Wednesday morning’s funeral for bluegrass icon Pete Kuykendall was a lot like the songs he wrote: Arranged with precision, filled with some memorable lines, short, and to the point.
What wasn’t short was the list of bluegrass luminaries who gathered in Warrenton, VA, where Pete died last week at the age of 79. Among those at either Tuesday’s viewing or Wednesday’s service were Eddie Stubbs, Jimmy Gaudreau, IBMA Executive Director Paul Schiminger, Danny Knicely, Joe Zauner, Nashville lawyer (and picker) David Crow and bluegrass DJs Katy Daley and Bill Foster. Bassist Missy Raines flew in from Nashville for the service, while Crow and others from Music City made the 10-hour drive.
The service started with two short Bible readings from Pete’s adopted daughter, Ginger Kuykendall Allred. She concluded by saying, “He stamped his name on a lot of successful ventures in his life.” She wasn’t boasting.
It fell to former IBMA Executive Director Dan Hays to sum up those many ventures in his eulogy – a task that easily could have taken a few hours: Performer. Songwriter. Publisher. Festival organizer. Co-founder of IBMA. Driving force behind Leadership Bluegrass. Radio host. Producer. Historian. And, of course, founder and executive editor of Bluegrass Unlimited.
Any one of those accomplishments, several guests marveled, would have earned him a place of esteem in bluegrass. That one man did all of them, at a high level, is rather phenomenal.
“If Bill Monroe is the father of bluegrass and Jimmy Martin is the king, I would suggest to you that Pete has been the godfather of the music,” Hays said. He was, Hays continued, “the most trusted and influential behind-the-scenes presence” bluegrass has known.
In addition to the words, of course, there was music. Fittingly, it was Pete’s music, I Am Weary, Let Me Rest, and Remembrance of You, played and sung by Dudley Connell, Sally Love Connell, Akira Otsuka and Tom Gray, like Pete, a former member of the Country Gentlemen. The three guys returned at the end of the service to play an instrumental version of I’ll Fly Away as the casket was wheeled to the waiting hearse for the trip to Stonewall Memory Gardens in Manassas, VA, for burial.
A hundred years from now, those who play bluegrass – in whatever form it exists then – will still talk about Bill, Lester and Earl, Carter and Ralph. The best and the brightest, understanding that there’s more to music than what takes place on stage, will add, “Let me tell you about this guy named Pete.”
We’re the lucky ones. Future pickers and writers will merely talk about the greats. We got to walk among the giants. Pete Kuykendall, let there be no doubt, was one of the giants.
RIP, Peter V. Kuykendall.