The former Sunny Mountain Boy was hundreds of miles away, surrounded by family in a hospice setting near Nashville, where relatives said he was comfortable in his final hours. But he was certainly in the DC suburbs in spirit, as a string of former music colleagues swapped songs and stories about Martin for the 200 or so folks who filled the pews.
Keith Arneson, who organized the benefit, said more than $4,000 was raised through donations at the door and in a raffle for festival tickets, music lessons and gear, and a handful of instruments, including a mandolin donated by Eastman Strings, a guitar and a harmonium. A few thousand more was sent through an online donation site set up for those who couldn’t attend.
Wayne Taylor, who hosted the event at his church, set the mood for the three-hour show, singing the last line of What a Wonderful World, and then, as the final chord still rang, adding, “We love you, Kip.” For the rest of the afternoon and evening, many of the musicians who performed had something to say about the man they were honoring.
Despite the somber reason for the benefit – to help with medical bills and final expenses – the mood was upbeat, much like a memorial service for a much-loved uncle who was talented, intelligent, funny and, well, somewhat of a rascal. Kip Martin is all of those things.
The stage and the audience were sprinkled with well known personalities from Washington D.C.’s vibrant bluegrass scene: Frank Solivan and his band mates from Dirty Kitchen, fiddlers Chris Sexton, Wally Hughes and Patrick McAvinue, band leader and radio host Lisa Kay Howard-Hughes, Dudley Connell of the Seldom Scene, radio host Katy Daley and many more. The DC Bluegrass Union, which Kip founded before moving to Nashville several years ago, was well represented.
The night ended with an open jam, with nearly two dozen pickers, pros and fans alike, joining in Will The Circle Be Unbroken. There were more than a few misty eyes at the end. But there was also proof, once again that the bluegrass community knows how to take care of its own.