Bluegrass music and small-town America go hand in hand, and according to Bill Monroe, the founding father of the genre, it “has brought more people together and made more friends than any music in the world.”
Monroe’s observation was on full display in Watertown during the annual bluegrass festival held on Saturday.
The festival drew a crowd to the city’s historic downtown square before adverse weather conditions emerged in the early afternoon and dampened the party.
Still, a lot of music was played.
Woode Hawkins was among a group that kicked the day off.
“Our group was a pickup group,” Hawkins said. “We don’t have a name. We were just the local pickers that started off the set.”
Hawkins plays mandolin. Along with Becky Byler on bass, Byler’s husband Bill on banjo, Roger Stone on guitar, and John Cisco on the fiddle, he made up the first performance on the day.
“John (Cisco) is a local,” Hawkins said. “He and his wife (Katie Smith) ran the Nona Lisa pizza parlor. They finally decided to close that up.”
Hawkins indicated that his group owed its beginnings to that pizza-parlor connection, which paved the way for the Saturday set.
“The way a lot of us got to know each other, (Nona Lisa) would have a Sunday afternoon jam session down there once a month,” Hawkins said. “We would all show up to play. That leads to opportunities to put a band together whenever you got someone organizing a show.”
Hawkins laughed when he said that the band only practiced for about five minutes before the show. Apparently, it was all they needed.
“People that have played bluegrass a lot, you just kind of get a feel for it,” Hawkins said. “You fall right into it. It’s not that it’s not complex music. It’s just that we all have enough experience. Over time, you just learn to interact with other players.”
The local pickers weren’t the only ones to grace the gazebo that day. A group composed of Buddy Greene, Jeff Taylor, Ron Block, and Byron House followed them.
Greene explained that the group was all friends and had known each other for decades, having played together in various forms.
“Jeff Taylor has traveled with me on the road a good bit,” Greene said. “Ron Block traveled with Allison Krauss for 30 years. Byron House has played with everybody from Sam Bush to Robert Plant (of Led Zeppelin) to Emmy Lou Harris. He’s got a long pedigree.”
Greene’s career has primarily spanned the gospel genre. He is famous for composing the song “Mary Did you Know?” in addition to other accomplishments.
Greene has played a lot of venues but was excited to be in Watertown.
“Small towns are the lifeblood of the nation,” Greene said. “Seeing something like this, where the community comes out and supports an event, is great.”
The group’s setlist pulled from many directions, but Greene indicated one common denominator.
“We have played a lot together, but they kind of defer to me,” Greene said jokingly. “They know that I can only remember the songs that I know, so I come up with the setlist, and they make me sound better than I am.”
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