Hinshaw column: Bluegrass in Gold Hill

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 28, 2011

GOLD HILL — On Friday nights, the old ghosts of the gold mining days in Historic Gold Hill Village come alive with toe-tapping, foot-stomping music floating from the E.H. Montgomery Store. The air is permeated with the sounds of banjos, mandolins, fiddles, guitars and harmonicas backed by that deep bass beat.
Country folks and city folks alike come in shorts, blue jeans, Hawaiian shirts and T-shirts to quench their thirst for that old-fashioned mountain music called bluegrass. The music came with immigrants from far away who traveled to America and settled in the Appalachian Mountains. Add a pinch of jazz from African American culture to the recipe and you have the sound. Until the 1950s it was called “mountain hillbilly music.”
Bill Monroe and his band, the Blue Grass Boys, had been playing the music for years, but it didn’t really have a name. What better name could you have than “bluegrass music,” being named for the Blue Grass Boys band. Monroe is the father of bluegrass.
On the hottest Friday night of the summer, the house band composed of Randy Whitley, Abbey Trexler, James Shoe, Richard Jones, Mike Wiliams, Tom Isenhour, and Gretchen Tracy picked and sang for two straight hours. Jones emceed the evening music while Mike Williams picked his guitar with his own autographed picks. Their shirts were wet with sweat, but the band played on. Gretchen Tracy paused from picking her banjo to wipe sweat dripping off her nose before jumping back into the music.
The audience relaxed in straight-back antique wooden chairs and rocking chairs, trying to cool themselves with hand fans. With fan in hand pumping away, Elizabeth Beaver said she comes nearly every week. Some ate ice cream and sipped on cold drinks.
Melvin Carter used to play music himself, so on this night he kept up with the music on a styrofoam cup, twisting and turning it like the strings on a guitar. He had a perfectly tuned cup.
There is no stage lighting here. Lamps on the wall and even a chandelier from a more recent time illuminate the store. The walls are lined with stringed musical instruments, old photos, baskets and assorted collectables. There is homemade jelly on the shelves. The store’s old wooden floor is worn slick and smooth from years of feet and boots walking the planks.
All the music is not confined to the store. Outside under the trees, a group of men gathered to make their own music and enjoy each other’s company. The most noted bluegrass musician here for the jam session is Pete Corum in his white hat. He played bass in the famous Lester Flatt band and has acted in the movies. He was joined by Jeff Michael, Wayne Sloan, Aaron Efird, Benny Owen, Roy McMillian, Al Wood and others. Many of these men are in various professional bands or they represent the early days of bluegrass music in this area.
Someone seated in one of the lawn chairs lining the picket fence near the gathering called out a request to hear the group play the “Dueling Banjos.” The men laughed and one said, “It is just too hot to crank it up tonight.”
The men were just enjoying learning new music from each other too much to take requests. They picked some of their own favorites. Down the street in the village, the Concord band “Movin’ On Bluegrass” entertained under the porch of the historic Rod Shop Garage.
J.C. Rowland, Rickey Blackwelder, Howard Honeycutt and Charles Honeycutt played under the light of the old Texaco gasoline pump. Picking and wiping sweat on the hottest Friday night of the summer.
There is a free evening of bluegrass music every Friday night all year long at the E.H. Montgomery General Store. The music starts at 7 p.m.