Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Willard Gayheart, Appalachian Artist

For those who are not fortunate enough to own a guitar or mandolin (shown here) made by Wayne Henderson, Gerald Anderson (a student of Wayne’s), or Spencer Strickland (a student of Gerald’s), the place to go is Barr’s Fiddle Shop in Galax. Purchase your fiddle, banjo, guitar, or mandolin and then sign up for lessons from Steve Barr, banjo player extraordinaire.

Steve plays banjo with the very successful band No Speed Limit, but he can also be found almost every Friday at the Blue Ridge Music Center (at milepost 213 on the Blue Ridge Parkway). From 10-4:00, he is joined by Spencer Strickland (mandolin) and Josh Pickett (guitar), who also plays with No Speed Limit—skilled artists playing for sheer enjoyment. (Gerald Anderson has been known to sit in with the three on occasion.) This regular performance is part of the Music Center's summer program which features a different group of local musicians each day.

These sessions are very casual with the music mixed with conversations occurring among the participants and between the performers and members of the audience gathered around the musicians. For example, Tuesdays feature Bobby Patterson and Willard Gayheart and Thursdays feature Scott Freeman and Willard Gayheart. I mention Mr. Gayheart because he is a regional, if not national, treasure. To say he is an accomplished artist, musician, and song writer does not begin to describe the level of talent present in one person.

Over the weekend, Mr. Gayheart was honored at the Music Center. The Center sponsored a major showing of his detailed drawings of musicians and other mountain folk--all done with only a pencil. (Check willardgayheart.com to see examples of his work.) In the concert in the Center's outdoor amphitheater the singer-songwriting skills of Mr. Gayheart were featured.

In addition, the three major bands that Willard played with over the years gathered for a reunion concert at the Music Center’s Amphitheater. The Highlanders, Skeeter and the Skidmarks, and Alternate Roots each played a 50-minute set. (Willard Gayheart is shown at the far right in this photo of his most recent band, Alternate Roots.) At age 76, Mr. Gayheart had a strong voice and sang in almost every selection the bands played. The songs ranged from Ern and Zorrie’s Sneakin’, Bitin’ Dog to I Know the Lord has Laid His Hands on Me (sung a capella).

At the intermission, Mr. Gayheart was honored with a belt buckle making him an honorary member of Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys. Mr. Hutchins, the presenter, was caught up in the emotional awarding of the buckle and could not finish his prepared remarks. In the world of bluegrass music, the awards don’t get much higher.

I mention all this before noting that Mr. Gayheart held a book signing just before the concert. We were awed by his drawings, so we purchased Willard Gayheart, Appalachian Artist. After noting my limited knowledge of bluegrass music, I grasped at my roots in old-time music—the radio show “Barn Dance” on WLS (Chicago) every Saturday night. Well, Mr. Gayheart knew of this show and its host, Donald “Red” Blanchard. I was on a roll, we talked a bit about the fact that he could get certain radio shows that far from Chicago. With that success under my belt, I began my exit. I did not want to risk seeing Mr. Gayheart’s eyes roll if I mentioned the names Homer and Jethro or, to go way out on a limb, Arky, the Arkansas Woodchopper. No, I quit with one topic of mutual interest, commented on how much we appreciated his work represented in the prints that were exhibited in the Center’s Exhibit Hall, and said we were looking forward to the evening’s concert.

He was a very gracious gentleman.

No comments: