Bluegrass, gospel on tap for storytelling fest

Published 3:00 am Saturday, January 23, 2016

1-23 LIGHTHOUSE picweb 1-23 THE HENDERSONS picweb

When the Brundidge Historical Society decided more than a decade ago to expand its folklife productions to include a storytelling festival, the idea was to pull from the success of its original folklife play, “Come Home, It’s Suppertime.”

The play always opened with pre-show music – bluegrass and Southern gospel.

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Johnny Steed, a member of the storytelling committee, said a decision was made to open the each storytelling festival concert with traditional music.

“After our first Pike Piddlers Storytelling Festival in 2007, Donald Davis, who knows more about storytelling and what makes it click than anyone I know, sat down with us to talk about what we did right and what we might want to do to improve the festival. One thing he said was, “Keep the music.”

The BHS has kept the music.

Although several traditional music groups have entertained at the Pike Piddlers Storytelling Festival, the Lighthouse String Ensemble and the Benton Brothers have been the mainstays since the beginning. With the addition of The Hendersons three years ago, the festival music is family connected.

Some of the family connections are strong while others are rather loose. Either way, the bands are connected by blood and by love of the old time music.

Amanda Smothers, lead singer for the Lighthouse String Ensemble, said she didn’t even know that there was anything like a storytelling festival until 10 years ago.

“But the festival reminded me of sitting around with my grandparents and listening to stories,” she said. “Being from the South, I felt like I knew the characters in the stories told at the festival and that endeared them to me. Stories connect people.”

Smothers said ever since she was old enough to play a guitar in church she felt the desire of singing for the Lord.

“I sang my heart out in church,” she said. “When the Sullivan Family came to sing at the church, I got an opportunity to sing with them. That’s when I became known as the little girl with the big voice.”

In 1994, Smothers began singing with her dad, Mike Benton, who plays lead guitar and mandolin. She considers it a real blessing to be on stage with her dad and to share the gospel message in song.

The Benton Brothers, Alex and Lee, have been performing at the We Piddle Around Theater since they were teenagers. Their dad, Mike Benton, is distantly related to Smothers’ dad.

Although the relationship is distant, the love of Southern gospel music is close to all their hearts. While Smothers and her dad grew up playing and singing gospel music, the Benton brothers didn’t start playing until they were teenagers.

“Lee and I went to the Henderson Bluegrass Festivals and liked the music. We got guitars and took a few lessons,” Alex said. “When our grandmother got sick, we would go over and play for her. And, we’d play a little at church, at nursing homes and small festivals.”

Now, they play at events almost every weekend. They have been the house band at the We Piddle Around Theater for about eight years.

“We’ve gotten to play at the storytelling festival and for other storytelling events,” Lee said. “We like storytelling and really enjoy getting to meet and talk to the storytellers. It’s a real honor to be around them.”

Jared Henderson of The Hendersons plays with his dad, Dewayne and cousin Terry. His mom and Smothers’mom are sister so there’s a strong family connection there.

“When I was a kid I grew up going to gospel singings all the time,” Jared said. “My family makes up the Lighthouse Singers that have been singing gospel music locally for 30 years. For years I didn’t sing but when I was 20 years old, I finally got up enough courage and started singing and playing the guitar with the family group. There is nothing I enjoy more than singing gospel music. It’s truly an honor and a privilege to be able to sing for the Lord.”

Jared said he attributes almost all he knows about gospel music to his family. “They are my singing heroes and mentors. I’m thankful I was raised going to their singings and they inspire me to want to sing for the Lord. We love to sing old songs out of the classic “red back hymnal” and will definitely be singing several of them at the storytelling festival this year. I am thankful that I can share a love for old time gospel music with Daddy and Terry.”

The Pike Piddlers Storytelling Festival on Saturday, January 30 will feature The Lighthouse String Ensemble at 9:30 a.m., the Benton Brothers & Company at 1:30 p.m. and The Hendersons at 6 p.m. The pre-show will last 30 music with the storytelling concerts to follow.

For tickets and information, call 334-685-5524 or 670-6302.