Notes from SPBGMA 2020 – day 2

Carly Smith with the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum at SPBGMA 2020 – photo by Dave Berry

The second day is in full-swing at SPBGMA, most people have arrived and the scene is probably best described as a ten ring circus with the exhibits, pickers, shows, and workshops all going on at once. It’s always fun to chat with the assortment of people at these events. There is always a great variety and they all have different stories, backgrounds, and things they like about attending multi-day picking events which are loosely categorized into bands, exhibitors, pickers, festival/camp organizers, and other vendors. As I wander around, I mostly see new faces, but of course, it’s great to see a few familiar faces. Here are some folks and their stories.

I met Charles Arbogast from Gilmer County, West Virginia in the exhibitor’s area who is here with his son.

“My son’s here with a Gilmer County West Virginia bluegrass group and they’re going to play on stage tonight around midnight. He’s part of the Glenville State College bluegrass program that sent over forty students here this weekend. This is my first trip here and I love it. I went to a festival in Gettysburg and it got me hooked.”

I reacquainted with Heidi Herzog of the Monroe Mandolin camp who I met years ago at the Mandolin Symposium in Santa Cruz, California. I asked her what she is up to.

“I’m the executive director of the Monroe Mandolin Camp and this is a mecca for Bluegrass businesses as well as players of all levels and it’s a wonderful gathering place for people to celebrate bluegrass music. I like making new connections and deepening existing connections, learning new bands that I may not know and that sort of thing. The Monroe Mandolin Camp has a mini-camp at the Station Inn on April 4th and 5th and also its main event in September at the Dubose Conference Center in Monteagle, Tennessee.”

I saw Dana Thorin with Music Caravan in Bremerton, Washington. I recently saw Dana at the California Bluegrass Association Great 48 Jam, and she had this to say. 

“I’ve been coming to SPBGMA I think it’s now close to ten years. We’re looking forward to just meeting new people, selling some great product and I’m very excited about Greg Cahill of Special Consensus getting inducted as a Preservation Hall Inductee.”

While in Nashville this week, I took my mandolin over for some work to my friend Steve Smith at Cumberland Acoustic in Hendersonville, where I met his assistant Erik Engebretson. I saw Erik in the exhibit hall and he took a break to tell me his story.

“I do set up and repair work for Steve at Cumberland Acoustic, and am here at SPBGMA doing set up on mandolin bridges and just you know general maintenance for anybody that wants to come by at the show. This is my fifth year here and we get five or six repairs a night. It’s been a really good thing for us because sometimes, you know, the instruments sales they vary from year to year but this has been a good steady thing. I like seein’ the young kids, you know, getting inspired by, you know, bluegrass music, the new things that are coming to market, and just the whole atmosphere.”

It’s always fun meeting folks who you have mutual connections with and you feel like you have known before. Carly Smith from the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame Museum is one of those people. I bought a new hat from her which she explained was inspired by “The” infamous Bill Monroe headstock, which you can see at the museum.

“I’m the marketing director with the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame Museum in Owensboro, Kentucky. I’ve been with the museum for nine years but this is only my second SPBGMA believe it or not. We’re here to promote the museum and you just can’t beat the picking in the booth. We’re really excited that Jerry Douglas is going to host a big show celebrating the latest inductees to the Hall of Fame that will include the US Navy Band honoring Bill Emerson, Allison Brown, Michael Cleveland, Jeff White, and others. They’re all going to be there.”

Probably the most unexpected conversation was with food vendor Christine Rothwell.

“I’m with Hello Fresh and this is our first time at this event. We’re basically just feeding the pickers fresh food from our ranch in Dallas and trying to get people signed up for our service.

At the risk of offending the above, I have to put this one into the saving-the-best-for-last category. My friend and fiddler, Brandon Godman, strongly suggested that I find Ron Shuffler which turned out to be pretty easy as he hosts a busy booth just inside the exhibit hall. He’s very well known in the industry, has great stories, and was pretty chatty once we got away from the loud banjo player next to us.

“I’m from Valdez, North Carolina and this is probably my 21st consecutive year at SPBGMA. I usually bring some instruments, upright bass or fiddle or guitar, and do some trading and some jamming. It’s just like a big family and we have a ball so its sort of like a family reunion. You see the same friends that you saw twenty years ago, those who have survived all this and I look forward to it every year. I’ve been retired for 20 years so I’m not active as far as a profession or business or career, but I have a lot of friends in the business. I enjoy finding vintage instruments and doing some basic repairs to instruments that I find to make them playable. I find instruments for a lot of students and really enjoy finding those up-and-coming musicians. I share a booth with a friend from Texas and we meet here each year. We furnish a jam area and just have a fun time. Those two young men over there, Lincoln Hensley and Josh Gooding, that represent East Tennessee State, are good friends of mine, and I just got through jamming with them on bass.”

And a good jam it was, I must say.

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About the Author

Dave Berry

Dave Berry is a California based author, mandolin picker, and composer who writes the California Report column for Bluegrass Today. He grew up in the Ohio Valley right between where the Big Sandy and Big Scioto rivers dump into the Ohio. His articles, Morning Walk album, and video are available on streaming sites and his website at