Bill Monroe’s Sons of Bluegrass at Mountains of Music Homecoming

It’s 23 years since Bill Monroe passed away, and over the years since there have been a few Blue Grass Boy reunions. However, they’re not commonplace. So, Jack Hinshelwood, The Director of the Crooked Road, has assembled five former Blue Grass Boys with Monroe-style mandolin devotee Mike Compton, offering today’s bluegrass fans the opportunity to hear and enjoy Monroe’s music from some of those who know it best, and to learn about his life in the process. 

These are part of the Crooked Road’s Mountains of Music Homecoming concerts that take place along the Crooked Road from June 7, 2019 to June 15, 2019. 

Jack Hinshelwood explains ….. 

“I’d say it mostly came about because of having some Blue Grass Boys in southwest Virginia who are part of that story, and putting a band together of former Blue Grass Boys seemed like the best way to tell it.”

Bill Monroe’s Sons of Bluegrass are …. 

Billy Baker (fiddle), who is from Norton, Virginia, and played fiddle with Monroe for brief periods in 1961, some of the summer of 1963, and on a Hootenanny taping in January 1964. He is the third cousin of the most revered of Monroe’s fiddlers, Kenny Baker; 

Butch Robins (banjo), from Pulaski, was a Blue Grass Boy from September 1977 to July 1981; 

Doug Hutchens, from Spencer, played bass for Monroe from June 26, 1971 to September 1971. He organized various birthday parties for Bill Monroe; 

Tom Ewing (guitar), was a Blue Grass Boy from May 18, 1986 to December 31, 1988, and from March 31, 1989 to March 15, 1996. He is the author of the book Bill Monroe: The Life and Music of the Blue Grass Man;

Robert Bowlin (fiddle), played for Monroe from January 1993 to March 15, 1996;  

Mike Compton (mandolin), used to play in the Nashville Bluegrass Band. He hosts the annual Monroe Mandolin Camps. 

Doug Hutchens, the guardian of the Blue Grass Boys, is looking forward to picking with his friends once more ……  

“All of us were hired as ‘independent contractors’ by the Crooked Road Association to do the shows. One at the Blue Ridge Music Center outside of Galax, Virginia, and the other at the Harvester in Rocky Mount, Virginia.  

We will be having a great time having two of the last Blue Grass Boys who performed with Bill during his last performance on March 15, 1996, along with Butch Robins the legendary banjo man, and having one of the most talented individuals who followed Bill playing mandolin… Mike Compton.”

In keeping with the Crooked Road’s Mountains of Music Homecoming philosophy there will be learning opportunities prior to a lot of the concert performances, as is the case with both Sons of Bluegrass shows. Hinshelwood explains further the thinking behind the Sons of Bluegrass feature, and what is programmed to precede their concert …… 

“We are always focused on the music of southwest Virginia, and since we have some former Blue Grass Boys from here who helped Monroe create bluegrass, we wanted to explore that story. We also prefer to put the music in context, and build other programming around the concert events to give people a broader experience than just attending a concert. Hence, our pre-concert activities include Tom Ewing and Butch Robins giving talks about Monroe, based on their respective books, and we will also gather the artists together to share stories about Monroe, and their experiences being part of that legacy.”

Bill Monroe’s Sons of Bluegrass will appear at The Blue Ridge Music Center in Galax, Virginia on Friday, June 14, 2019 at 7:00 p.m. They are located at Milepost 213 on The Blue Ridge Parkway.

Free pre-concert activities include a presentation by Tom Ewing author of Bill Monroe: The Life and Music of the Blue Grass Man, at 5:00 p.m., and the program, The Bill Monroe Legacy, featuring stories about Monroe by the artists at 5:30 p.m. at the indoor theatre.

(Admission is free but, seating is limited)

They will also appear at the Harvester Performance Center in Rocky Mount, Virginia on Saturday, June 15, 2019 at 7:30 p.m. 

Pre-concert activities there include a 5:30 p.m. presentation on Bill Monroe by guitarist Tom Ewing based on his recently published book Bill Monroe: The Life and Music of The Blue Grass Man. At 6:00 p.m., the artists will gather on stage to share stories of their time helping Monroe create bluegrass music. 

Recently Roanoke’s WDBJ7 Mornin’ TV program previewed the Crooked Road’s Mountains of Music Homecoming with emphasis on Bill Monroe’s Sons of Bluegrass …..

Other not to be missed Crooked Road’s Mountains of Music Homecoming concerts include performances by The Stanley Brothers all-star band (Ralph Stanley II, Don Rigsby, Junior Sisk, Dewey Brown, Tommy Brown, and Randall Hibbitts); a celebration of Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver’s 40 years on the road, with special guests Jamie Dailey, Terry Baucom, and Jim van Cleve (two shows); and a tribute to the music of Doc Watson, Remembering Doc, featuring T Michael Coleman, Jack Lawrence, Wayne Henderson, and Jeff Little. 

Bluegrass Today asked Hinshelwood to share more about the events at the Mountains of Music Homecoming.

You are celebrating the music of the Stanley Brothers, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Doc Watson, and drawing together the Best All Around Performers from the Galax Old Fiddlers’ Convention….  

“Actually, the intentionally planned theme this year is ‘let the music move you,’ and we are exploring the importance of traditional dance as it relates to the music. Attendees will have opportunities to learn dance, participate in dances, and to see great traditional dance artists perform. The feastival event at Marion features over 30 of America’s best traditional dancers.  

This sub-theme of celebrating four icons of Appalachian music was not intentional but just happened. Ted Olson was working on a CD/book project on the music of Doc Watson, so we thought it would be good to do a tribute to him. I had been thinking for a while about having a legend like Butch Robins in the region, and that we needed to include him in the homecoming. The Stanley Brothers all-star band was so dynamic at their one concert last year in Clintwood that we decided to bring that show east this year to the Floyd Country Store. And someone at the Crooked Road commented on how many great artists have come through Quicksilver over the years, and wouldn’t it be cool to do a mini reunion of the group and bring some of those folks back to perform with Doyle again. So, we ran with it. In fact, it was only after we had all of Doyle’s three shows booked this year that we even became aware that he was celebrating 40 years of Quicksilver this year. Icing on the cake.”

Are there other events that you would like me to draw attention to particularly? Is there anything that is in the itinerary for the first time? 

“Well, the Crooked Road’s mission is to help our communities economically by helping them celebrate and promote the region’s music. So, whenever we can act as a catalyst for communities to organize events that help them attract visitors, we are really fulfilling our mission. The homecoming has been a great way to do that and has helped bring about events like court days in rocky mount and heritage days in Honaker, Virginia. And new this year is the Damascus Old Mill Music Fest. That started with us approaching the folks at the Damascus Old Mill Inn about having a Friday night homecoming concert, and it blossomed into a two-day festival featuring artists like Balsam Range, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, and Volume Five. That will definitely spur some economic activity in Damascus and surrounding communities. 

The feastivals are always different because they move to a different community each year, and we use them to tell that communities story. The little town of Marion is hosting a feastival called ‘roaring into the twenties’ because not only are they seeing a cultural and economic resurgence of the town as we head into the 2020s, but it turns out that Marion was a cultural hotspot of southwest Virginia in the 1920s as well. So, the feastivals are culinary based events that involved plated dinners by great chefs using locally sourced foods, master musicians (and in Marion, dancers) all presented in the context of the community history. 

‘Tales, Trails, & Tunes’ in Big Stone Gap and ‘Feast & Frolic At The Farm’ in Christiansburg will complete the feastival offerings this year.

Finally, one of the things we have put together this year for the first time are travel itineraries to help visitors who may not be familiar with southwest Virginia. You can see them on our web site. They are basically one sheet guides to having a great experience at the Homecoming without doing a lot of research.” 

It’s the fifth Crooked Road’s Mountains of Music Homecoming; what is the background that led up to the establishment of the Mountains of Music Homecoming?  

“Back before 2015 we had had some Crooked Road festivals in a few specific communities, but we realized it would take decades to get around to every community. So that led to thinking about having a region-wide event where every community could put all its musical and cultural finery on display for people to enjoy. Having a specific time of year when everyone works together also maximizes the chances of attracting that first-time visitor, and I believe once people visit once, they are very likely to return. It seems to be working. So far this year, 55% of the ticket buyers are from outside southwest Virginia and they are coming from 19 states and Great Britain.”

The Crooked Road’s Mountains of Music Homecoming celebrates the rich traditional music heritage, cultural amenities, history, and outdoor environment of communities throughout southwest Virginia. Events take place at a variety of venues from Friday, June 7, 2019 through to Saturday, June 15, 2019, inclusive.  

Advance price tickets to the Crooked Road’s Mountains of Music Homecoming are still available until tomorrow May 31, 2019 .

It will begin with the two-day HoustonFest at Felts Park in Galax, Virginia, June 7-8, 2019. 

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.