Thank You Kay, Patrick and Ron for Showcasing Caldwell’s Rich Aural Tradition

(Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in a series on the 25th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase. Links to all previous articles are at the end of this article).

LENOIR, N.C. – For the 25th straight year, the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center will be home to the Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase. This year’s concert, with the theme, Heroes and Friends, is scheduled for this Saturday, March 4 at 7:30 p.m. It will be the last to be hosted by the Showcase’s founders, Strictly Clean and Decent – Kay Crouch, Patrick Crouch and Ron Shuffler. Lenoir musician Andrew Massey will take over hosting duties after this year.

This run of a quarter century is phenomenal. But it is not surprising for those who know Kay, Patrick and Ron.

Strictly Clean and Decent at the Happy Valley Fiddlers Convention
Photo by David Cortner

The first time I met Patrick Crouch was in 1995 . He was the music teacher at Granite Falls Middle School and I was the education reporter for the Lenoir News-Topic. While covering the School Board was an obvious part of the job, I preferred to get into the schools to meet the administrators, teachers and support staff. I was looking for feature stories, because it is people, not meeting minutes, that make up – and hence, represent – what the school system is really about.

They’re also much more fun to write. So, when I heard about Patrick, the arrangements were made and I found myself in the school’s library literally being schooled by Patrick as we conversed. He proved that day he was an exceptional educator. And, he has proven it annually – along with his bandmates – on the stage of the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center through the Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase.

But it is not just Patrick. Kay and Ron Shuffler have been natural teachers on the stage and from the stage. They gently prod and encourage musicians on the day of the show as they rehearse for the evening’s show. They talk to the audience, explaining the history and heritage of Caldwell County’s music, and how it came to produce so many exceptional musicians. The rest of the year, they can be found playing several times a week and encouraging younger and up-and-coming musicians.

Indeed, Kay ran the music program at Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute until her “retirement.” She too, is a person that just can’t quit teaching. As I’ve met with Patrick and Kay many times over the years to write about the Showcase, Kay never quits teaching, as she looked at my notepad upside down and would gently tap her finger on the page to make sure my notes were accurate. Since I am from a family of educators (at least 5 generations straight at this point), I value Kay’s approach. She and I shared the desire that the reader be properly informed. She has always been patient with my lack of musical background. She and Patrick compliment each other perfectly, on and off the stage. Patrick has bailed me out (not literally, at least yet) when I’ve gotten in over my head trying to be a concert promoter. He helped – repeatedly. And, he said, about nobody in particular, “You know, Michael, sometimes people get into things that they really don’t know anything about.” Message sent and received. Again, that’s a friend! He was going to help us make the music happen, but he couldn’t resist the teachable moment. Since then, I’ve done a little better at staying in my lane.

Ron is the quiet one. However, both Patrick and Kay credit him with making them better musicians. “He is a musical mentor,” says Patrick. “Kay and I feel very fortunate to play with him. He’s a master musician. 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.”

Strictly Clean and Decent
Photo by David Cortner

Patrick taught our daughter Lindsay at the middle school. She helped him while a student at South Caldwell High School. The friendship she has developed with both Kay and Patrick is an example of their cross-generational approach to teaching and establishing relationships. It shows in their music. They and Ron demonstrate it in the Showcase.

But before the Showcase was the interview with Patrick at the middle school. We just talked at first. I explained to him that I enjoyed writing oral histories. He lit up. He wanted to talk about the aural traditions of Caldwell County. He explained that aural means playing or singing by ear. And while many musicians in the Showcase do read music, just as many – if not more – have learned by the aural tradition. Patrick said he straddles both sides of the fence.

That interview, which is preserved in my first book “The Hillbilly Highway,” is full of comments from Patrick about why he loves teaching so much. Speaking then of his students, he said, “It’s a great position for me to be in to preserve the musical traditions.” He continued, “There are lessons there that go much deeper than music.” Students, he insisted, learn about humanity, integrity, and the importance of quality as they study band.

While he was describing his classroom, he could just as well have been talking about the Showcase. Kay, Patrick and Ron have, while entertaining us, taught and preserved – with the roughly 300 musicians that have joined them – critical Caldwell County musical traditions.

Most importantly, Strictly Clean and Decent has exemplified a social contract that I was raised to believe that we should all have with one another – making a kind community.

For all of this, I am thankful. I know thousands of others feel the same way.

So, I look to see many of you as you come to hear the last note played by Strictly Clean and Decent as Showcase hosts. Others scheduled to perform include: Milan Miller; Tall Paul and Kristie featuring Paul and Kristie Bobal; and the Jon Boy & Lefty Band whose members are Jonathan Doll, Kent “Lefty” Spears, Coty Robinett, Wes McCall, and Andrew Massey.

To learn more, contact the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center box office at 828-726-2407. Learn more about the meal available before the performance.

Previous Showcase Articles

Final Note: Strictly Clean and Decent to Host Their Final Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase

Showcase Emcee Nancy Posey: Kay and Patrick Crouch ‘The Real Deal’

Milan Miller, IBMA 2020 Songwriter of the Year to Play Lenoir March 4

Musicians Paul and Kristie Bobal ‘Looking Forward to the Gathering’ at March 4 Showcase

The Jon Boy & Lefty Band Exemplifies Caldwell County Musical History

Andrew Massey to be New Host for the Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase

© Michael M. Barrick 2023.

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