So often in the bluegrass world, we encounter artists from earlier times who had a profound impact on the region where they lived, while leaving little mark on the larger national or international scene. It happens less frequently now that anyone with a smart phone can post video online and capture millions of eyeballs and earholes in a short space of time.
One such from the last century was Leon Kiser, who passed away in 1997. He played bluegrass throughout southwestern Virginia and east Tennessee during the 1970s and ’80s, and put on concerts in the region, but left behind only a single recording. He led a group called The Holston Mountain Boys, and their LP from 1975, Holston Mountain Bluegrass, is all that remains of his music, though they performed together for 30 years.
Kiser is remembered for his singing voice plus his skill as a songwriter, and for his constant encouragement of young artists coming up in bluegrass. Folks in east Tennessee celebrate that aspect of his legacy with an annual Leon Kiser Memorial Tribute concert to raise money for non-profit organizations who support the music in the area. Proceeds from the show go towards funding of a pair of scholarships to ETSU in Johnson City, the Benny Sims Scholarship Fund and the Leon Kiser Scholarship Fund, plus the Mountain Music Museum in Kingsport, run by the Appalachian Cultural Music Association who puts on the benefit.
This year’s featured artist is Larry Sparks who will appear this Saturday, February 24, at the Wellmont Center for the Performing Arts at Northeast State Community College in Blountville, TN. Tickets are available online starting at $15 for the show, which will also include performances from Earl “Hump” Doyle, the ETSU Bluegrass Pride Band, Raymond McLain, Morehead State University’s Mountain Music Ambassadors, Kaitlyn Baker, the Kiser Family, Cork Lickers, Breaking Tradition, Cedar Valley, Kenny Morrell, Duty Free, Saplin’ Grove, Brandon Lee Adams and American roots artist Grant Maloy Smith.
Sparks says he takes seriously the mission of the Kiser Memorial Tribute.
“I think it is very important for me and other established artists to support programs that promote bluegrass music and help younger artists to develop their talent. We must all pull together to keep bluegrass alive. We can make some new paths but never forget the old paths, and learn from them the real bluegrass music the way it should be played and sung from the heart.”
Further details can be obtained by calling 423-354-5169.