Old-timers, first-timers gather for Rex’s fest

Published 10:50 pm Friday, October 7, 2011

There aren’t quite as many RVs at the Henderson Music Park as there used to be for Rex’s Fall Bluegrass Festival. There aren’t quite as many old-timers as there used to be. But there are enough RVs and enough old-timers to make it seem like old times and enough young pickers to know that bluegrass will live on.

J.C. Burgess and Ray Lett have been coming to Rex Locklar’s Bluegrass Festivals for more years than they can count, maybe 30. And, they’ve been coming long enough that its tradition.

“Tradition, bluegrass and Rex.”

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Simply put, that’s why, when Locklar sticks “Rex’s Bluegrass Festival” signs in the ground every fall and every spring, old-timers, long-timers and first-timers, pack up their guitars, fiddles and bows and head to the sleepy like community that has been the site of “getting close to” 100 bluegrass festivals.

“I’m not sure whether this is the 44th or 45th year,” Burgess said. “I’ve not been to all of them but I wish I had. But, I’ve been to a lot.”

Burgess tagged along with his friend Ray Lett to the first Henderson Bluegrass Festival. The next time, he would have come whether his friend came or not.

“It’s gets in your blood.”

Burgess and Lett were picking and grinning about sundown Wednesday while most others were gathering around the chuck wagon.

“We’ll eat later, right now we’ve got one more song,” Lett said.

Both pickers admitted that they won’t be invited to play at the Grand Ole Opry but they would rather play at the Rex’s Bluegrass Festival than on any stage in the world.

“This is what bluegrass is all about,” Lett said. “There are big bluegrass festival all around where they have big stages and big bluegrass bands to come play and people sit and listen. But, here, there are no big stages and people like us pick and sing and that’s what makes this festival so special.”

Burgess said he sometimes puts his guitar over his shoulder and wanders from place to place joining a group here and one over there.

“You don’t have to be asked to join in,” he said. “If you hear something you like, you just go over and get to picking. Nobody cares.”

Burgess and Lett do a lot of picking and they also do a lot of listening to the music others play and the stories they tell.

“Oh, the stories you can hear,” he said laughing.

The two friends from central Alabama bring a listener along, perhaps so they’ll always have an audience.

Gary Bradberry doesn’t play an instrument and he doesn’t sing.

“You don’t have to do either to enjoy bluegrass,” he said with a smile. “I just sit and listen and grin.”

The old Henderson schoolhouse provides the background for the bluegrass festival. It’s falling down now and nobody goes inside anymore.

Burgess and Lett remember when there was picking and singing inside the schoolhouse and outside as well.

“It’s not like that anymore,” he said. “We don’t go inside to play but it’s the same out here. This is the best place to play bluegrass, outside with friends.”

Nothing beats picking and grinning on a brisk fall night in at the Henderson Music Park, the men said.

Rex Locklar’s Bluegrass Festival will continue through the weekend and close around midnight on Saturday.

Admission is $5 a day if you’ve got it.

“If you ain’t, see me,” Rex said.