Author: Elliott, Sharon

Kids on Bluegrass—Fathers Day 2009

This One’s For You Betty LaBlanc

“It was the BEST show ever!” were the words I heard over and over right after the Friday and Saturday performance of the Kids on Bluegrass! I could only grin thinking that I hear those very same words after every KOB show! Why is that? Do people forget what last years show was like? Or the one before that? I’m sure that is part of the answer but I also think that we are consistently working with new kids while some of our former participants have moved on. Another aspect is that as these kids grow, their voices change right along with their skill levels constantly offering new surprises. This year was no exception!

A total of 28 kids this year 15 of which were brand new to the Kids on Bluegrass. That left us with about only 8 kids that had been with us before. Fortunately for all, those 8 were a very strong core that already knew the ropes and musically could backup any of our new kids. New to the staff was Doug Montgomery who worked with the older more experienced kids and Regina Bartlett returned to work with the younger group. Also returning as part of the staff was Harold Rogers and myself and Connie Steves, Frank’s sister, who really helped me out a lot! Sadly, Betty LaBlanc, who has been part of the staff for several years now and is Franks girlfriend and very, very long time friend, was recently diagnosed with cancer and could not attend. I wondered if I would be running this show alone since Frank was with Betty every minute and taking her to her treatments but Betty insisted that he go to the festival and put his show on. So this show was dedicated to Betty and our kids sang their hearts out for her!

Over the past year, Frank and I received a number of calls from people wanting to know how to get their kids involved in the Kids on Bluegrass program so we knew we would have a lot of new kids which is always exciting and it keeps this program fresh. During our first rehearsal, the kids were split up into two groups and Regina and Doug set about learning what songs all the kids could play and began the process of getting a possible set list. We have to move rapidly on this as we only have two days to put an entire 50 minute show together. Max and Nate Schwartz, Marty & Veronica Varner, Tim Elson and A.J. Lee have all been with us for a long time and these kids all play together in bands and have numerous songs that they have been working on, together and separately, and performing all through the year so they have more than an entire 50 minute song list to draw upon. Finding songs for them to play is not a problem. They are, on this week, our core backup group for all the other performers and when the newer kids come with their own songs, some that no one else knows, these kids are so good that they can usually easily pick up the tune and create, right then and there, great licks to put into the backup. Pretty amazing when you realize the oldest one in the core group Nate, is only 14 years old!

Rehearsal starts fast with Regina working out songs that her group can do. She has some kids that will just play backup as they are not quite ready for their own solos. All of her kids are new this year with the exception of Anna Spain-9-very good on fiddle. Anna was with us last year and it was a real pleasure to have her back with us.

Stuart Silverman-10-guitar, Kyle Ledson-7-fiddle, Angelina Cress-11-fiddle and guitar, Nicholas Chea-10-fiddle and Morgan Hertz-9-fiddle, all gave Regina’s group a very young exuberant energy and it seemed that at times these kids were literally just jumping with energy. Sometimes with kids this age it’s hard to get the group to settle down long enough to concentrate but Regina just seems to have a way with these young kids and was able to get them all playing wonderful music behind the rest of her group that would be playing most of the leads.

Sarah Weaver-11-mandolin is a neighbor and friend of A.J. Lee. A.J. has been teaching Sarah to play the mandolin and just a few months ago Sarah borrowed a mandolin from the Kids Instrument Lending Library. This was Sarah’s first time at the festival and she joined Regina’s group. Sarah played the song Cairo and did a great job. Being a neighbor of A.J.’s I’m sure she will make fast progress.

A few months before the festival, I received a phone call from a mother that told me about her daughter and friends and asking about the Kids on Bluegrass. She told me that her daughter and two friends had a band called the Pixie Chicks and that they would be participating in the KOB. Sally Shilling-12-mandolin & vocals, Rachael Randall-12-fiddle & vocals have known each other since they were two. While at the Strawberry Music Festival in the fall of 2008, both girls met Amaya Dempsey-10-fiddle & vocals. Since that time the girls have been able to get together and have created a little band together and when they first started singing together in rehearsal we knew they had something special. Sally appears to be the leader of this group but each one of them has a great stage presence and their instruments and vocals are very strong. They clearly have fun with each other and amazingly all of the other kids that Regina had were able to keep up with these girls.

Stephan Hutchins-14-guitar joined the group a little later and he quickly adapted to the girls and helped play great backup for them and was a real pleasure to have around.

Sometimes in the beginning, it is a little hard to determine just which group some of the kids will fit in as we just don’t have a lot of time to spend. But as the rehearsal goes along we sometimes find that some of the kids that are in Regina’s group could actually have gone to the other group. Amaya, Sally, Rachael and Stephen could have easily gone to both. On the other hand Veronica Varner crossed over into Regina’s group because Veronica could also play all the songs from Regina’s group.
At performance time these girls really gave the audience a treat with “Bluebirds Are Singing for me” and “Cluck Old Hen”.

During rehearsal and after Regina had really gotten her song list set, the kids were just taking a break when Amaya started playing Cold Frosty Morning and dancing at the same time. I was walking by and stopped to watch and when she finished Regina and I looked at each other and I said “Is that on your set list”? Regina said” No, that’s the first time I’ve seen it!” I said “well, put it on!! That’s entertainment!!!” When Frank saw it at the next run through, he loved it too and at performance time, the crowd went wild watching Amaya kick up her feet while never missing a beat on the fiddle!

Anna Spain—9-fiddle came to us on Saturday. Anna is a terrific classically trained musician and she had a song that we rehearsed but in the end the song was cut because we simply ran out of time and Anna was so good on the tune that no one else could really keep up with her. Had she been there on Thursday and Friday we might have had the time to have other kids learn to play with her. In the end sometimes Franks decisions are often based on the fact that he wants to make sure that all of the songs can be played by many not just one, so at a last minute adjustments might have to be made such as cutting a song here or there. It’s hard on the kids when this is done but there is only so much time and we have so many kids. I hope Anna comes back to us next year because she is truly a gifted musician.

Last year Permagrin Productions and 50 Hertz Films came to the Fathers Day Festival and began filming the Kids on Bluegrass with the hopes of eventually making a Kids on Bluegrass documentary.
It was fun to have them around and they really were amazed with the kids. It is really exciting to think about what a documentary could do to help get Kids on Bluegrass programs going all around the country. The film crew, led by Tom Caudle, was a wonderful group to work with and if you saw the show you saw them on stage<
Posted:  7/21/2009

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