A Joy from the First Note

Kay and Patrick Crouch share a brief history of the Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase

Note: This is the third article in a series on the 23rd Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase. You can read the other articles here and here.

Kay and Patrick Crouch

LENOIR, N.C. — When the stage lights are turned on Saturday evening at the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center, the 23rd Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase — “Hey Diddle Diddle, The Cats with the Fiddles” — will bring together some of the finest musicians from Caldwell County and beyond.

It’s quite an accomplishment, yet one that organizers Kay and Patrick Crouch say is worth it. Even as they juggled last minute logistics for the Showcase, Kay and Patrick were thrilled to tell stories about the history of the event. Kay shared, “When it’s all said and done and the lights come up and the first note is played, it’s wonderful. It doesn’t matter if it’s a full house or a half a house. It’s a joy.”

The joy began with a simple question at a Christmas party at the home of Kay and Patrick about 25 years ago. A typically spontaneous jam session broke out – not unlike the ones that have occurred in homes and on porches in Caldwell County for generations. Present that night was David Briggs, who was then the executive director of the J. E. Broyhill Civic Center.

Recalling that moment, Patrick revealed, “He turned to me and said, ‘Paddy, why do we not have this on stage?’” That simple question led to the first annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase — ‘“Music With a Southern Accent” — at the Civic Center on Sept. 19, 1998. There was not a Showcase in 1999, but they’ve been going full speed since 2000, even managing to get in the 2020 Showcase, as it was held in early February, before the Covid pandemic exploded on the scene.

Throughout the run, Kay and Patrick along with Strictly Clean and Decent bandmate Ron Shuffler have played every concert and backed many of the acts in each show. Consequently, it provides a host of memories for Kay and Patrick, as well as satisfaction in knowing that the county’s musicians and residents have benefitted from the Showcase.

The benefits of the Showcase are many, noted the couple. Patrick shared, “The main thing is, it has provided introductions that would not have happened otherwise. One of the coolest things that happens is the day of the show, during sound check, folks are standing around and talking. They may live close to one another and play the same venues, but they haven’t met or played together. After making these acquaintances, many have become partners in music or other projects.”

The Neighbors

Kay added, “Just as an example, early on we had a bunch of teachers on the Showcase that worked in the schools and played music but didn’t teach it. One was Bob Henson and some of his neighbors. They didn’t have a name. We named them The Neighbors because they just got together and jammed. They would say, ‘Let’s get the neighbors together.’ That band really took off after the Showcase. It’s one of the most booked groups in the county and beyond now.”

A good bit of original music has been played — and sometimes for the first time in public — at the Showcase. Patrick doesn’t tell musicians what to play when the schedule is sent out. So, he says, “It has given local musicians opportunities to perform original music. As a matter of fact, we’ll be playing an original song this weekend.”

Kay added, “They receive validation. They’re not doing it for money. They’re not doing it for applause. They’re doing it because they love and want other people to love music as much as they do.”

Both are lifelong musicians and retired teachers — Patrick from Granite Falls Middle School and Kay from Caldwell Community College. Consequently, education for and about musicians is among the primary reasons they began the Showcase. “The purpose is to make people aware of all of our musicians and instill pride in the musicians of Caldwell County,” shared Patrick.

An outreach connected to the Showcase was the recording of musicians playing in the Showcase for a ten-year stretch. Kay explains, “We had done two shows, and always had people coming up to ask for recordings of them.” But as Patrick pointed out, “It’s almost impossible to record live. So, we came up with the idea of recording the musicians before the show to have a CD available at the show.” Kay added, “We still have some of them for sale.”

She continued, “The CD project through the grants did promote the musicians, some more than others, but the main thing was to get people in the county to see they have a tremendous resource that very few counties have.” The CDs were shared with all public schools in the county. “We did hope that by putting them in the schools they would play them and teach not only about traditional music and local musicians, but a child might hear a family member or friend, somebody they knew.”

The CDs were also designed to catch at least a portion of the Showcase’s history. “We wanted to have a record of the fact that this is something we tried to do,” said Patrick. He continued, “Mercifully, I set a 10 year limit on it. We hoped that in doing it, we could increase  the budget for the Showcase and make a more elaborate program.” However, he acknowledged, “We realized early on it wouldn’t do that. We lost money ten years in a row doing that. At the time, we thought it was a great idea. But we were in that period when physical recordings were beginning to go out of style. People still make them, but you don’t make money on it. We were in the middle of the change.” Kay added, “It is a snapshot of music in Caldwell County at the beginning of the 21st century. Some are centuries-old traditions. It includes people who learned to play music from family members, neighbors or were self-taught. While the music they play may not be textbook form, the manner in which they learned was traditional.”

While the recordings did not continue, Kay and Patrick see developments in the county that they believe are happening largely because of the Showcase.

Being part of the Blue Ridge Music Trails is a critical designation for tourism, Patrick says. Kay recalled that around 2003 or so, in southwestern Virginia, musicians were marketed on The Crooked Road. “Caldwell County was under consideration to become part of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. Caldwell Chamber formed a committee. I was asked to be on it. At that time, the Showcase was a few years old. People still hadn’t bought into the idea that it had value, it had worth. It was something that people outside of the county wanted to hear though. During that process, people within the county, people became aware of it as part of tourism. The Showcase helped us become part of the Blue Ridge Music Trails.”

She explained, “Most of the counties were mountain counties. Other foothill counties were not. We were. The reason is because of the music.” Patrick added, “Anytime you see Caldwell County marketed in the state or outside, they promote music.” 

He continued, “During the course of this Showcase, we’ve seen several venues open. That boosts tourism.” He pointed to the expansion of playing venues in the region. From breweries and wineries, to the ongoing renovation of the Lenoir High Auditorium, the Tucker Barn Songwriter Showcase, and the Junior Appalachian Musician (JAM), opportunities abound. Meanwhile the Hudson Uptown Building (HUB) is setting up space for house concerts, with hopes of opening in October.

One can’t cover the history of the Showcase without recalling the late Dude Shuffler of the Burke County Shuffler music family. He served as emcee for the event for several years until his death in 2013. Kay shared, “Dude was one of the funniest people we ever met. It was a joy to have him in the original showcases. Dude would meet all of the musicians during sound check if he didn’t already know them and talk to them. He would use tidbits he learned that day. He did it with such humor and generosity. With that bass voice, he just kept everyone in stitches between the musicians playing. We were delighted that he would always spend the day with us. He was a great musician as well. We always used his deep bass voice in the finale.”

While that first note brings joy to Kay, the last note of each concert isn’t played until well into the next morning at the home of Patrick and Kay. He says they always wanted to have a “music house,” where people just simply get together to jam and have fun.

Patrick shares a moment that, for him, affirms that goal has been accomplished. Musician Ben Pannenbacker was at one of those after-parties. “He turned to me with tears in his eyes. He said this is the kind of house he wants to have. What Ben saw was a house where people come together and play music for fun. I’m delighted to know that we still have the soul, the spirit.”

The Showcase will be this Saturday, July 31 at 7:30 pm at the J. E. Broyhill Civic Center. Advance tickets can be purchased at the Civic Center or by calling the box office at 828-726-2404.

To see a preview of what to expect Saturday evening, check out this outstanding interview of Kay and Patrick on “Caldwell County Today”.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2021.

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