Ricky Skaggs returns to Camp Springs for Tony Rice Memorial Music Fest

Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder at the Tony Rice Memorial Music Fest – photo © G. Nicholas Hancock

History repeated itself this Memorial Day weekend at Camp Springs Bluegrass Park near Reidsville, NC, as Ricky Skaggs took the stage for the second annual Tony Rice Memorial Music Fest on Saturday. Camp Springs was the first bluegrass festival that Skaggs ever played. While still a teenager, he had joined Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys alongside the late Keith Whitley and traveled to North Carolina to play the festival. That performance can be viewed on a segment of the Bluegrass Country Soul film recorded at the iconic park in 1971. Ricky also wrote about the experience in his 2013 autobiography, Kentucky Traveler: My Life in Music.

Cody Johnson, SPBGMA’s 2023 promoter of the year, and Camp Springs Blue Grass Park owner, shared, “It’s awesome that Ricky returned. I think it ties in really well with Tony since they played together.”

Skaggs performed with Rice in the powerhouse band, J.D. Crowe and the New South band, recording the landmark Rounder 0044 LP in 1975. The pair also recorded, Skaggs & Rice, a 1980 album for Sugar Hill that was reissued in 2012. The minimalistic project featured only Skaggs on mandolin, Rice on guitar, and their voices in duet harmonies. Both records are considered classics in bluegrass circles.

“Playing back on this stage brings backs lot of memories,” Skaggs shared. “We want to remember our dear friend, Tony Rice. I loved him so much and loved singing with him.”

Following his set, Skaggs returned to the stage for an encore that included Bury Me Beneath the Willow from the Skaggs & Rice project, and ended with a rousing version of Monroe’s Rawhide.

A special guest in Saturday’s audience was Skaggs’ former band mate, Wes Golding. Golding first appeared on the Camp Springs stage in the ’70s as a teenager with the Shenandoah Cut-Ups, which included the late Hershel Sizemore, Clarence “Tater” Tate, John Palmer, and Billy Edwards. He returned several years later to perform with Skaggs, Terry Baucom, Jerry Douglas, and Steve Bryant in the ground-breaking group, Boone Creek. 

“I remember there was some great music come through this park,” Golding, a prolific songwriter who penned such familiar tunes as Raining in LA, One Way Track, and Mississippi Queen, shared when invited to the stage. “It’s the first time that I’ve been back since the mid-’70s. Just to come back and share memories and music of the past, it’s a blessing to be here.”

Other bluegrass celebs were present, too. Barry Abernathy and Josh Berry came in support of Appalachian Road Show’s Zeb Snyder, who was filling in with Kentucky Thunder while Jake Workman was home helping tend his new baby. Zeb’s sister, Samantha (formerly of Darin & Brooke Aldridge), and his mother were both present to hear him perform with Skaggs. Other musicians, Ben James (Oak Ridge Boys) and Nathan Aldridge (IIIrd Tyme Out), were also in the audience, along with well-known promoter and IBMA founding member, Milton Harkey.

Looking across the covered hillside following Skaggs’ performance, a pleased Johnson stated, “This looks like the old days.”

The promoter worked closely with the Rice family to remember Rice’s legacy. Both Tony’s wife, Pam, and daughter, India, were present for the event. 

“This is a celebration of his life! His professional career began here at Camp Springs,” Johnson stressed.

Prior to Skaggs’ set, Southern Legacy was on hand on Saturday to play homage to the late Tony Rice. Members are: Mike Anglin, Ron Block, Don Rigsby, Steve Thomas, and Josh Williams. The powerhouse quintet’s set featured many tunes from 0044, including Summer Wages, Some Old Day, Rock, Salt, & Nails, Home Sweet Home Revisited, and Old Home Place.

Rigsby referenced Rice and his work from the stage. “Tony Rice was one of the greatest musicians to ever walk the planet. If I was going to be on a dessert island and could only take one record, 0044 would probably be it.”

Williams and Thomas also appeared on Sunday afternoon as Williams played in order the entire 1983 Sugar Hill album, Church Street Blues, accompanied by his band mate on rhythm. The original recording featured Rice on guitar and vocals along with his younger brother, Wyatt, picking the six-string alongside him.

Williams made the decision to present his version. “I’ve been playing this record the last two weeks. I didn’t even listen to anything else.”

Josh also shared his compassion for the late guitar master. “He was my hero. He’s the whole reason I’m holding this guitar. He completely changed the way that I played.”

He concluded his Sunday set by saying, “There’s only one Tony Rice and they’ll never be another. I miss him. Long live the music of Tony Rice.”

Other acts that appeared on the three-day festival (Friday-Sunday) included the Lonesome River Band, Shelton & Williams, Lorraine Jordan & Country Grass, Exile, New Primitive, and many more.

Festival MC, Cindy Baucom, invited Johnson to the stage. “This is great!” He shared, “Come back!”

The next bluegrass festival at Camp Springs is slated for Labor Day weekend. The holiday event kicks off with the showing of the 1971 movie, Bluegrass Country Soul, shown on the spot where it was originally filmed on Thursday evening, August 29. Then Friday through Sunday a host of bands will be appearing, including Authentic Unlimited, Appalachian Road Show, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, Tennessee Bluegrass Band, and Caroline Owens, to name a few. Camp Springs Bluegrass Park is located in Elon, NC. For more information on camping and to order tickets, visit them online or contact Johnson at (336) 213-1944.

All photos by G. Nicholas Hancock

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.