Author: Bartlett, Regina

HARMONY ROAD--“Hear The Whippoorwill’s Cry”

The sunlight shines through the trees and leaves and onto the water of the swamp as the boat glides through it and the music plays and it’s such heart stirring music. Another stroke of the oar and a turn in the swamp and the colors are so brilliant. Then you hear it. The sad mournful call of the Whippoorwill … a three note whistle. The bird lives in the ground and cries for its mate. That sound and melody was part of the inspiration for the movie.

I celebrated Meghan and Curtis Leslie’s first Anniversary at their home in Seacliff Beach last week and had a chance to talk to Curtis about his movie, “The Whippoorwill’s Cry“.

Curtis told me that he met Larry Gillis at Lake Havasu through Ella Naiman and became friends a few of years ago. Larry Gillis shared his story with Curtis and inspired the movie. It’s the story of Larry Gillis’ journey through Bluegrass Music.

This film was just recently finished and the finished product arrived in time for its debut and opening night Thursday Sept. 19th in Plymouth at L&S Productions’ Bluegrassin’ in the Foothills. What a thrilling night this will be. Many of the people in the film will be present. Bring your lawn chairs, friends, family, some popcorn and soda and be prepared to take a musical journey with Larry Gillis and Curtis Leslie. The DVD will be available for purchase. I know I’m buying one!

Larry is from Southeast Georgia and grew up in the swamps and he’s passionate about his homeland and created a Bluegrass musical style - SWAMPGRASS. A SWAMPGRASS festival was also created by Larry and his partner J.R.

While visiting in the swamps of Georgia, the music and story of Larry Gillis came alive and Curtis knew he had to share the story of the musical journey of this man. “We played music together and became friends and he took me in and now we have a movie. I’ve worked on this project for two years and it’s almost as thrilling as the day I married my wife, Meghan. It all started with Ella Naiman. She told Larry Gillis he needed a fiddler and so he took her into the band and coached her and we all came together as a family of friends.”

“I wanted to create something different about a real storyteller and Bluegrass Artist. The film includes concert footage, family and vintage photographs of the Gillis Brothers. Larry tells his story from a first person perspective. He told his story and as he spoke it just flowed like music. He never had a script. There were no voice overs. I knew that I had a star with Larry. There are over 14 original songs in this film. So now it’s two years later and this has been one of my biggest challenges so far. This vision and story of these bluegrass guys, and how they think made me realize how we all have stories to tell…all the time."

In the early 1990s, the Gillis Brothers, Larry and John, fronted a band which created quite a stir in the bluegrass music community. Their music was not really bluegrass, nor was it “old time.” The best way to describe it would be to say it was similar to the “Southern Appalachian Mountain Music,” like The Stanley Brothers, but more hard driving. Rather than being from the mountains, their music was inspired by the Swamps of Southeast Georgia. Their band could get an audience excited to a level that is rarely witnessed with other acoustic string bands - bluegrass, old time or mountain music. They were on all the charts and Hay Holler and Rebel Records.

The makeup of the band had so many strong elements, all rolled into one structure: Larry’s unique banjo style and strong cross-picking on the guitar (Shuffler style), John’s great rhythm and lead guitar playing, both John’s and Larry’s lead singing and their powerful brother duet harmony, Owen Saunders’ lonesome and understated fiddling, and Andy Dye’s solid bass playing holding everything together. Just recently Larry performed a benefit for Andy Dye who lost his leg due to Diabetes complications.

Larry Gillis and the SwampGrass Band have been featured at Campbell Mercer’s Jerusalem Ridge Festival and RFD’s Cumberland Highlanders show.

Larry Gillis and SwampGrass will be performing in Plymouth…see the man and hear his music and you’ll be part of SwampGrass and you too can hear the whippoorwill’s cry.

I hope to see many of you at Plymouth this weekend. I’m so excited to tell you that I’ll be in Raleigh, NC for the IBMA on the CBA Team next week. Then I will be visiting my relatives in Wheeling, West Virginia and Martins Ferry, Ohio and playing dulcimer and guitar back to my Hillbilly Appalachian roots and a chance to see just what have they done to the old home place.

On another note: I did not go to Strawberry Music Festival because of the Rim Fire so I am really looking forward to Plymouth. Many of my Camp Howdy friends gathered together in Bonny Doon and we had our own “Fallberry” with friends, food, adult beverages and music. It was a great alternative.

I have found that Plan A can become Plan B out on Harmony Road.

Always have a backup plan. People and Bands can come together and fall apart; things happen and life changes...for all of us. We all must adjust and keep on keeping on. Hear the Whippoorwill’s Cry.

Until next time, see you out there on Harmony Road.

Posted:  9/17/2013

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