Roanoke Valley Fiddle and Banjo Club celebrates 50 years of bluegrass

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The Roanoke Valley Fiddle and Banjo Club celebrated their 40th anniversary at Braeloch. Their 50th anniversary will be held in the same location on July 20.

In 1968, Marvin Nelson, Bill Nelson, Harvey Holland, Ferrell Aldridge, Paul Webb, and Paul Jefferson attended a Bluegrass Festival in Berryville in northern Virginia.

They came away with the idea that it would be nice to have a place “back home” to meet together and play music. The challenge was finding “a place, a time, and a little money to bring the idea to reality.”

According to a history of the club compiled for its 30th anniversary, Marvin Nelson, a fiddler, got the ball rolling, locating a place – the Transportation Museum at Wasena Park and a time – June 7, 1969. As for money, there was a fee to get into the museum, and the club got that.

They advertised the date in the Roanoke newspaper, inviting all those who loved and played bluegrass to meet at Wasena park for a “good old-fashioned hootenanny,” and “word got around somehow.” The event started at 3:00 and ran until 9 p.m. Most of the 100 people who showed up were musicians.

From these simple beginnings, the Roanoke Valley Fiddle and Banjo Club evolved. They will be celebrating their 50th anniversary on July 20 at Braeloch on Glenburn Farms in Vinton, with a day of “fun, food, and great bluegrass music.”

A few of the band members from 1969 are still around—Stanley King, Terry and Ricky Edwards, Lawrence Dodson, and Larry Hall, among others. Many bands have formed from the musicians who met there.

There have been quite a few changes in the venue over the years.

In August 1969, they moved to Elmwood Park. In the fall of 1969, when the weather got cooler, they met at the Buena Vista Recreation Building in Jackson Park. Meetings were held on the third Saturdays of the month with afternoon workshops and an evening concert in the “Big House” concert hall, which would seat 150.

With continued growth, the Fiddle and Banjo Club came to Vinton in 1970, first to the Recreation Center, and then to William Byrd High School.

Three years later, as the crowds grew, they made a big move to the Roanoke Civic Center, where they remained for many years. Their first live broadcast over WSLC AM Radio was from there in April 1973. WSLC broadcast the monthly shows until they dropped their classic country format in 2000. The club left the Civic Center in 2003 when expenses became too great.

The City of Roanoke issued a proclamation for their 30th anniversary, declaring June 7, 1999, as “Roanoke Fiddle and Banjo Club Day.” The group was recognized for their dedication to “preserving and fostering bluegrass and old-time music. Members and performers volunteer their time and talent to encourage appreciation of various music styles and to provide family entertainment.”

The club has also met at Clearbrook and Mount Pleasant Elementary Schools, the Vinton Farmers’ Market, and Northside High School.

About five years ago they moved to their current location at the Woodmen of the World Building on Peter’s Creek Road.

According to current secretary Judy Boitnott, “some of the highlights of the Roanoke Valley Fiddle and Banjo Club have been “having several professional musicians like Charlie Monroe, and his Kentucky Partners play at the club. Others that have played over the years have been Jim Eanes, Don Reno’s talented sons, The Bluegrass Brothers, Mike Fenton, Randall Hylton, and Wayne Henderson.”

Quite a few musicians who got their start with the Fiddle and Banjo Club have gone on to become professionals themselves.

While in the past 50 years there have been lots of changes, Boitnott says the club has always remained faithful to traditional bluegrass, old-time, and bluegrass gospel music.

In 2000, Representative Bob Goodlatte wrote them from Congress to mark their 31st anniversary.

“There are countless men, women, and children who have benefitted from the Roanoke Fiddle and Banjo Club efforts,” said Goodlatte. “Your love of bluegrass music has been selflessly shared in the name of wholesome entertainment. I commend each of you for bringing so many good times and opening the ears of folks to so much great music.”

In 2002, the Virginia House of Delegates adopted a resolution commending them for their dedication to “the support and preservation of traditional string music.”

In 2009 they celebrated their 40th anniversary with a special celebration held at Braeloch in Vinton.

Back then, the club had several bands who rotated for the shows throughout the year. Their goal was keeping bluegrass music alive and passing it down to younger generations.

At one time, square dancers were part of the entertainment; the Patrick Henry Travelers were the first dance group to perform.

Currently, the Roanoke Valley Fiddle and Banjo Club meets on the first Saturday of each month at the Woodmen Building with Open Mic at 5:30 followed by three bands from 6 to 9.

The club remains strong under the steady leadership of Bob Maiden. Boitnott says that “Maiden, with the help of club volunteers, makes the monthly show possible at an affordable cost.” They are a non-profit organization.

She says that “club” is something of a misnomer. “Everyone is welcome.” The organization is open to everyone, of all ages, and “welcomes new bands and new listeners.”

For their 50th anniversary celebration on July 20, the music gets underway at 2 p.m. and lasts until 9, rain or shine. Admission is free; donations are appreciated. No dogs or alcohol are permitted.

The event will feature nine bands in a full day of music, food, raffles, and more. The line-up includes: Better Than We Sound, Back in the Day Bluegrass Brethren, The Virginia-Carolina Band, Dobie Toms and Faith Ridge, Just Us Girls, Buck Cannon & The Atta Boys, Blue Connection, The Southern Gentlemen, and Falling Creek.

“We will also host two of the area’s best-known custom instrument builders/repairmen – Ward Elliott from Riner and David Houchens from Red Hill,” said Boitnott.

The first Fiddle and Banjo Club record album went on sale in December 1971; four more recordings have followed. Thanks to the efforts of current members Ricky Edwards and Jeff Gardner and the Flat-Five Recording Studio in Salem, some of the “fine music” of the past will be available on CD.

They will be serving up the hot dogs with homemade chili and the banana pudding they are known for, lovingly prepared by Brenda and Chloe Lovelace and Dominique Brown. Food trucks by Chef Claytor’s “Dream on a Plate,” Deb’s Lemonade, and Homestead Creamery will also provide their services.

Sponsors include: Braeloch, Lotz Vinton Chapel, Maiden & Sons Garage, Advance Auto, Elliott Mandolins, Rick’s Plumbing Repair, Jeff Gardner, The Homeplace Restaurant, Oakey’s Funeral Service, Norma McNeil “Cake Lady,” and Bryce Instruments.

Braeloch is located at 2353 Hammond Drive in Vinton, off Hardy Road, just past the Blue Ridge Parkway underpass.

For more information, visit their Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/RoanokeFiddleBanjoClub or their website at www.fiddleandbanjoclub.org.