30th and final Wayne C. Henderson Music Festival and Guitar Competition report

The Gibson Brothers at the 30th Wayne C. Henderson Music Festival – photo © G Nicholas Hancock

After 30 years, and $502,950 awarded in youth scholarships and music program grants, the Wayne C. Henderson Music Festival and Guitar Competition came to a permanent end this past Saturday at the Grayson Highlands State Park in southwest Virginia.

Since 1995, the Rugby, Virginia guitar luthier, known for his high-quality craftsmanship and the excellent tone built into his guitars, has been the host to some of the finest guitar pickers in the US on the third Saturday in June each year. Of the many guitarists who mail in their applications in hopes of becoming a contestant in the competition, only 20 are randomly selected by a drawing, and receive notice that they will be competing for the grand prize of a custom-built Henderson guitar. The remaining four finalists receive substantial cash prizes.

Henderson’s primary goals for the event have been to provide quality musical entertainment for the audience, and to raise money to fund the scholarships and grants. Neither Henderson nor any of the 22 people on the organizing committee have ever profited financially from the event. All proceeds go into the operating expenses and the scholarship and grants funds.

In addition to the guitar competition, this year’s lineup included Presley Barker, L.T. Smooth, The Gibson Brothers, The Kruger Brothers, and Wayne Henderson & Friends, which included special guest Brad Paisley, the multi-Grammy and CMA award-winning country music singer/songwriter/guitarist. Paisley contacted Henderson and asked him to build a guitar for him, and Henderson said he would if Paisley would come to this year’s festival and play on the stage. Paisley played the guitar Henderson had made for him.

This year’s guitar competition grand prize winner was Eric Hardin of West Jefferson, NC. The winner of the guitar raffle, which featured another hand-made Henderson guitar, was Joseph Sobol of New York. The raffle raised $45,000 to be added to the scholarship funds.

At mid-afternoon, Diane Morrison, the Henderson scholarship committee chair, introduced 22 of the 38 youngsters receiving scholarships for music lessons and camps this year. Sixteen individual recipients were not present at the festival. Mrs. Morrison announced that a total of $84,000 in individual scholarships and grants to 27 groups were awarded this year.

Also, Betty McDaniel, founder of the Young Appalachian Musicians organization and program in Pickens County, SC, received the Junior Appalachian Musicians Mentor of the Year 2024 award. Jim Lloyd of Rural Retreat, VA received the Junior Appalachian Musicians Teacher of the Year 2024 award. Brett Morris, Executive Director of JAM, Inc., said, “Nominations for the Teacher of the Year award were solicited from the JAM affiliates that attended the annual JAM Conference earlier this year, and Jim was named in the majority of the nominations.”

At the beginning of the Wayne Henderson & Friends performance at the festival, Henderson received a standing ovation from the estimated 3,000 spectators. Henderson said that being age 77 he found the work of putting on an event of this size to be getting more difficult for him. He thanked the members of the festival organizing committee and scholarship committee, the nearly 150 volunteers who work at various jobs all day at the festival, the musicians who came to entertain at the event, and the audience and donors to the scholarship fund.

Henderson said the guitar he built for Paisley is “number 930 or 931, I don’t know for sure because I don’t have my glasses to see it.”

Although the festival has come to an end, Henderson says he will continue to work to make guitars, and hopes he reaches number 1,000 before he has to quit. He is also looking for an alternative way to continue raising money for young traditional musicians through scholarships.

Share this:

About the Author

Nicholas Hancock

Nicholas Hancock is a former newspaper writer and editor who also played rhythm guitar in The Bluegrass Gentlemen from 1968 through mid-1974. Today, he is retired and enjoying his hobby of photographing bluegrass and other music events.