In most any discussion about the future of bluegrass, the subject of getting and keeping young people interested in the music inevitably comes up. We all know it’s important, but how often do we actually take action in support of that goal?
One couple who is working towards that end is R.B. and Bridget Powell of Lewistown, Pennsylvania. They are active bluegrass boosters in the area near State College, and are currently seeking to establish and fund a youth scholarship for Bluegrass Week at the Augusta Heritage Center.
The Powells are amateur pickers, who like to think of themselves as bluegrass evangelists. Their business, Nittany Mountain Trail Rides regularly includes bluegrass bands as part of the entertainment they provide, and they support the music wherever they can.
R.B. explained a bit about what they do with the trail rides, and how they work to further bluegrass in their region, and across the country.
“On Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays each trail ride group will be entertained by live bluegrass bands while they are at the bonfire groves eating hamburgers, hot dogs, hot sausages, smores, etc. Each group will hear an hour of live bluegrass from our wagon stages. Last year we hosted 173 trail ride groups and used seven bluegrass bands playing multiple times over ten weeks.
We sponsor many acoustic music events in central Pennsylvania including festivals, coffee houses, civic benefits, and public concerts. We assist Pete Wernick at his Jam Camps, and provide scholarships to those camps and to the Smokey Mt. Banjo Academy.”
Seeing Augusta Heritage celebrating 40 years of teaching and preserving traditional arts at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, WV is what prodded the Powells into action. Both of them have attended Bluegrass Week at Augusta, and they got in touch with program director Joyce Rossbach to discuss their idea to build a scholarship for young grassers.
“She shared ideas that the Blues Week participants have recently begun, and they are having considerable success. Their enthusiasm has created a viable scholarship program and the beginnings of an endowment that will provide continuous support for their scholarship applicants.”
The 2012 Bluegrass Week class, which starts next week, has such stellar faculty members as: Byron Berline, Darol Anger and Adam Haynes on fiddle; Alison Brown, Bill Emerson and NedLuberecki on banjo; Jesse Brock, Mike Compton and Alan Bibey on mandolin; Tyler Grant, Chris Jones and Steve Gulley on guitar; Mark Panfil on dobro, and Marshall Wilborn on bass. Carl Jackson and Tammy Rogers will also be on hand to teach bluegrass vocals.
Thinking about getting young students of the music a chance to study with these established professionals is the idea behind R.B. and Bridget’s efforts.
For the Powells, it is all about the kids…
“When we see a youth playing our music, we are pleased. We recently attended the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival and recognized several members of the Wheeling Park High School Bluegrass Band who were in classes with us last year. While touring Branson three years ago, we went to a restaurant because we heard that a bluegrass band was going to play. Imagine our excitement when we saw the Pederson family, all of whom were recently at Augusta in Bluegrass Week classes with us.”
Now a scholarship fund has been established where anyone can send tax-deductible contributions to help send talented youngsters to study with top bluegrass artists. R.B. mentioned that with interest rates so low in today’s market, the only way they can fund regular scholarships is by raising the necessary money each year. Even a substantial endowment would dwindle in short order.
The Powells especially ask that Augusta alumni consider reaching down deep to help the scholarship get off the ground. They say that $450 will buy a week of tuition for one student, $350 will pay the room and board, and $80 will support a meal ticket. Contributions of any size will be welcome.
Donations can be sent to:
Bluegrass Week Scholarship Fund
c/o Joyce Rossbach
Augusta Heritage Center
Davis and Elkins College
100 Campus Drive
Elkins, WV 26241