Bluegrass promoter Frank Jurney passes

The bluegrass world, his former firefighting colleagues, and thousand of local athletes are mourning the passing of Frank Jurney, who died Saturday after a long illness. He was 79.

Frank was one of those guys who became a great friend the first time you met him. Heck, according to tributes on his Facebook page, he became a great friend to many who only ever talked to him on the phone, whether to book an act at the Berryville Bluegrass Series that he ran in Clarke County, VA, or to hire him as a festival emcee.

Frank had lung damage from long-ago cancer treatment, and had heart issues as well. The illness led him to step down from the Berryville concerts in 2018. The series, which started in 2000, raised more than $300,000 for the Clarke County High School Eagles Athletic Association, paying for uniforms and scholarships for the athletes.

After he stepped down for health reasons, Frank continued to show up at bluegrass shows and festivals across the region, often in the company of songwriter and promoter Bruce Carpenter and musician David Lay.

“The bluegrass world has lost one of its biggest fans and supporters and I have lost one of my best friends,” Carpenter said in announcing Frank’s passing.

Bassist Marshall Wilborn said his friend worked so hard that it often seemed like he was an extra member of the band. In his work behind the scenes, Frank “was truly about the community of the music, committed to the listeners leaving the shows feeling excited and inspired, committed to the musicians feeling welcomed and appreciated, and contributing to the school all at the same time,” Wilborn said.

Frank’s second career followed long service as a firefighter in Washington, DC. And it started pretty much by accident. After they moved from the city to Virgina, his wife Cyndy, who survives him, landed a job in the Clarke County School District athletic director’s office. He was asked to pull together a bluegrass fundraiser, and he was off and running.

Once, when he referred to the massive doses of radiation that were needed to save him from Stage IV throat cancer, Frank told The Winchester Star, “I’m paying for it now. But I don’t regret it. It’s been a good ride. I’ve had a wonderful life, and I’ve loved every minute of it.” 

Those of us who were fortunate enough to share of those minutes in that wonderful life loved it, too.

R.I.P., Frank Jurney.

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.