(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first article in a series about the 25th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase, scheduled for March 4 in Lenoir, N.C.)
LENOIR, N.C. – For the 25th straight year, a dozen or so musicians will gather on the stage of the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center here. This gathering – the 25th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase: Heroes and Friends – is indeed historical for hitting the quarter century mark.
Even a larger historical milestone will be reached though. This will be the year that the Showcase’s founders, Strictly Clean and Decent – Kay Crouch, Patrick Crouch and Ron Shuffler – play their last note as hosts at the musical gathering that they have hosted from its inception.
Fans of the Showcase and Strictly Clean and Decent need not worry. The couple say they and Shuffler intend to continue to play music, so fans can still enjoy their joyful stage presence and eclectic mix of traditional, roots, folk and bluegrass. Still, Kay and Patrick expressed confidence in their decision to pass the baton to a new generation of musicians, choosing Lenoir musician Andrew Massey to lead the Showcase into the future. As Patrick notes, “For 25 years, we’ve introduced the new generation of musicians to audiences while honoring the preceding ones.” He adds, “That’s a generation. It is time for the younger generation to keep it going.”
Patrick is confident this is a good time for the transition. “The past 10 years there has been a resurgence in songwriting.” Indeed, Massey writes his own music, as do several regional musicians in their 20s and 30s.
The idea that led to the birth of the Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase occurred at a gathering of musicians more than 25 years ago, at a Christmas party at the home of Kay and Patrick. That evening, 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.
Patrick shares, “He turned to me and said, ‘Paddy, why do we not have this on stage?’”
That simple question led to the first show, which was titled “Music with a Southern Accent.” Kay acknowledged that the first show was all they planned at the time. The Showcase came about based on the success of that first show.
The next year, the show was titled, “It Must Be Something in the Water,” a tip to the long, seemingly unending inhabitants of musicians living among the hills and hollows of Caldwell County. It was also the first show of about ten in a row where they recorded an album (CD) of the musicians playing their selections. Indeed, those CDs that were recorded in the early years made their way into the libraries of the Caldwell County Schools. Eventually, with the changing music industry, CD sales dropped off, replaced with social media.
So, while the initial goal was to just get some of Caldwell County’s best musicians on stage for the community and beyond, by the second show, a first goal had been set. Kay explains, “Our goal was to get 100 musicians on stage. After 10 years, we had reached 128.” By then, the Showcase had a life of its own.
This year’s show has added significance for Kay and Patrick, as it will include a Nashville connection – emcee Nancy Posey (formerly of Lenoir) and several other Nashville-based musicians with Caldwell County ties. This year’s title for the Showcase – Heroes and Friends – is an apt phrase for their final Showcase, say Kay and Patrick, as others scheduled to perform include musicians who fall into one or both categories: Milan Miller; Tall Paul and Kristie featuring Paul and Kristie Bobal; and the Jon Boy ‘n Lefty Band whose members are Jonathan Doll, Kent “Lefty” Spears, Coty Robinett, Wes McCall, and, for this show, Andrew Massey.
Miller is the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) 2020 Songwriter of the Year. According to his website, “In addition to his standout solo recordings, Milan’s songs have been recorded by some of the biggest names in bluegrass, including Balsam Range, Lonesome River Band, Steep Canyon Rangers, Terry Baucom, Tim O’Brien, Buddy Melton, Sam Bush, Missy Armstrong, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, the Grascals and many others.” When interviewed, he had the number four song for the week and month, “Distractions” according to Bluegrass Today magazine.
Patrick says, “I met Milan Miller more than 20 years ago.” That was at the Christmas party that led to the development of the Showcase, so it is a reunion long in the making. He is also a periodical musical partner with them on trips to Ireland along with his wife, Melanie Reeves, Kay and Patrick, and Paul and Kristie Bobal. It was in Ireland that they picked up the informal name of “The Nashville Six.” Not all play music, but each plays a vital role. As Patrick points out, “Melanie is the road manager for sure.” Strictly Clean and Decent also played with Miller in Nashville.
Patrick and Paul Bobal met at Appalachian State University in 1976. Bobal made his way to Nashville in 1978, though the two friends have kept up over the years.
Summarizing the styles of the musical guests for this year’s Showcase, Patrick shared, “Milan is known for very clever, well-written songs. Murder, lost love, novelty songs. Jon Boy and Lefty play American roots/blues,and original music about Happy Valley and Patterson. Tall Paul and Kristie have a new 11-track album, ‘Whiskey and Wine’. They also appeal to Parrot Heads (fans of Jimmy Buffett) with their brand of ‘Troprock’ music common in the Key West musical scene.” Kay added, “Tall Paul and Kristie are engaging. They bring unsurpassed joy.”
It is this enthusiasm for promoting other musicians that is the recipe for the success of the Showcase for a generation, and will be so in the future, say Kay and Patrick. They gush with praise for others that have been part of this tradition. Patrick shares, “To me the thing that inspires me the most is the cooperation and help we’ve received. Jeff Bentley (of the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center) is the number one advocate for the Showcase. He’s the fourth partner in the deal. He takes such pride in the show that he goes above and beyond, bringing in extra equipment, and extra people.” Patrick adds, “Jeff is forward thinking. He agrees that Andrew is the man for the job. That’s all the more reason to do it.”
He also sang the praises of their partner, Ron Shuffler. “He is a musical mentor. Kay and I feel very fortunate to play with him. He’s a master musician.” And while the “traditional” in the Showcase title refers to a type of music, it certainly also represents the type of musician that Caldwell County has produced – a person that works by day and plays in the evening on his front porch. “Ron was in management in textile. He gets along well with people. He’s a friend. We enjoy performing with him. We have learned from Ron. You have a lot of confidence when you go on a stage with a pro. He’s been on stage for 70 years!”
Kay adds, “Ron has his own personal history tied to the first generation of bluegrass musicians. His two older brothers played with the Stanley Brothers. He would come home and they’d be in his living room.” She continues, “He keeps us honest when we’re playing. He is our quality control.”
Indeed, Shuffler’s musical roots underscore an objective of the Showcase – preserving the long tradition of families and neighbors in Caldwell County playing music – ancient and new. As Patrick points out, “His Caldwell County Connection is one of the first, to Gary Starr and the Delmars.” Kay adds, “Ron played with Cecil Palmer. Later on Patrick played with Cecil. He was the standard that everyone looked up to. His influence can’t be overrated. The Shelby Rae Moore Band consists of Cecil’s granddaughter and two sons. The Harris Brothers are his nephews.”
Patrick looked forward, offering, “The next generation are folks like Andrew. He is vital because of his musical force. Equally important, he promotes all musicians. He is generous with his talents and times. He’s active in the community, helping HUB, Yokefellow, working with the Western North Carolina Sculpture Center and more.”
With the confidence the couple expressed in Massey, it’s not surprising they could pause and enjoy the results of the Showcase. “The biggest goal was to provide people with access to our musicians, musical traditions and the power of music,” says Patrick. “We did it.” Kay adds, “Most of the musicians have been self-taught. That is the traditional aspect of the Showcase.”
She continues, “The happy end result is that we captured music that was going on at that time. It really got Caldwell County in the sights of the North Carolina Arts Council. That helped with other projects, like (the) Happy Valley (Fiddler’s Convention).” She also credited Caldwell County officials with grasping the vision of being part of the Blue Ridge Music Trails.
Patrick concludes, “When one considers we had over 250 separate musicians, we feel like we did a pretty good job with showcasing our generation and the one before us.” Of those 250-plus individual musicians from Caldwell County or with ties to the county, many have performed multiple times.
Shuffler plays the upright bass with Strictly Clean and Decent. Kay Crouch performs on the guitar, flute, piano, and tin whistle. Patrick Crouch handles the mandolin, banjo, dobro, fiddle, and guitar for the trio.
To learn more about the 25th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase: Heroes and Friends, contact the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center box office at 828-726-2407. Learn more about the meal available before the performance.
© Michael M. Barrick 2023
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[…] (Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a series on the 25th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase. The first can be read here). […]
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