Sam Stout, President & Coordinator of the Smithville Fiddlers Jamboree and Shan Williams, Director of Marketing
for the festival, present Ronnie Reno with the Blue Blaze Award. Photo courtesy of Dwayne Page/WJLE
Bluegrass icon Ronnie Reno stepped on the stage of the 48th Annual Smithville Fiddlers’ Jamboree with three months left to go before he retires from a more than 60-year career in bluegrass and country music. The legendary performer was in the small Tennessee town Saturday night (July 6) to accept the Blue Blaze Award that is designed to honor a group or individual that ‘keeps the embers of bluegrass music glowing for future generations.’
“What a great honor!” Reno told the crowd after receiving the award. “Thanks to everybody for this; it means an awful lot. My whole thing in music is to try to leave this music for a younger generation. Boy, it looks like the Smithville Jamboree is doing that.”
Past recipients of the Blue Blaze awards are Darrin Vincent of Dailey & Vincent, Sierra Hull, Danny Roberts of the Grascals, Tennessee Mafia Jug Band, and Michael Cleveland.
Following the award presentation, Reno played a mini-concert with his band, Reno Tradition, and a special guest, his youngest son, Justin “Doc” Reno.
“This summer I’ve sort of brought him out and played,” Reno told WJLE in an interview inside the county courthouse prior to the show. “He’s a fine guitar player. It’s wonderful that he can come out and play with me. He’s a doctor, but he loves playing the music. He would have been a bluegrass musician, but his momma wouldn’t let him. So we sent him to school, and he loves helping people too. He’s a family doctor.”
Reno was born into bluegrass greatness. His father, Don Reno, was one half of the Hall of Fame duo Reno & Smiley. While still going to school, Ronnie became part of that act’s impressive recordings in the 50s and 60s. Over his stellar career Reno performed with Merle Haggard, appearing on classic hits like If We Make It through December, If We’re Not Back in Love by Monday, and Ramblin’ Fever. Reno also performed alongside The Osborne Brothers during some of their most commercially successful years. He hit the studio with legends like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Johnny Paycheck. As a songwriter, his song Boogie Grass Band became a smash hit for Conway Twitty. Then, in 1993, he ventured into television to produce the first and only national television show featuring bluegrass music, Reno’s Old Time Music Festival.
Despite all of his success, he says what means the most to him is spending time with the people who love his music.
“I take this after my father I guess,” Reno explained. “His greatest job was to be able to get close to the people that enjoyed hearing him play the banjo and hearing him sing. I got here earlier today, [and] I‘ve near talked myself hoarse already because I’ve talked to so many people.”
“The town of Smithville is the only place I could do that to walk around,” Reno adds. “It’s not a festival per se, because we’re the only band here. Everybody else is in a contest, or they’re doing different things.”
While Reno was meeting folks, one lady asked him if he would say hello to her mom, who is a huge fan.
“I swear you would have thought I was Elvis Presley to this woman,” Reno says. “She watches us on TV every Saturday night, and she said, ‘Ronnie this is the biggest thing that I’ve ever had happen in my life is to be able to meet you.’ If you think that don’t make your heart get big and explode with joy. It’s just overwhelming. She’s the sweetest thing. That was the best part of my day.”