Begin at the Beginning

It has taken me 27 years and many hundreds of thousands of road miles to get to this blog! I got here as soon as I could! What a delightful roadtrip it has been. Where shall I begin? How about at the night I stumbled in the Tennessee Gentlemen Bluegrass Shack in January of 1980? Right there's as good a place as any.

Friends and I were looking around for some Friday night 'live music--somewhere, anywhere in West Tennessee. We had heard about a little ol' one-room schoolhouse north of Memphis and near Millington--actually a little community known as Lucy. The word around town was that there was some wonderful bluegrass music going out there--for free, but they did pass the hat at the end of the night. I was, at that point, thinking, "What's bluegrass?" I was totally uninformed about the world of bluegrass music. We finally found the Tennessee Gentlemen Bluegrass Shack out on Pleasant Ridge Road, and may I say that it was appropriately named? A shack it was! I thought, as I stepped through the door, "Oh, man! What have I got myself into here?" We went on in and took a seat toward the back--just to listen to some of this bluegrass music for ourselves.

The stage was a little raised area in one end of the room. Several single lightbulbs hung from the ceiling. The former coatroom now served as a makeshift kitchen. The coffee was on, the soft drinks were being poured, and the smell of popcorn popping filled our nostrils. The coffee, the water to make the coffee, the soft drinks, the ice, and the popcorn were all brought in each week by the folks who played at the Shack. The restroom was a mere memory of what a restroom used to be! Old couches and stuffed chairs which had seen better days were scattered about. Watchful eyes can locate furniture like that sitting out on the side of the road where folks have discarded it. Old carpet which had also been discarded, had been tacked up all around the walls--to provide insulation and to help the acoustics in the room. Bleachers had been brought in from a school somewhere that had been closed. A few metal folding chairs were in place. The hundred-year-old schoolhouse had life inside for a few more precious years. What a gift the Shack still had to give to bluegrass music lovers--folks who drove in from hundreds of miles away in all directions just to hear the Tennessee Gentlemen. Apparently, this was the place to be on a Friday night if a person loved bluegrass music. Who knew?

The Bluegrass Shack was cold during the winter of 1980 and almost comfortable in the spring and fall. I learned that the Tennessee Gentlemen were to be out on the bluegrass festival trail for the summer, and that the Shack would sit empty from May through September. It is just as well--the Southern summer heat would have put everyone in a dead faint.

The little stage was the focal point in the room, for it was there that I first heard and was introduced to the Tennessee Gentlemen. I was hooked from the moment I heard them! Members of the band were: Troy Castleberry, award-winning mandolin player and founder of the band; Donny Catron, outstanding vocalist and guitar player who also has a wall full of awards for his lead and tenor work; Steve Gregory, vocalist and electric bass player, who may also have one of the finest voices in bluegrass music; and Richard Bailey, the fine young banjo player and newest guy on the team at the time, which meant taking a lot of gentle ribbing from the other band members.

There they were! One of the finest bluegrass bands in music...just hanging around an ol' worn-out shack between two soybean fields in Lucy, Tennessee. I could not believe what I heard! The smoothest, the tightest, the most solid instrumental and vocal work imaginable. In my mind, I still hear their music played just as it was on that cold January night so many years ago. I still find myself searching festivals and shows to hear something to equal the special qualities of that particular group of performers.

Bluegrass musicians and their families and friends take in a visitor like they've known him/her forever--you don't stay a stranger for very long. I was just about to be taken into the family of bluegrass music!

Posted by bluegrasshack: Posted 18 Mar 2007

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