The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

September 23, 2013

Bluegrass festival carried powerful message


TARBORO — Off and on rain showers kept down crowds Saturday at the 2nd Annual Bluegrass Festival at Indian Lake Park, but the fans that listened to the music from under tents said those who didn’t show missed out on a great time.

“I think the people who didn’t come missed a real treat,” said Carolyn Worden of Tarboro. “It’s just been a fun day.”

“I think the crowds were good, considering the weather,” said Joyce Turner, executive director of Edgecombe Cultural Arts Council and festival co-coordinator. “We had a lot of out-of-towners and they came early and stayed the entire time.”

Worden said the style of music at the festival took her back in time to “50 years ago, what we listened to on the radio.” Her favorite band at the festival was the Tar River Boys, a local group founded by the late Dr. Peter Temple.

“It’s always great to see the Tar River Boys,” Worden said. “Having the Tar River Boys is something we should be really proud of as a community.”

Worden’s favorite number that TRB performed is the gospel tune “I’ll Fly Away.” The group also performed a couple of original bluegrass numbers, including “Engineers Don’t Wave From the Trains Anymore” and a song about the man who invented the TV, and how technology has changed the world.

The music at the bluegrass festival was simple but carried a powerful message, through the sharing of real-life experiences through song.

“You’re listening to everyone else’s experiences. It’s real,” said Milom Williams, banjo player for Kevin Richardson and Cuttin’ Edge (KRACE).

Scott Burgess, bass player for KRACE, agreed.

“It’s honest,” he said. “It’s something everybody can relate to.”

An original number written by the group’s leader Kevin Richardson, “What Kinda Love,” is about a love story gone wrong, and asks the question, “What kinda love could treat somebody that way?”

Another song that tells a story is “Most of All,” an old B.J. Thomas song that KRACE adapted to the bluegrass genre.

“It’s about a guy who realizes his life on the road is not as important as the woman he’s left at home,” said Burgess.

Richardson described his band’s style as “straight ahead driving bluegrass with a little bit of edge to it.” While KRACE brought straightforward yet edgy bluegrass to Saturday’s festival, Sweet Potato Pie, an all-female band, brought the “softer side of bluegrass” to audiences.

“We describe our music as ‘sweetgrass,’” said Sonya Stead, leader of Sweet Potato Pie. “It’s the softer side of bluegrass.”

The group did a couple of original numbers, including “Crinkle,” about the feeling caused by a “special someone,” and “Bluegrass Girl,” a song about being natives of North Carolina.

“No matter where you’re at in the world, you can still be a bluegrass girl,” Stead said.

The group also played the Ervin Rouse tune “Orange Blossom Special,” and Chris Shafer of Rocky Mount entertained audiences with Tennessee flat footing during that number. Shafer learned flat footing years ago and Saturday was his first time doing the style of dance in eight or nine years.

“I just like the fact that people dance to it (bluegrass) and you can watch everybody. It’s kind of an old-timey way of interacting with people,” said Sara Flood, an audience member whose husband plays banjo for Carolina Grass.

Another group bringing toe-tapping music to audiences was The Grass Cats, playing tunes including “You Go to Your Church and I’ll Go to Mine,” Doc Watson’s “Black Mountain Rag,” and “Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms.”

For those hankering to hear classic country music, the Malpass Brothers delivered.

“They want to preserve traditional country music as it was,” said Al Cotter. He has been on the road with The Malpass Brothers since he did a comedy act with the young brothers as the character of “Cousin Brossy.”

The Malpass Brothers (Taylor and Chris and their father Chris Sr.), who open frequently for Merle Haggard, did a couple of Haggard tunes for audiences, including “Sing Me Back Home Before I Die.”

Maxilyn Elks, a self-described “die-hard Malpass Brothers” fan stood up and cheered after the band’s performance and requested “Farewell Party” as an encore.

“I follow them everywhere they go,” Elks said. “They are just genuine, everyday people and they know how to get up there and perform.”

Authenticity is what 24-year-old Taylor Malpass loves about classic country music.

“It has so much soul. Everything somebody wrote, it was usually about a life experience,” he said. “You sit down and listen to a Hank Williams song and you can actually feel what they were feeling when they wrote the song.”

One such Hank Williams song performed by “Sweet Potato Pie” Saturday was “Cheating Heart.”

Annette Grady, DJ at Saturday’s festival called the lineup “some of the best acts in North Carolina.”