Remembering Rex: A colorful life

Published 7:07 pm Friday, February 28, 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.

Rex Locklar was often described as a “colorful character.”

If Locklar had been rich, he would have been called eccentric.

But he was not rich, so he was just “colorful.”

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Back in 1945, Locklar wrote a song titled “Just Plain Ol’ Me” and it was a testimony to his life.

There was nothing pretentious about Rex Locklar. He was not one to, as he said, “put on airs.” He was plain and simply, “Ol’ Rex.”

Locklar died on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. He was 87 years old. He left behind a legacy of love of bluegrass music. For 48 years, he hosted biennial bluegrass festivals at the old Henderson schoolhouse in rural Pike County.

For many years, the schoolhouse was known as the Henderson Convention Center. Bluegrass and Southern gospel music would be played on the stage and Miss Faye would be serving chicken and dumplin’s in the schoolhouse kitchen. The grounds would be covered with RVs, campers and tents and bluegrass would be played in every nook and cranny.

Pickers would come from nine states to play at Rex Locklar’s bluegrass festival. Shoji Tabuchi, of Branson, Missouri fame, played at Henderson Music Park as did many of the big names in bluegrass music.

Locklar just put out his homemade, scribbled signs and people came out of the woodwork to pick and grin or just sit back and bask in the bluegrass.

The festival at Henderson Music Park was never affected by what was going on in the world around it. Folks there forgot their worries and troubles and enjoyed the best music in the world – bluegrass – and the company of the best folks in the world,” said Alan Boothe, a longtime friend of Locklar.

“Admission was $5 but Rex said you could pay more if you thought it was worth it,” Boothe said. “And, if you didn’t have $5, you just needed to see Ol’ Rex. To him, bluegrass was too good to miss out on.”

Locklar would squeeze 50 or more RVs onto a half-acre plot and grumble all the while.

“Everybody knew that Rex’s grumpiness was just for show,” said Bill Strickland of Clio. “He was never happier than when it was bluegrass festival time in Henderson.

“Rex was a sweetheart. Everybody loved him. He was a talented musician back in his day. He did so much to promote bluegrass music over the years. And, there was nothing sadder than when the last camper pulled out after a bluegrass jamboree. Rex would get tears in his eyes.”

Allen Senn of Talladega said folks didn’t go to Rex’s Bluegrass Festival to see the big boys play.

“At the big festivals, the jam sessions are kind of clannish. It was not like that at Rex’s. At his bluegrass festivals, it was like a big family reunion. There would be all different levels of musicians but one was as welcome to jam as the other.”

To a one, those who attended Rex’s Bluegrass Festivals said there was not another like them.

“Oh, it was our love and passion for bluegrass that brought us to Henderson but it was Rex that kept us coming back,” said Frank Deweese of Kentucky. “It was Rex that brought us together each April and October. He was the reason.

“His laid-back demeanor set the tone for the festival and it was a tone that resonated with a lot of folks. At Rex’s everybody was somebody. We didn’t have but one hero out there and it was Ol’ Rex.”

The talk among the pickers for the last few years, the years that Locklar kept saying each festival would be the last, was that if the time came when Ol’ Rex was no longer there, only one more festival would be held – one in memory of Rex Locklar, the Father of Henderson Bluegrass.

All of those who ever attended Rex Locklar’s Bluegrass Festival love the high lonesome sound that’s bluegrass. And the sound will never be as lonesome as it is now that Ol’ Rex, just plain Ol’ Rex, has gone home.