PICK ‘N’ GRIN: Henderson Bluegrass Festival opens tonight

Published 4:00 am Friday, October 12, 2018

Willie Bob Williamson never knew Rex Locklar, the Father of Henderson Bluegrass. ‘Ol’ Rex,” as he was affectionately known, had been hosting bluegrass festivals in the sleepy, little community of Henderson in rural Pike County for 46 years before his death in February 2014.

Williamson knew about the Henderson bluegrass festivals and he had heard enough about Ol’ Rex that he appreciated his dedication to bluegrass music. But Ol’ Willie Bob just never got around to going to Locklar’s festival.

“Rex Locklar died in the winter of 2014 and, over in the spring, I heard they were having a memorial festival and it would be last one at Henderson,” Williamson said. “I wanted to be there. The very minute heard the bluegrass being played, I was hooked. I can’t describe the feeling. I had thought bluegrass music was square. If it was, I was square. I knew right them, ‘I’m in.’”

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Williamson has not missed a Rex Locklar Bluegrass Jamboree since 2014 and, unlike most of those who attend, he’s not at the festival because of Rex.

“I wish I had known him so I could say I’m here because of him, but what I can say is, if it had not been for Rex Locklar and his love bluegrass, I would not be here today.”

On Thursday afternoon, a few pickers gathered at the Pickin’ Place and, as soon as the music started, folks began coming out of the cracks –pickers and grinners alike.

Had some of the pickers not kept such late hours Wednesday, actually an hour after midnight, the music would have started as soon as the breakfast biscuits got cold.

“The music last night was too good to quit,” Williamson said.

Richard Holmes, the leader of the Soggy Bottom Bluegrass Bunch, sat out the afternoon pickin’.

“Sometimes we’ll have 21 picking and singing; another time, we might have five,” he said. “But that doesn’t matter. It’s bluegrass and, no matter how many or how few pick, there’s no other music like it.”

And what’s uniquely special about Rex Locklar’s Bluegrass Jamborees is that there are no professionals there. All pickers play by ear and the sounds they make are music to bluegrass lovers.

Ol’ Rex’s Fall Memorial Bluegrass Jamboree will officially kick off tonight. Stage music featuring the Copper Line Bluegrass, Soggy Bottom Bluegrass Bunch, Ten Mile Branch, Yellow Hammer and Ronnie & Shirley Rigsby and others will be from 6 until 9 p.m. tonight and Saturday.

Pickup groups will be playing all around the grounds throughout the day and deep into the night.

Admission is the same as Ol’ Rex set: Five dollars if you’ve got it; if you don’t, come on in anyway.” A donation box is on the stage for those who think their time at the bluegrass jamboree was time well spent.

Ol’ Rex’s Pickin’ Park is located in downtown Henderson. Just follow the music.