Report on Wade Mainer’s 100th Birthday Party

This post comes from our semi-regular correspondent, Richard Thompson. He writes from England, where he is also a longstanding contributor to British Bluegrass News, a quarterly print publication where he also briefly served as editor.

Wade MainerRecently we reported on the then forthcoming birthday party held to commemorate Wade Mainer’s landmark birthday. Subsequently, a first-hand report has appeared in in a local Michigan newspaper, The Flint Journal.

In addition a couple of the many people who attended Wade Mainer’s 100th birthday party have been good enough to share with me their recollections of the event.

Firstly, musicologist Dick Spottswood remembers the day thus:

“Wade’s party on April 21 was a memorable affair. Spring is just becoming visible in central Michigan, and Saturday’s warm sunshine was a welcome relief from recent winter excesses. Friends and family came from across the country to be there, providing an extra dimension to an already joyful occasion.

Many good regional bands showed up to pay tribute to Wade and Julia from the stage at the Fenton, Michigan Community Center, aided by out of town performers Tracy Schwarz, Ginny Hawker, and David Holt. Letters and awards poured in from the National Endowment for the Arts, Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, and Senators Levin and Stabinow, among numerous others. Unfortunately many people were turned away for lack of space, but those who got in were privileged to see Wade, Julia with their friend and colleague Virgil Shouse supporting them on bass. The Mainers were cheerfully energized and held forth for an hour as we heard great music and watched the years temporarily fade away. Both were in terrific voice; their singing and Wade’s banjo playing provided a time machine that transported us all back through the decades. I’m glad the fire marshals were feeling lenient, because the hall couldn’t have accommodated any more standees.

Even I got into the act when people learned that I’d prepared the article Wade Mainer: The First Hundred Years for the current (April) issue of Bluegrass Unlimited and the booklet that accompanies Wade’s recent Gusto 2 CD release I’m Not Looking Backward that includes all the Mainer King material from 1946 through 1961, re-mastered from original tapes and acetate discs. Standing near the stage, I was signing autographs while the Mainers were holding forth, and it was fun to feel like a minor celebrity for a little while.

Predictably the Mainers are being besieged with offers to perform, and they have to figure out which ones they can handle. Either way they’re pleased that demand for their artistry continues and that their own good health and spirits will allow them to keep active. Stay tuned for further developments, and another hundred years!”

John Morris, the owner of Old Homestead Records since its foundation in 1971 and a great supporter of Wade Mainer’s music throughout the years, attended the party also:

“There must have been about 600 people there crowded in a room that should only hold about 300. It was very good for Wade. His whole family was there and lots of other entertainers such as Tracy Schwarz, David Holt and people from the Arts Council in Washington gave Wade a lifetime achievement award I believe.

It was a wonderful get together and many people came to give their respect.”

Discographical note:

For those of you whose interest in Wade Mainer’s music has been piqued by these two stories, I provide a brief guide to the various recordings that are available.

Mainer joined King Records early in 1947, nearly six years after his last Bluebird session. He remained with King until 1951, recording his last session in November of that year. A two-CD set, I’m Not Looking Backward on Gusto [GT2-0957-2] features 37 recordings from this phase of Mainer’s illustrious career, along with a couple of Blue Ridge recordings and a later session for King (mentioned below). This set, which includes an excellent overview of Mainer’s career written by Dick Spottswood was released on 27 November last year, specially to mark Mainer’s 100 th birthday.

In addition to the afore-mentioned Gusto release, Old Homestead Records has re-released several collections from Mainer’s early career. The four sets Wade Mainer – From The Maple On The Hill (OHCD 4000), Early And Great Sacred Songs (OHCD 4013), Wade Mainer’s Mountaineers Vol. 1 1935-1936 (OHCD 4043) and Wade & J E Mainer And The Mainer Mountaineers Vol. 2 (OHCD 4044) feature RCA material. Rock Of My Soul (OHCD 90014) and Wade & Julia Mainer – Can’t Sit Down (OHCD 70068) each contain recordings of a more recent vintage.

The ground-breaking Wade Mainer recording of Old Ruben is included in two anthologies; Train 45: Railroad Songs Of The Early 1900s (Rounder 1143) and Bluegrass Early Cuts 1931-1953: Classic Recordings Remastered [A 4-CD Box set] (JSP 7731).


Interest in Wade Mainer’s 100th birthday and the celebration thereof has led to stories by me being submitted to Country Music People and the Japanese bluegrass magazine Moonshiner.