Sad news from southwest Virginia

While central Tennessee saw record rainfall this weekend, many a bluegrass and country music fan worried about their favorite entertainers traveling to and fro on flooded highways. Southwest Virginia escaped the deluge, yet saw the loss of two bluegrass performers in separate auto accidents.

Alan Mastin, long-time bass player with Big Country Bluegrass, was killed early Sunday morning (5/2) returning home from a show at the Festival In The Pines in Rocky Mt, VA. The band had been celebrating the news this week that their next album would be released on Rebel Records this fall. I suspect that they are thinking very little about that just now.

We have been able to find very few details about Alan’s accident, but will update throughout the day as we learn more. His funeral arrangements are being handled by Vaughan-Guynn Funeral Home in Galax.

UPDATE 9:35 a.m. – Johnny Williams and Lynwood Lunsford have shared more information about this sad event. Find the details after the jump.

It is always sad when young people pass before their time, and it’s never fair to suggest that any one person’s death is felt more powerfully than another. But having said that, there is tremendous grief in the bluegrass and banjo community over the passing of Houston Caldwell, an 18 year old banjo player from Galax. He had been a prominent musician for the past few years, performing with Broken Wire, and was a fixture at major bluegrass events all over the southeastern US.

Houston has just recently returned from basic training with the Army Reserves, and celebrated by purchasing a motorcycle. He was out for a ride on Friday (4/30) when he was thrown from his bike after he clipped a car. Apparently he was returning to his lane after passing another motorist and made contact with the oncoming vehicle. He was dead at the scene.

He will be fondly remembered by all the musicians he has met in bluegrass, especially among banjo players and enthusiasts, for his cheerfulness and his thirst for knowledge about the instrument.

The following information about arrangements comes from his obituary in The Galax Gazette:

A funderal service will be held in the Vaughan-Guynn Chapel in Galax on Monday, May 3, 2010, at 2 p.m. Burial will follow in the Harmon-Lineberry-Robinson Cemetery, Carroll County. The family will receive friends at the Vaughan-Guynn Funeral Home from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. prior to the funeral service. The officiating minister will be Dr. Lawrence Childs.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Hayden Caldwell Scholarship Fund.

Military rites will be conducted by Hillsville VFW Post #1115.

Houston’s friends have created a memorial page on Facebook.

UPDATE 9:35 a.m. – Johnny Williams, guitarist and vocalist with Big Country Bluegrass passed along these details:

“Alan, and Tommy and Teresa Sells rode together to the Triple Creek festival. They dropped Alan off to pick up his vehicle at about 3 a.m. He wrecked a couple of miles down the road, not far from his home.

Visitation is scheduled from 6:00-8:00 p.m. Tuesday (May 4), at Vaughn Guynn Funeral Home in Galax, VA. The funeral is Wed, May 5 at 2:00 p.m.

We are all shocked, and deeply saddened by Alan’s passing. He was a good friend, as well as a talented musician. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him. Our hearts go out to his widow, Glenda, and we pray for God to give her strength and comfort during this difficult time.”

BCB Banjo picker Lynwood Lunsford shared a bit more…

“On the way home, they stopped to eat and finally arrived back at Tommy’s house about 3am. Tommy said he helped Alan load his bass into his vehicle, then Alan made the comment about how good the breeze felt to him. He then got in his vehicle and headed towards home. He didn’t make it quite 2 miles down the road from Tommy’s house, when his vehicle left the road, went down an embankment and eventually ran into a brush pile.

Some time after daylight, Alan’s wife Glenda, called Tommy to find out where Alan was. Tommy said that he had left for home around 3:00 am, so she got up and went out looking for him. She found the van and him slumped over in it, already dead. No autopsy was performed but the paramedics speculated that he had probably suffered a heart attack or stroke, because he didn’t appear to suffer any trauma from the accident.

Alan Mastin was one of the most humble, kind-hearted men I’ve ever known. What he did on bass for Big Country Bluegrass was hardly noticed by most, but was as important a part of the sound of Big Country Bluegrass as anything. Add to it the fact that he was a member for nearly 22 years (something hardly ever heard of this day and time) and one can just barely begin to understand the loss. But we’ve all agreed that Alan would have wanted us to carry on and that is exactly what we plan to do.”

Tommy Sells, who founded the band with his wife Teresa, had only this to say:

“It’s a very sad time for our band… we were like family.”

UPDATE 4:45 p.m. – We’ve received another bit of news, this time about Houston Caldwell. Judith Burnette with Blueridge Country 98 in Galax tells us about the scene there in town…

“Houston was a new full member of the Galax Fire Department. He completed all his training before he was even old enough to join. You should see the street this afternoon lined with fire trucks. The street is blocked with the ladder truck, the ladder is raised, and the American Flag is flying from the Ladder. It is beautiful.

Bluegrass music played softly through the speakers of the funeral home’s sound system. Young Sierra Hull’s is music among the music being played. The chapel was full to running over hours prior to the service today. It very touching to see so many folks Houston touched in his short, young life.

It’s been a sad, sad, few days.”

Judith also mentioned that a scholarship fund has been establish for his younger sister Hayden, where donations can be made in lieu of flowers.

Hayden Caldwell Scholarship Fund
c/o Kenneth and Tess Caldwell
2892 Glendale Road
Galax, VA  24333

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.