March 29, 2010 by wcobserver
40 Years and Still Picking
There is a well-kept secret that lies between West Fork and Winslow. Some people have lived around here their whole lives and never been and others like Jana Eylands, a newcomer to Winslow, have already discovered it. You can’ find it in your GPS. Forget about doing a MapQuest.
It’s called Brentwood Bluegrass and its location isn’t the only thing that is a little mysterious. Nobody really knows who is coming to play until they show up on the first and third Saturdays of every month. But one thing is for certain: Brentwood Bluegrass is a slice of genuine Americana and you’d be hard-pressed to find more toe-tapping bluegrass music on a Saturday night for $3.00. If you go, you’ll soon realize the building is filled with rich history, the bands have wonderful stories and the audience is warm and loyal.
Just 1.1 miles past the rest stop on Hwy 71 South between West Fork and Winslow, lies the Brentwood Community Building. Built in 1927, the building originally served as a 2-room school house until the 1950’s. Since then, the building has fallen into disrepair, been rescued by a dedicated group of community volunteers and now serves as the home for a church, Brentwood Bluegrass, and community events.
If you’ve never experienced Brentwood Bluegrass, you’ll soon learn it’s a family affair. Many of the bands are comprised of family members, close and distant relatives as well as first and second generations. On Saturday night, seven bands performed three and a half hours of bluegrass music. Some have been coming to Brentwood for as many as 40 years and consider their fellow musicians family. Many of these seasoned musicians first played for an audience at Brentwood years ago.
Christine Talley is one of those people. “I was 15 the first time I sang on stage here,” she recalls. Talley then played in a band with her two brothers, Richard and Ted Price and a banjo player named Mark Bair from 1978-1981. In those days, the Brentwood Community Building was still heated with a wood stove and had no plumbing; there was an outhouse. Talley has recently returned to Brentwood after living away for 30 years. She now plays in a band with her husband, Tony.
Her former band member, Mark Bair, has also rediscovered Brentwood and treks from Pryor, Oklahoma to join his son Rex to perform. Rex is a mechanical engineering student at the University of Arkansas and just began playing mandolin last year. There are six members in their Yonder Creek Moonshine Gang which also include his brother and his cousin Alex Brown, also a student at the University of Arkansas. “It’s a real treat to come down here. I didn’t come for 30 years. Rex wanted to play and I got back into it,” says Mark Bair. Rex adds, “I’m getting to see my Dad and brother a lot more. It’s something we all love doing.”
Probably one of the longest playing bands at Brentwood Bluegrass is Brush Creek Bluegrass. “We’ve been playing here over 40 years. It’s the best bluegrass you’ll find anywhere. It isn’t any better in Nashville,” says John Summey, the band’s patriarch since 1969. He adds, “We play in all the states, around the US, bluegrass festivals, churches, you name it.” His wife of 53 years, Charlene, writes many of the band’s songs and plays guitar. Her sister, Ellie (who many say is in her 80’s) plays bass and Roger Adams plays the banjo.
Donnie Dutton is also a long-timer at Brentwood; he’s been playing there since the early 1970’s. Now retired, Dutton was the dean of the School of Continuing Education at the University of Arkansas. “I found some people who played bluegrass and found the best place to play with them was in Brentwood. I just love bluegrass music. You pick, play, laugh and have fun.” On Saturday night, his band, Crossfire, was missing a couple of its members, including its lead singer. That didn’t stop him; he played over three hours in the neighboring “warm up” room with musicians, some who showed up just to jam.
And that seems to be part of the magic of Brentwood. You don’t have to have a band and you don’t have to be a professional to be a part of the music. Tim and Karen Hill got their start at Brentwood at a time when neither played an instrument. Tim had first come to Brentwood Bluegrass when he was in the first grade in 1968. Years later, he came back with his wife, Karen as audience members. Both had “done a little singing at church” and while on a trip, bought a Ricky Skaggs CD and began singing some of the songs on the CD.
The next time they came to Brentwood they were lured to the stage to sing one of those songs. “We were asked to sing with another band and did and were bitten by the bug. Nine years later, we’ve got a band,” says Tim Hill of his band, New Highway, which has six members. Tim now plays guitar and Karen plays bass.
While no one seems to remember the exact date, Emily Davis of West Fork recalls that she and her husband, Tommy, started Brentwood Bluegrass over 40 years ago. A scrapbook of older and newer photographs shows that the Davises were a cornerstone of Brentwood Bluegrass right up until Tommy Davis’s death about a year ago.
“My husband and some of the guys wanted a place to go, to sit around and do a jam session. They started practicing in that building. People got to coming in to listen to them and it spread word of mouth. People suggested we do a floor show and we did,” says Emily Davis. She later learned to play the guitar and she and her husband formed Misty Mountain Bluegrass, recording three albums and traveling the bluegrass circuit.
Brentwood Bluegrass has seen its ups and downs over the past 40 years; there were stretches of years when there was no music. In 2001, Troy and Beverly Stout, of West Fork, unknowingly re-launched Brentwood Bluegrass when they had a benefit to raise money to repair the building’s leaking roof. Neither of the Stouts are musicians. “I have a love for the building; my mother went to school here”, says Beverly Stout. The benefit led the Stouts to apply for and receive a $15,000 federal matching grant. “One thing led to another: the roof, indoor bathroom, and a dining room,” says Troy Stout. He adds, “We liked the music and everything went together.”
Brentwood Bluegrass is held the first and third Saturdays of every month, October through May. Admission is $3.00; children under 12 are free. Performances begin at 7 pm. It isn’t hard to get to; it’s located on Hwy 71 between West Fork and Winslow. A concession wagon serves everything from cheeseburger to Frito pie, including sno-cones.