In September of 2007 I asked Bill Keith --that is the legendary Bill Keith, if he would be available to give a presentation of the five-string banjo to my music students at Highland High School in Highland, New York. His presentation was enthusiastically received by the students, many of whom with iPods galore had never heard a banjo, let alone seen one being played by a master of the instrument. During our time together in the preparation for his visit I found myself listening to some fascinating stories of Bill’s that I thought might be of interest to the Hudson Valley Bluegrass Association members and others who might come across this website. When I approached him about doing an interview for the HVBA he again was gracious and kind enough to agree. We sat down together at the Colony Café, better known as the “Bluegrass Clubhouse,” on the cold evening of 24 January 2008 between sets. I hope you enjoy the following interview as much as I enjoyed doing it.

It was hairy going there for a while – the rumors were flying around the sale of the Rothvoss farm and the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival remaining homeless. An appeal was made, the organizers asked anyone with an idea, a lead, a hint of a lead to contact them to help in the search for a new home. Much was at stake – tickets sold, artists’ contracts signed, vendors lined up. The “what if?” was too awful to consider.

JULIE GRITTEN to the rescue! Yes, the HVBA’s very own up-and-coming fiddler, Julie Gritten, came forth with a contact and a phone number – brought the two parties together… and the rest is bluegrass history.


Many HVBA members have been asking for a traditional bluegrass band to perform for us.  James King delivered on Saturday night, March 15, playing two sets to an appreciative, standing room only crowd at the United Methodist Church. 
 
Many long-time HVBA members were in attendance, including Hyde Parker's Dolores and Howard Tubbs and Helen and John Hunter.  Dolores was a founding member of the HVBA--in fact she was the first to answer my call for people interested in starting a bluegrass association in 1993. Helen and John are also long-time James King fans.  They recounted to me how they helped James fix a flat tire on his bus about 10 years ago when he played in Saratoga Springs.

Darwin Lee, host of the Sunday afternoon program on WHVW AM950 also attended.  He plugged the show for two weeks and told me that he, too, had been a fan of King for over 10 years.

At our recent fundraiser, which featured the great James King Band, Babicz Guitars donated a beautiful Babicz “Tribeca” guitar for our raffle.
 
The winners, Richard and Marsha Lowry of Poughkeepsie, entered the raffle and won the guitar. Since neither of them plays guitar, they showed their real bluegrass spirit of generosity by presenting the guitar to an HVBA member who does. <!--more-->
 
Thank you, Richard and Marsha Lowry, for your support of the HVBA and for your big hearts!  Here is their letter to us:

Dear Mr. Scheu:

When my wife and I decided to attend the HVBA concert last night, we never suspected we'd be leaving the event with a beautiful rosewood guitar.  Although neither of us plays bluegrass guitar or has much prospect of doing so, we do know someone who does.  The guitar is now in that person's hands and we know she will put it to very good use.

Please accept the enclosed check as a contribution in honor of our good friend and HVBA member, Janice MacDaniels.

Yours sincerely,
Richard Lowry 

4.4.08

Questions for Eugene Martinez

 

Our Man in Italy The News Editor of the HVBA Website talks about how he found us, why he is still involved with the organization and tidbits of interest.

Q How did you find the HVBA? I didn't find the HVBA. I was pushed toward it by two of my very very VERY best friends in the world, Pat Dinges and Wayne Fugate. I was at a pretty low point in my illustrious life. I pretty much sucked at the mandolin, and knew it – and I had no intention of going public with that news. But they just kept at it and at it and at it. Relentlessly. Told me that there was no point in playing if you don’t play with people. Kept nagging me to go to Pirate Canoe. Eventually they wore me down. The smile that night put on my face is still on me. I still suck at the mando, but don’t care anymore if people know it!

What? You actually commuted to the jams while living in Italy? Wouldn’t anyone?

Why are you still involved? I stay involved with the HVBA because I love the people who are the HVBA and because I think it’s a vital and important organization that does a lot of good and can always do better. I used to think that you can’t make old friends. The HVBA taught me that nothing can be more false. I’ve made some of the best friends I’ll ever have in my life through this organization. And that’s why I stay involved. Oh, also… see number 4.

What is the state of bluegrass in Italy? Miserable. Absolutely pathetic. There is one very fine Italian bluegrass band, Red Wine, based in Genova. They’ve been at it for a long time – in fact, they just celebrated their 30th anniversary with a sold-out concert – and they sure deserved it. They’re a group of real quality musicians, they love and understand the music. But other than them… nada. Which is another reason why I stay involved with the HVBA – it keeps my attachment to this music alive.

Tell me about your role in the HVBA. My role in the HVBA. Oy. Officially, I’m the Editor of the website’s News tab. It’s not too easy for me to keep my finger on the pulse, living all the way out here in this Bluegrass Yennervelt, but I try to do my best. Unofficially, I’m a general nudge, snoop, big mouth, big nose and general pain in the ass.

What other interests do you have? I’m a news junky. I’m a history and art history maniac, which hopefully will soon lead me to my new and exciting career. I’m a vegetarian animal-rights activist, a card carrying member of the ACLU and I try my best to do my part, in my small way, for a variety of progressive causes. And then there are the dogs and the birds…

How many f***ing dogs and parrots did you say? There are 9 f***ing dogs and 6 f***ing parrots. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to move the f***ing parrots here yet, so my poor, big-hearted and long suffering sister is taking care of them until I can. By the way, she’s also an HVBA member and big fan of the org!

INTERVIEW CONDUCTED VIA EMAIL BY MATT BOWE

Photograph by Sandro Botticelli

Written in the Style of the NY Times Magazine Interviews

The HVBA Annual Spring Fundraiser is coming up soon!
Time to put aside any crazy ideas about spring cleaning, gardening, painting picket fences or freshening up your nests after the long hard winter, and turn your minds to a well spent afternoon, surrounded by good friends, good food, good drink and most of all, good music!
 
The fundraiser will be held on Sunday, May 18th from 1-6pm at Poughkeepsie’s River Station Restaurant, and will showcase some really fine local bluegrass bands.

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