling Stones to shame.

I remember Midwestern Hayride on WLW Cincinnati, and there was also the Louisiana Hayride out of Baton Rouge with guests such as a young Elvis Presley, and forever there was the Grand Ole Opry. There were special moments on these programs but nothing that topped the Bac-Trakers and Claude Lucas on this Saturday night. It was pure Americana. People could not sit still. Those that could clog or buck dance were up dancing their legs off. This was old time bluegrass, straight from the back roads of the Cumberland Plateau. Great music, great entertainment and the evening cost only $21.25 including two dinners. Just because I'm a Yankee from Ohio doesn't mean I can't appreciate great music and a great value. If you can't make it out to the Pic-N-Barn, the Bac-Trakers are scheduled for the RHA September dinner meeting in Fairfield Glade, and will also appear in area festivals and expositions.

Kudos, gripes, suggestions? E-mail dfbackus@aol.com.

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