It's no surprise to Dean Wittington that Jason's talents are developing so quickly. He likes to think he's had at least a little to do with it. Jason and Wittington play together often, along with Jason's friend Corey Rackley, 15, who plays the mandolin. "These youngsters come along and they're so good, they want to play real authentic music and play it fast," says Wittington, whose fast-style guitar pickin' has earned him the right to share the stage with Willie Nelson, Bill Monroe, and Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. "It takes a real fast right hand. It has to be a certain kind of lick that you only get in bluegrass." Wittington has been converting an old 800-square-foot building on his property in Matoaca near Colonial Heights into a gathering place for bluegrass lovers. "It'll be like having a replica of the Grand Ole Opry only on a much smaller scale," he laughs. He hopes to have it ready by the end of November. At 65, Wittington's passion for bluegrass has taken on new meaning. "My function in playing music now is in helping these kids. I give them my time. If I can get to them before they learn the wrong habits and keep them between the ditches," he says, just passing along the tradition of bluegrass will be his reward.
It's precisely the kind of preservation D.J. Barnett, host of the Saturday morning bluegrass show on WXGI-AM 950, likes to see develop. "These young people are learning to pick like they're falling out of trees," he says. "It goes back to square one, going back to the roots. Any way you slice a pie, it goes back to acoustic." Barnett has been hosting the early morning show ever since he semiretired from his 40-year job as a truck driver nearly 11 years ago. "I used to go on tour with Charlie Waller and the Country Gentlemen," he says. "I'd take a vacation from driving trucks and drive their bus." Now Barnett plays his bluegrass favorites from his own collection of more than 600 CDs on the air every week, and it couldn't make him happier. "I'm playing pure redneck music from the bottom of my feet to the top of my head."
[image-1](Stephen Salpukas / Style Weekly)There's something about bluegrass that makes you want to jump in and be immersed in it. You feel included when it surrounds you, like being part of something bigger, a family, a circle of friends, and a community that grows old together - a unit that understands the cycle in life. In the church tonight, bluegrass is building. It spills over into every downstairs classroom and some upstairs, too. The kitchen is cramped, and even the stairwells are full with groups playing for roving handfuls of listeners. A mini-indoor bluegrass festival has taken hold of the church. Some of the musicians are good. Some are great. Most are learning still, and that's how bluegrass evolves.
Meanwhile, Robertson makes his rounds with the Country Tyme Pink Lemonade canister. Dollars are collected, a few teasingly pried, to be given to the church as thanks for use of the building. "Sometimes we have a hard time kicking them out," Robertson laughs. In one room,16 people stand close. Taken separately, each instrument and voice wouldn't sound like much. Together, they cause goose bumps. "Some glad morning when this life is o'er, I'll fly away," the chorus sings.
Robertson peeks in at them, hearing two great banjo licks and remembers his own.
"Every time I see something flat and round I think, hey, if you put a stick on that it would look like a banjo." But deep down, he knows it's more. It's why Robertson and others like him aren't worried about the future. "Bluegrass is in capable hands," he assures. "I am bluegrass and bluegrass is me." It leads him to the thought that sums it up, a quote, he says from, Bill Vernon, a bluegrass bibliographer. "'When I am sad I need bluegrass; when I am happy I want bluegrass.' To me that says it all."
Knee Deep in Bluegrass
Here's where you can check out the local bluegrass scene.
Legend's Sundays, 4 p.m. - 'til. Informal bluegrass jams.
Matt's Village Pub Wednesdays, 8:30 p.m. Bluegrass Night.
Poe's Pub Starting again Saturday, Oct. 28, then every other Saturday. Winn and Hale.
WXGI AM-950 Saturdays, 5 a.m.-noon. D.J. Barnett's Bluegrass Show.
Jahnke Road Baptist Church 1st Tuesday each month, 7 p.m.-10 p.m. 6023 Jahnke Road.
Bethlehem Presbyterian Church 2nd Monday each month, 7 p.m. 2446 Old Church Road, Mechanicsville.
Mechanicsville Christian Center 3rd Monday each month. 8061 Shady Grove Road.
Westhunt Baptist Church 3rd Thursday each month. 3801 West End Drive.
Beaver Dam Baptist Church 1st Monday each month, 7 p.m. Zion Cross Roads. Troy, Va.
Glen Allen Cultural Arts Center showcases acoustic and bluegrass music. www.fieldcrestmusic.com
The Virginia Bluegrass Family www.bluegrassvirginia.com
Central Virginia Bluegrass www.CentralVABluegrass.hutchinson.net.
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