Front porch pickers from Crooked Road charm crowd

Posted Aug. 23, 2008, at 1:23 p.m.

Festivalgoers Friday night were transported from the banks of the Penobscot River to the mountains of southern Virginia. More than 500 of them suddenly were settin’ in Wayne Henderson’s front yard, listenin’ as he and a couple of fellers played some “good hot pickin’ tunes” from the master guitar player’s front porch.

All those people would have increased the population of Henderson’s hometown of Rugby, Va., about 100-fold from the seven he claimed live there now.

Steve Barr of Galax, Va., joined him on banjo and Jacob Eller of Chilhowie, Va., and a member of Barr’s bluegrass band No Speed Limit, played bass. All three men live along the Crooked Road, a more than 200-mile long highway that winds through the Appalachian Mountains and is home to a deep and still rich mine of American music.

The Bangor audience, young and old, knew many of the tunes of Earl Scruggs and the Carter Family that the trio played including “Cannonball Blues” and “Alabama Jubilee.” They led the crowd in a rousing rendition of

“Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and the traditional “Turkey in the Straw.” In the hands of these accomplished musicians, both sounded anything but tired

and trite.

In-between tunes, Henderson and Barr told stories about their hometowns and each other. Barr thanked festival organizers for “the nicest lobster dinner” he’d had Friday night but admitted that “it took me about an hour to figure out how to crack it open.”

Barr’s fingers flew up and down the neck of the banjo, while Henderson’s laid-back style belied the intricacy of his picking style. Stellar was the quiet one of the group but his musicianship added depth to the traditional mountain music these three have devoted their lives to keeping alive.

Folks who first heard Appalachian music on the Grand Old Opry or downloaded onto their iPods songs by Nickel Creek, were equally enthralled by music from the Crooked Road.

They will perform at 3:45 p.m. Saturday at the Two Rivers Stage and at 1:30 p.m. and at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the Heritage Stage.

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