There are not many music genres in which fans are able to consistently interact with their heroes face-to-face, and even less where stars and legends will willingly sit down and talk or play music with fans. Thankfully, bluegrass is one of those genres. It’s not uncommon for some of the most popular musicians to be found out in the crowd or backstage after a show, picking and talking like they were with old friends.
This past Thursday night (March 28th), numerous students and faculty from East Tennessee State University’s Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Studies got to have one of these experiences when Doyle Lawson was honored at the program’s 10th Annual Spring Celebration.
Each spring, the top bluegrass, old time, country, and Celtic bands at ETSU are showcased in a concert at the Paramount Center for the Arts in Bristol, TN. Concerts often feature a nationally touring band as a special guest (past performers have included Blue Highway and the Boxcars). This year, Lawson, who grew up just outside of the Tri-Cities, was the guest of honor.
After performances by numerous student ensembles, Lawson took stage with a band consisting of ETSU faculty and students, including two of his former band members (Hunter Berry on fiddle and Jason Leek contributing harmony vocals). Students Josh Argo (guitar and vocals), Josh Riffe (bass), and Gary Hultman (dobro), faculty member Brandon Green (banjo), and advisory board member Tim Stafford (guitar and vocals) rounded out the group. They performed a short set consisting of a few bluegrass standards, as well as the Quicksilver classic Julianne, and By the Waters of the Clinch, an original instrumental which can be found on Lawson’s latest release.
In recognition of his long career and his influence on several generations of bluegrass musicians, Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Studies director Daniel Boner presented Lawson with a letter signed by all of the student and faculty performers at the concert, as well as a new Stetson hat to add to his collection. Boner joked that he had have a few of the members of Quicksilver sneak around and go through Lawson’s “dirty laundry” in order to figure out the correct hat size. Lawson then joined the rest of the night’s performers onstage to close the show with East Tennessee Blues.
Both before and after his performance, Lawson spent time backstage speaking with students and faculty, offering advice and sharing stories from his career. Freshman guitarist Ben Watlington even shared his Charlie Waller impersonation with Lawson, which the former Country Gentlemen member declared pretty spot-on.
For both the audience and performers at the Paramount, Thursday was a night to remember, as bluegrass music’s past, present, and future were honored, showcased, and celebrated all on the same stage.
Special thanks to Sherri George for the photos and videos from the show.
Doyle is marking the 34th Anniversary of Quicksilver this week with a promotion ending tonight (4/2/13). You can enter on Facebook to win lunch with Doyle at KP Restaurant on historic State Street in Bristol.
Get your entry in by 9:00 p.m. (EDT) to be eligible. Winners will be announced at 10:00.
Here are a pair of students ensembles who performed at the Paramount. First up is Heart of Appalachia, with Adam Steffey sitting in on mandolin. Kristen Bearfield is on lead vocal and guitar, Heather Twigg on harmony vocal and fiddle, Cory Wharton on guitar, Josh Meade on banjo, and Matt Nuckols on bass. They performed Gone, written by Bearfield.
Next up are Heather Twigg, Brandy Blackwell, and Chelsea Dix-Kessler, who sing together in a harmony class at ETSU, doing One Day I Will.