The Friends of Al Batten Bluegrass Jam was hosted Sunday October 15 at The Farm in Selma, NC by Johnny Ridge, Lori Batten McLamb and Hospice of Johnston County, NC. Many family members and friends were there to celebrate this joyous occasion for Al, who passed away in November of 2016. Raffles, concessions and donations were given to the benefit that day, and nearly $15,000 was raised! The lineup included Garrett Newton Band, Constant Change, The Grass Cats, The Malpass Brothers, Sideline, and The Bluegrass Reunion with special guests.
Al’s Brother, Glen Batten, stepped on stage to speak of his brother. Barrett Malpass, son of Christopher Malpass, graced the stage a few times with his humor during the Malpass Brother’s set, setting the audience in a whirl of loving laughter. The energy felt that day was joyous and loving and Al Batten’s spirit was truly felt there.
The last performance included The Bluegrass Reunion, with Johnny Ridge, Mike Aldridge and David Turnage who played with Al for the last 12 years. David Turnage was the last original member of the Bluegrass Reunion who stuck with Al for over 45 years. Jeff Huffman, son of the late Roby Huffman – one of Al’s best friends – played guitar, while Zack McLamb backed the band on bass.
A herd of fabulous musicians joined them on stage for 3 remaining songs to honor Al: Foggy Mountain Breakdown, the infamous Always Marry An Ugly Girl, and Black Eyed Suzie. Johnny Ridge’s Granddaughter, Kendall, and Grandson, Caden, joined in as well. Kendall aka “Sugarfoot” made her debut with the Bluegrass Reunion when she was just 4 years old at the Kinston Winter Bluegrass Festival in Lenior, NC. She is now 13, and wanted to perform one last time for Al!
Al Batten never once told a child they were not welcome on the stage with his band. He encouraged many children to play music, and he spent most of his life teaching children, as a Vocational Mechanics/Agriculture Teacher at Johnston County High School, from whence he retired.
Lee Flood, now dubbed “Lee Hood,” after Johnny Ridge joked about Al calling Lee, “Lee Hood” instead of Flood, was asked to render The Devil and the Farmer’s Wife. He did a “crank up job” on it, as Al would say. Lee was one of those children who sat by Al at festivals and shows during the after-show jams to learn to play the banjo. Lee performed with the Bluegrass Reunion for a few months before Al’s passing, as did Brian Aldridge, son of Mike Aldridge.
We cannot forget the Aldridge Family! Mike Aldridge, mandolin player for the Bluegrass Reunion, performed with Al Batten from 2004 on. He and his 3 sons, Brian Aldridge (Constant Change), Daniel Aldridge (Garrett Newton Band) and Nathan Aldridge (Sideline) were on the stage Sunday together, also showing that family bond that Al loved, and what makes bluegrass music so special. Al Batten was a family man for sure and having the “Happy Aldridge Family” on stage playing and singing his songs Sunday was one of those great moments.
Sunday was a day that Al left us, and Sunday was a day that we celebrated the “Godfather of Bluegrass” and the legacy he has left for us all. In closing, just one quote from Johnny Ridge, “It takes 5 women to hug him and a boxcar to lug him!”
Al’s two children were extremely grateful for all the music and honor shown for their dad.
“The Batten Family, Lori and Brian, would like to express their sincere appreciation for the love and care given to their father by the staff of the SECU Hospice House in Smithfield, NC. Playing traditional bluegrass music, encouraging younger musicians and forming friendships through his music were among his greatest joys. Thank you to everyone for their love and support and for joining us in this celebration of Al Batten. He was truly one of a kind!”
Supporters for the event included:
- WTSB Radio
- The Bluegrass Jamboree
- Pinecone Bluegrass Show
- Crooked Row Produce
- Sheetz of Smithfield
- Food Lion of Smithfield
- Smithfield’s Chicken and BBQ
- White Swan of Wilson Mills
- Cloverdale Accounting Services
- Zach’s Chargrill
- Stormin’ Norman’s BBQ
- Carlie C’s of Four Oaks