Bluegrass 45: 50 years Ago This Week – Week 12

Unfortunately, my diary ended on 8/31 so the rest of the tour (3 weeks) is based on a gig log, recording log and my memory.  

Carlton Haney’s Labor Day Weekend Festival at Bluegrass Park in Camp Springs, North Carolina.  

Mr. Carlton Haney held the first bluegrass festival in Fincastle, Virginia, on Labor Day Weekend in 1965 and second one in 1966.  Then he moved it to Berryville, Virginia for ’67 & ’68 and to Camp Springs permanently in ’69.  So the one we attended in 1971 was the 7th Labor Day Weekend festival and the 3rd one at Camp Springs site.  Albert Ihde and Washington Film Group filmed Bluegrass Country Soul movie here that year and it is one of the most important movies in bluegrass history. In this film, Bluegrass 45 performed two tunes, “Fuji Mountain Breakdown (Mozart’s Turkish March)” and “Mocking Banjo,” plus an interview in our bus.  There are so many neat moments in the movie but I want to share just a few. 

As we came out from our bus, we exchanged a few words with Toshio who was sitting by our tent and we’d head toward the stage but as we passed by a station wagon parked next to our bus, you see late Keith Whitley and Jack Cook watching us with a smile.

We had been playing Bluegrass 7-8 years before we got to the States and of course we had our favorite singers and instrumentalists.  In Sab’s case, since he was a banjo player, his hero was Earl Scruggs.  When Flatt and Scruggs came to Japan in 1968, Sab even flew (his first airplane ride) to Tokyo to catch their first show.  At Camp Springs, Mr. Haney called up all the banjo players on stage to honor Earl and they played “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” together.  In the movie, the camera caught a moment Sab was standing next to Earl and watching Earl with a smile.  We know he had reached his Nirvana right there.

Mr. Haney also assembled all the fiddlers together and they played “Sally Goodin.”  When Liao’s turn came, he played a great solo and he received enthusiastic applause.  After he finished his solo, he stepped aside so that other fiddlers could take turns because he is a polite person.  However, Big Joe Greene had a different idea—he noticed how small Liao was (he barely reaches Joe’s chin), Joe decided to have double decker fiddlers with Liao in front and himself behind Liao.  You just have to watch the movie to fully understand how funny it looked.

A Golden Anniversary set of Bluegrass Country Soul with re-mastered Blue-Ray and DVD along with a coffee table book, was officially released last year but some of the movie clips have been seen on internet for many years.  So whenever a conversation led to Bluegrass 45, many people used to say “Yes, you guys played your instruments behind your backs.”  As matter of fact, Vince Gill was one of them when my friend introduced me.  That “Mocking Banjo” was a Country Gentlemen’s comic routine that Dick Freeland taught us.  Since the Gentlemen were one of Dick’s Rebel Records artists, we assumed Dick had gotten a permission to “borrow” the routine but we never questioned.  After all, he invited us to the States, he was our manager, owned a recording company and he drove the bus. ☺  

I would like to thank Albert Ihde for making Bluegrass 45 immortal with this movie.

We did not bring a table, so we set up a cot to show our album—the only merchandise we had.  It was hard to see without a table, but people had no problem finding us since we looked little different.  One time while I was watching the table (cot), this old gentleman came and sat down next to me.  I believe he liked our show and he kept talking to me.  The band had been in the States for almost 3 months, but my English skill was still pretty poor.  However, also I’d imagine he must have had a strong southern accent—I didn’t understand a word he said for an hour or so.      Liao remembers seeing Mr. Carlton Haney with a pistol in his hand, chasing Mr. Jimmy Martin!!  Liao just said to himself “Hmmm, this is America!”

Maybe because I was there, but even if I discount that fact, I still think this Camp Springs festival holds a special spot in bluegrass history and this is why I think so: 

• Jimmy Gaudreau left the Country Gentlemen after Carlton’s Gettysburg festival two weeks earlier.  He and another ex-Gentlemen Eddie Adcock were starting a new group IInd Generation.

• To fill Jimmy’s position, the Gentlemen recruited Doyle Lawson, who was playing guitar in JD Crowe’s Kentucky Mountain Boys, to play mandolin.  The sound of this new lineup (Charlie Waller, Bill Emerson, Doyle Lawson and Bill Yates) was quite different from previous versions of the Gentlemen, but people loved it.  They received many awards—their 1972 Live in Japan album is still highly regarded, and you still hear their repertoire on the radio and at jam sessions everywhere.

• To fill Doyle’s position, JD Crowe hired 20-year-old Tony Rice.  His older brother Larry was already in JD’s band.  This Camp Springs festival was Tony’s last gig with Bluegrass Alliance and the first with JD.  With Tony in the band, JD was looking for a new sound and image so he renamed the band from Kentucky Mountain Boys to New South (Note: This is from Bluegrass Country Soul booklet.)

• Not too long after Tony left, four members of Bluegrass Alliance (19-year-old Sam Bush, Courtney Johnson, Ebo Walker and Curtis Burch, who replaced Tony) left and formed their own group, Newgrass Revival.

• Again, soon after Camp Springs, Mike Auldridge and Ben Eldridge left Cliff Waldron’s New Shades of Grass and formed a new group, Seldom Scene.

Yes, it was a big musical chairs.  I admit there were some movements towards new music/ideas like New Deal String Band and Country Cooking existed prior to this but looking back now I believe this shuffle at Camp Spring gave like-minded musicians a chance to explore new style and their own identity, which lasted for many years to come.

Bluegrass Park:

Cody Johnson purchased this Bluegrass Park in Camp Springs, cleared the field and he held a Labor Day Weekend Festival in 2019.  However, two years prior to that in 2017, Bluegrass 45 visited the park with help from Becky Johnson of Camp Springs Music Foundation. The park ground was covered with overgrown trees and bushes, and it was hard to get to the stage but we made it.  We had our film crew with us and they documented everything so someday it will be released, but it was such an emotional moment for us to return to that stage after 46 years.

Note: Bluegrass 45 performed five sets at this Camp Springs festival.  For your listening pleasure, I created a 16 song “best of” set but I excluded “Fuji Mountain Breakdown” and “Mocking Banjo” which are seen in the film Bluegrass Country Soul.

Check it out here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbSHRR9TaFU

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