July 18, 2015

First Bluegrass Festival Fincastle VA. 1965

First bluegrass festival held in Fincastle Va. on Labor Day Weekend September, 1965.

In September of 1965 the first multi-day bluegrass festival was held at Cantrell’s horse barn in Fincastle, Virginia. The now legendary event was the brain child of the longtime manager of Reno and Smiley, Carlton Haney. Some of the entertainment lineup included Mac Wiseman, Jimmy Martin, Clyde Moody, The Osborne Brothers, The Stanley Brothers, Don Reno and Red Smiley (in their own separate bands), and the father of Bluegrass himself, . The festival proved to be one of the most significant events in bluegrass music history. In fact it may have actually saved the music itself. Carlton’s festival started a festival movement that spawned many more festivals throughout the country and eventually the world. These festivals provided the already struggling bluegrass industry with a venue for musicians to play, meet their fans, and most importantly make a living. And for the last 47 years festivals have been life blood for most professional bluegrass bands.

Bill Monroe, Carter and Ralph Stanley at Fincastle VA, 1965.
One of the most memorable things about Carlton’s early festivals was his narration of “the bluegrass story” or as he infamously pronounces it “the bluegrass stow-ree”. “The bluegrass story” was a history lesson on the music’s beginnings and usually featured Bill Monroe and former Bluegrass Boys playing the classic tunes that defined the music. For the 1965 festival, Bill Monroe, Don Reno, Clyde Moody, Benny Martin, and Mac Wiseman were all part of the first “stow-ree”. Luckily, portions of this historic event were captured on video. If you haven’t seen the video of Don Reno, Bill Monroe, Benny Martin, and Mac Wiseman all playing on stage together at the first festival, put down this magazine now and go to Youtube immediately! It can be found on my Youtube page: www.youtube.com/user/renopicker. They play several classic tunes, such as Rawhide, Orange Blossom Special, Can’t You Hear Me Calling, Six More Miles, Molly And Tenbrooks, and Traveling Down This Lonesome Road. You can tell how Don, Benny, and Bill were all feeding off each other in the video. This isn’t the slick, clinically sterilized perfection we hear in today’s bluegrass bands, this is raw real bluegrass played by the first generation masters. Even though the video and the audio isn’t the best quality, you can still feel the energy that these guys produced when watching them perform on stage. This is what made them great and why we still talk about them today. I can only imagine how incredible and exciting it was for those that were lucky enough to see the show live in 1965.

Of course like most of you, the first time I saw this video I was thrilled to see and hear my heroes playing together in their prime but I was mostly fixated on Don, of course. I couldn’t believe the things I was hearing. His breaks were ingenious and his back up was out of this world. The first time I heard his break to Rawhide I literally jumped out of my seat and got goose bumps! But the real stand out for me was his break to Traveling Down this Lonesome Road. Till this day it’s one of the coolest things I have ever heard him do. It’s pure rock and roll on the banjo. How he thought of these things still amazes me. For Traveling, Don implements a lot of Chuck Berry/Bill Monroe type riffs on the banjo that are similar to his kick off on I Know You’re Married. Most of the double stops are done with the thumb. Remember to mute the bridge with your palm to get the right sound when doing all the thumb brush work. They are playing in the key of F in the video but as with much of Don’s playing his break can easily be transposed to any key. One of the greatest things about this break is his ending lick as he walks away from the microphone. Pure genius!! What is also impressive about this break is that Don probably never played it exactly the same way again. He was the king of improvisation. He was never afraid to take chances and neither should you. So once you get the basic break down, use your imagination to add your own ideas to it and see what happens! If you have any questions or comments please contact me through my website: www.renopicker.com Until next time…Keep Pickin’ Reno!
Reno-Style Workshop
by Jason Skinner

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