Don Dilling passes

If you know Steve Dilling, banjoist with Sideline, then chances are you know his devoted parents, Don and Linda Dilling of Garner, NC. They have been his biggest fans, strongest supporters, and beloved family and were ever present at festivals, concerts, and events where their son performed.

Last night, January 2, 2022, Don, 82, surrounded by his loving family, succumbed to his long, arduous, and brave battle with cancer.

To know truly know Don was to love him. He was a friend to all. He loved camping at festivals in their motorhome. Their door was always open to any and all who wanted to drop by, and a lot of folks did drop by to visit, share good food, and jam. Pickers and promoters knew him well.

Russell Moore reflected on his former band mate’s dad. “Bluegrass music has lost a good friend with the passing of Don Dilling, and his son, Steve, has lost one of his biggest, if not his biggest, fan. Don always supported Steve’s playing and involvement in bluegrass no matter what group or ensemble he was in, and encouraged him from day one. Don was also eager to share his thoughts and opinions about bluegrass music and life with anyone who would take the time to stop and listen. He will be missed by family and friends that knew him well. RIP Don.”

Lorraine Jordan, the lady of tradition, shared, “Don Dilling was a family man. He supported his sons, Scott and Steve, in anything they decided to do. He was their father and best friend. Don was loved in the bluegrass community. He always took time to tell you a story, give you a little advice, or brag on you. Never would he pass you without speaking.”

Jeff Branch, promoter of the Big Lick Bluegrass Festival and Bluegrass in Troy, shared, “Last night before he passed I was able to talk to Linda. They put the phone to Don’s ear. I said,’‘hey, wise old Southern gentleman, I love you.’ Don (and his entire family) was a big supporter in bluegrass and would do anything for you. I spent many festivals sitting around with this family at the camper and sharing a lot of fun times. Steve and I shared the same birthday and to me he was dad, too. His family meant the world to him and you can see that in that smile wherever you saw him.”

Relationships in bluegrass music with the Dillings spanned more than 40 years. Milton Harkey, promoter of Bluegrass First Class, recalled when he scheduled the Bluegrass Album Tour in 1983 (11 shows in 11 days). He took Steve along for the ride, but first he had to convince Don to allow his aspiring 16-year-old banjo picking son to miss his high school classes. 

Harkey recalled, “At first, Don said, ‘Absolutely not. He needs to stay in school and get an education.’ I remember telling Don, Steve would learn more in those 11 days than he will all year in school.” 

Don not only agreed, but drove Steve to Washington, DC, and Elizabethton, TN, so he could travel with the Album Band for shows.

Stephanie Cherryholmes, Don’s granddaughter and Steve’s daughter, shared, “The greatest man I’ve ever known went home to Jesus last night. He was surrounded by his whole family who loved on him and prayed with him the entire day. We played his favorite songs, we sang to him, and we told him how much we love him and promised to take care of Gigi. I can’t even begin to describe how much I loved that man. I’m so blessed that I had almost 31 years with the best grandfather anyone could ever ask for. Please keep our family in your prayers. Aiden (her son, Don’s great-grandson) absolutely loved him so much.”

Don is survived by his loving wife of 64 years, Linda; sons, Scott Dilling (Betsy), Stephen Dilling (Macie) and Jose Pratts (Nancy); grandchildren, Stephanie Cherryholmes (Skip), Matt Dilling (Breanna) and Kristin Dilling; great-grandchildren, Aiden Cherryholmes and Adeline Cherryholmes; nephews, Randy Dilling (Wilma), Eddie Dilling and Bill Dilling, and sister-in-law, Ruth Dilling.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Grace in Willow Springs Church in Willow Spring, NC.

Don Dilling’s visitation and funeral service are slated for Thursday afternoon in Garner. Details are listed online.

R.I.P., Don Dilling.

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.