Henderson bluegrass legend dies

Published 7:35 pm Monday, February 24, 2014

Rex Locklar was known for hosting the Henderson Bluegrass Festival and for fostering a love of bluegrass in the state.

Rex Locklar was known for hosting the Henderson Bluegrass Festival and for fostering a love of bluegrass in the state.

For about a decade Rex Locklar had been warning, “This is gonna to be last one.”

This time, sadly, Locklar was true to his word.

Rex Locklar’s October 2013 Bluegrass Festival at Henderson was his last. Locklar died on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, at his home in Henderson, the place where bluegrass grows.

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“Ol Rex” as he called himself was the Father of Bluegrass in Pike County. The State Legislature made in official in October 2010 when State Rep. Alan Boothe presented the House resolution to Locklar.

Boothe said for several years Locklar had been saying the next bluegrass festival at the old Henderson schoolhouse would be his last.

“I wanted to do something to let Rex know what he meant to bluegrass music and to so many people,” Boothe said. “Everybody loved Rex. He was a giant of a man and one of the most colorful figures ever in Pike County. There’ll never be another one like him. He was one of a kind – a real character.”

Boothe said Locklar was dedicated to Henderson and to bluegrass music.

“He was an instigator and promoter of bluegrass music. I don’t know of anybody who did more for bluegrass music in Alabama than Rex.

“That old Henderson schoolhouse became one of the premiere bluegrass ‘convention centers’ in the country and was a gathering place for thousands upon thousands of bluegrass and traditional music lovers from Minnesota to Florida and from Virginia to Texas. And, at the center of it all was Rex Locklar.”

Margo Russell, watercolor gesture artist and “artist in residence” at Henderson Music Park, said, Locklar had a heart bigger than all of Pike County.

“People loved Rex and for nearly 50 years, he opened his heart to all of those who have bluegrass in their blood,” Russell said. “Rex provided a place for ordinary folks to come and make extraordinary art.”

Buddy Smith of Blountstown, Fla., is the grandfather of the girls of the former Rivertown Girls bluegrass band.

“The first time Rex heard the girls, he fell in love with them and invite them to the Henderson Bluegrass Festival,” Smith said. “Rex loved bluegrass and he loved kids. He did everything he could to put kids and bluegrass together.”

Smith said Locklar would call him several times before one of his festivals to make sure The Rivertown Girls would be there.

“Rex would call and say, ‘Them girls comin,’ ain’t they?’ and he’d make sure they got on stage,” Smith said. “Rex has promoted a lot of young people over the years. He knew if bluegrass was going to continue, young folks had to play it.”

Smith said Locklar looked forward to every bluegrass festival and he knew everybody that came through the gates.

“The park would be jammed with RVs, tents and pickers and you could hear music being played everywhere you went,” Smith said. “And, Rex would be as happy as he could be. When it was time to close the festival down, he’d get tears in his eyes. He didn’t want the music to stop.”

Just what will happen now that the music has stopped, Bernard Pope said no one is sure.

“We’d all talked about it. If this happened and Rex was no longer here,” Pope said. “It was Rex’s festival. Everybody came to play bluegrass but, really, everybody was here because of Rex. We were all family and Rex’s festivals were our family reunions and Rex was the patriarch.

“We’d all like to have one more festival in memory of Rex. I hope we can do that. He deserves to be remembered like that. We won’t ever forget him. Who could forget Ol’ Rex. Nobody who ever knew him.”