VINTON–Bluegrass and old time country music have found a home at Virginia’s Explore Park. Earlier in the summer, Charles Greer of the Roanoke Valley Ramblers approached Debbie Pitts, director of Explore Park, and offered to play a concert to benefit the Park.
Greer lives nearby in Mount Pleasant and wants to see the Park rejuvenated. His band, along with the Virginia Carolina band, played to a crowd of over one hundred at the first event on August 18. They returned to the park on September 22 for what he hopes will be the second of many future concerts at the venue and attracted an even larger crowd.
This time his band was joined by Appalachian Heritage and Witcher Creek bands, both locally renowned. Two young men from the Clearbrook area, Alex and Noah Donahue, opened the concert.
Appalachian Heritage formed about 12 years ago, headed up by lead singer, Shirley Howell from Fincastle, who also plays guitar and autoharp. Her husband Galen joins her in the group, along with Jack Zell, Dwayne Cole, and Johnny Haskins, featuring banjos, fiddles, bass, and dulcimers. They play bluegrass, old time country, gospel, and even new country.
Shirley Howell learned to play and sing from her father and began performing in church at a very young age. Galen Howell, a cabinet and furniture maker, also builds musical instruments, mainly dulcimers and guitars.
The Howells have been married for almost fifty years.
“We were stuck together like Velcro from when we first met,” said Galen Howell.
The couple taught themselves to play an unconventional and little known instrument that he built called the “courtin’dulcimer’. The double or courting dulcimer is made with two fingerboards on one instrument.
According to one website, “In the 1800’s dating or courting was a lot different than it is today. Couples usually dated sitting under the watchful eyes of parents. Young couples were usually forbidden to go off by themselves. The courting dulcimer was a musical chaperone. The couple would be permitted to sit in the parlor or on the front porch and play the dulcimer. They held the dulcimer facing one another and if they were fortunate their knees might touch. As long as dulcimer music was heard, the couple would be left alone. If the music stopped, the parents would know trouble was afoot. Some couples became very good at playing as they learned to play and kiss at the same time.”
“Explore Park is a beautiful location and a great venue,” said Bob Maiden of Salem, president of the Roanoke Valley Fiddle and Banjo Club. “We set up a Bose sound system and filled the whole parking lot with music. The sound is very good at the Park.”
Bluegrass and old time country enthusiasts have another event to look forward to–a benefit concert at the Vinton VFW on October 19 which will feature the Roanoke Valley Ramblers, Witcher Creek Band, and the Haymakertown Express. All proceeds will go to the Vinton VFW Post 4522.