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Bluegrass in the Meadows
If it’s Bluegrass Music you want this winter and if you’re in the eastern Kentucky community of Clay City, you’re in the right place. An ongoing concert series there attracts and entertains. It’s Saturday evening at the Meadowgreen Park Music Hall. It’s a half hour before the show starts and Joyce Haddox and a friend sit at a card table, selling raffle tickets for a banjo created by local legend Homer Ledford. Ledford made stringed instruments and performed Bluegrass for decades in nearby Winchester. Haddox says Meadowgreen is a family place.
“It’s a non smoking facility. It’s a family oriented program and we don’t have no bad language, no drinkin, what ever. We have a great concession stand,” said Haddox.
82 year old Forrest Meadows owns the Meadowgreen Park. Located on the banks of the Red River, the park hosted its first bluegrass festival in 1977.
“Well, I just love Bluegrass Music. We I went to Richmond to a festival. And it was the last year they was gonna have it there. Russell Brothers is what it was. And this one brother came over to Clay City every Friday night to auction. And I knowed him. And I went over there one night and said you can’t have that festival over there anymore let me show you what I got. And he always said we’ll use a flashlight. We’ll do it. And that’s way before this,” said Meadows.
The music went inside when a hall was built in 1986. It features a stage created specifically for Bluegrass musicians. Bluegrass music fans sit in folded wooden chairs which climb steeply straight back and up the sides.
The emcee for the bluegrass shows is Don Rogers, who’s President of the Kentucky Friends of the Bluegrass Music Club. Just prior to the show and standing alongside Forrest Meadows, Rogers ponders the hall’s attraction.
“I think being nice to people, bringing good entertainment in. clean, bring their children, anything. Older ones, you’ll see the older ones in their 90’s out here and then their children. And if we don’t have a big crowd, you’ll see them out here dancing, the little ones and well as the older folks,” added Rogers.
Some of the nation’s best-known Bluegrass musicians have been to Meadowgreen…performers like Bill Monroe, J-D Crowe and The New South, and Doctor Ralph Stanley. Rogers says bands know it’s a good place to show off their stuff.
“They know that we’re gonna advertise well for em. They know that’s we’re gonna have a good house. Gonna have a lot of patrons. Their payday is gonna be good and we’re in complete compliance with state federal guidelines,” said Rogers.
On this particularly crisp Saturday night in February, Blue River and the Boxcars offer the entertainment. Fiddler John Bowman calls Meadowgreen a ‘bluegrass music icon’ and the place the play.
“I just love being able to be close to the people as well you know. A lot of the country music concerts and things like that, you don’t get any interaction with the artists, but with bluegrass, we just fit in right with everybody because we’re just like them,” explained Bowman.
Plucking alongside Bowman in the Boxcars is upright bass player Harold Nixon. Growing up nearby in Winchester, Nixon saw his first show at Meadowgreen as a teenager.
“We were lucky enough to have a strings program there in Clark County and so I started playing upright bass in the school orchestra. Granted, I was just a kid, but even then you have kids vying for chair positions and you know, and it seemed very competitive. And I saw these guys up at court day just jamming and having a good time and I thought that’s what music is about. And I love any kind of roots music,” said Nixon.
Lots of people in that hall love roots music. Geneva Rose and her husband had a nice spot in the first row, next to the aisle.
“We’re from Richmond, but it’s just good home, good music, a place to go. Do you have a favorite instrument? I like the Do-bo. What do you like the best? What’s your favorite instrument? The mandolin. The mandolin,” responded Rose.
Well there was no Do-bro on stage that night, but there was a banjo, a fiddle, and a mandolin.