September 5 , 2003, 23:53 EST

Bluegrass festival honors those who serve

By Spc. Stephanie Willer
GuardPost Staff Writer

Sgt. Michael E. Cowan gets a fiddle lesson from Barbara Kaye, the fiddle player for "The New Girls Nite Out" band. (Photo by Spc. Stephanie Willer, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office)

The day's event went off with a twang! With a pluck from a five string banjo,   the sound that embodies bluegrass music rang out from the aircraft hanger on post.   


Thanks to the hard work of the Virginia Heartland Bluegrass Festival Association (VaHBFA), and the assistance of the Virginia Army National Guard Recruiting Office, (VaNGRO) soldiers and the public were invited to attend a free concert on Ft. Pickett this summer.


Tony Ryan, a well known local country music disc jockey (DJ), who is also the president of the VaHBFA, wanted to honor the men and women of our military and thought, “What a better way…then to have a concert for the soldiers,” said Ryan. “We wanted to show the troops how proud we are of them and to thank them for what they are doing for our country,” added Ryan.  


The idea for having a concert came to him and his colleague, Roger E. Allen, who is the vice president of the association and also a member of the ‘Allen's Mill' band, which was one of the musical entertainers of the day. After hearing about the Family Bluegrass Festival (FBF) that took place at the Powhatan Armory the prior year, the men contacted Sgt. 1 st Class Chuck Horton, who is the Area 4, non-commissioned officer in charge for recruiting and retention at Ft. Pickett and also the ‘Sergeant at Arms' for the American Legion, Post 201, since he was the coordinator of the FBF event, which featured seven bands.


Since Horton was a member of the Guard, Ryan and Allen thought he would be a good point-of-contact and could help make this event happen.   According to Ryan, “After doing some brainstorming, we came up with the idea, ‘why not have it [the concert] at Ft. Pickett?'”   This put the ball in motion.   However, it needed to be passed off to Horton, who worked as the liaison and set-up a meeting with Col. David N. Dunn, post commander of the Maneuver Training Center (MTC) at Ft. Pickett.


After going over the legalities and meeting the necessary requirements, the concert was becoming a reality.


The association had the location, however, they still needed the funding. They had a big job in front of them.   “Since the association is a non-profit organization, funding for the event depended solely on donations and sponsorships,” said Ryan.   Flyers were posted around the community and surrounding counties. Ads were placed in several newspapers and people were spreading the news of the concert to friends and family. The association was able to use air-spots on local radio stations as well.


After a lot of legwork, the association managed to obtain 48 sponsors who contributed a $100.00 or more in support of the troops. In addition, Gus Mitchelle, of Mitchelle's Restaurant located on Main St. in downtown Blackstone, Va. supplied food and refreshments. Nottaway County Volunteer Rescue Squad was readily available on the premises in case of any emergencies and Headquarter State Area Command, Detachment 7, Mobilization and Training Equipment Site's (MATES) unit, brought several pieces of heavy armored equipment to the airfield for a stand-alone display. The public was welcomed to tour the display.    


The concert began around 2 o'clock on a sunny, but heated afternoon.   By 4 o'clock, the parking area was filling up with vehicles. A surge of bodies entered the hanger to escape the unrelenting heat and enjoy some good, old-fashioned, bluegrass music.   As the crowd grew, the sound of applause grew and echoed onto the airfield. The talent included the “Allen's Mill” band, which included 4 members, “In The Tradition” a six-member band, and an all-girl-band called “New Girls Nite Out.”   Each group did two sets with a short intermission between each act. All donated their time for free.


A bluegrass DJ legend, known throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, was in attendance and was sitting back enjoying the show. Henry Fulcher with WFLO Radio Station in Farmville, Va., knows bluegrass music. Fulcher, who has been a, DJ, for more than 47 years, said he was honored to be there.   Fulcher, as a young boy, suffered from the crippling disease, Polio. He was never able to join the military due to his condition. However, his brothers both joined and served for several years. “I looked up to my brothers for choosing to join the military, said Fulcher.   “I remember when my brother, James, couldn't wait till he turned seventeen so he could go off and fight for his country.   I wasn't able to go physically, but I was there mentally.”   Touched by his own memories of war, he added “I know there were soldiers that could have been me [if able], that died for our country. I still get goose bumps when I think about it.”          


As far as Fulcher is concerned, bluegrass music has a tendency of evoking similar thoughts, “Bluegrass music is about life's problems and triumphs. He added, “It arrived after years of Americans playing it on their front porches. The music is about family and that's what our military is here to defend, our family.”   Fulcher concluded by saying that we need to be proactive concerning our troops.   “The general media is always waiting for an opportunity to put them [the military] in a bad light. We need to support them,” said Fulcher.      


The National Guard's history consists of being our homeland security. They defend our borders and support all federal missions that are bestowed upon them. They are civilians just like you and me, however, when our country calls, they have to put on a different uniform, the one that protects us from our enemies and keeps us safe.   


“We look forward to having more events for our troops in the future,” said Horton.


As night fell on the airfield, the final act went on. Allen's granddaughter, 12-year-old, Brianna J. Wickizer, ended the concert with ‘God Bless America.”      

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