Among the sweltering heat present on Friday at Preddyfest in Franklinton, NC there was also an energy unmatched from fellow Bluegrassians. I was happily greeted by Rodney Preddy’s wife at the front gate, then proceeded to make my way to Al Batten’s campsite, home-base for many of the “regulars” who have attended Preddyfest over the years. Immediately I hear “Taterrrr!” as arms flung open to hug me and carry me away into bluegrass bliss.
I could hear Constant Change playing on stage in the background and I was eager to make my rounds and trot to the stage area. The bands performing on Friday included Bethesda Bluegrass, Country Gentlemen Reunion with Eddie & Martha Adcock & Tom Gray, Constant Change, Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road and the headliner, Al Batten & the Bluegrass Reunion.
This day was a bit special, because the whole campground was celebrating Lorraine Jordan’s birthday, which has become a tradition each year. Balloons were tied to the stage rail for her. Just before Carolina Road began their set, as I was making my way to the stage, I heard “There is a snake up here, somebody get Rodney!” and a huge commotion came about. A black snake was hanging from the rafters – it must have wanted a really good front row seat to see the show! Before I was able to get to the stage, the snake was removed by Raymond Bragg and the show went on!Each act that day brought the best in performance and talent that was ever possible and standing ovations were bringing each band back for more.
One thing I’ve never done, that I’m proud to say I have now, is change a string my Daddy’s (Johnny Ridge) fiddle. He broke a string during their first set (which rarely happens), so I rushed backstage from my seat in the crowd, sensing that I needed to be there, immediately after seeing what had happened. After he struggled for some time with it, he took out his four string fiddle, tuned it up and went back out on stage. I knew I couldn’t let him keep on without his most favorite, the brother fiddle to the one and only Bobby Hicks’ fiddle – that were both crafted by the late Harvey Keck. I got that string wound up, waited for the song to end and waved his fiddle at him from backstage. He grabbed it up, much happier than before, tuned it up, thanked me and went back out to finish out the show like the legend he is!
The Bluegrass Reunion was the closing band, and after halfway exiting the stage, the crowd brought them back for one more. It was at that time, fiddler, Johnny Ridge, stepped to the microphone and stated, “I’ve told them once, I’ve told them a hundred times; if you’d do it right the first time, you won’t have to keep coming back!” and the crowd ate it up. I stayed around for some of the late night jams at Al Batten’s campsite, as I’ve done in years past, listening to the unknown legends tell stories and sing old songs that have almost but been forgotten.
Returning Saturday with a slightly cooler temperature but even worse humidity, I was prepared to ride down the road with Constant Change for a photo shoot, which took place at the Preddy home place. It was so neat to learn more about the Preddy family and their roots from Clifton Preddy of Constant Change. He and Rodney are cousins, their grandfathers were brothers, and the family owns about 800 acres altogether. Some of the family continues to raise tobacco, and a few of them were on the farm in the background working as we gathered around the home place and old barns for the photo shoot.
The lineup for Saturday included Diamond Creek Bluegrass, Constant Change, Grass Cats, James King Band, The Grascals and The Malpass Brothers. Each and every band there drew the crowd in and kept the crowd in the palm of their hand! Golf carts were lined up behind the white lines, parked in every spot deemed as a good place to see the stage from the comfort of their golf cart seats. After devouring a bologna burger from the food vendors, (which really hit the spot) then some ice cream for my sweetie, Shaun, it was time to get serious about shootin’ my Canon. Capturing the emotions of each musician as they played or sang their heart out always gives me a new found satisfaction and appreciation. Not only can you see it in their face, you hear it in the music they make.
The Malpass Brothers brought a very significant and different sound to the festival that day with their traditional country roots. Seeing them perform a few times, I knew the energetic and humorous show they’d put on. They had two special guests during the last set; fiddler Johnny Ridge, and local legend, Clyde Mattocks on dobro. While Clyde is no stranger to these parts or performing with the Malpass Brothers, the fiddler was an awesome addition, which was a first for Johnny. The ladies in the crowd were eating them up, even throwing dollar bills on stage – now that was a sight!
This festival has always been a great time of fellowship and so many friendships have been made. I always look forward to going each time. Thank you to the Preddy family for all the hard work they put into it each year. It’s not an easy job, but somebody has to do it!
For more information, visit www.preddyfest.com.