Bluegrass music event moves to Spain Park

HOOVER – The sounds of guitars and banjos drifted through Spain Park High School on Saturday, March 4, as the facility hosted the Alabama Bluegrass Music Association’s 20th Annual Showcase of Bands.

The event featured performances throughout the day, impromptu jam sessions, food and more.

ABMA President David Boley said this year was the first for the event to be held somewhere other than the Bessemer Civic Center.

Spain Park offers a larger facility, better acoustics and a more convenient location, Boley said.

“The response so far has been great,” Boley said about the move.

The day began with workshops focusing on all of the traditional bluegrass instruments: mandolin, guitar, acoustic bass, dobro, fiddle and banjo.

Professional instructors taught the hour-and-a-half-long workshops, which were free for ABMA members and $20 for non-members.

Food was offered by Bluegrass Barbeque and included meat-and-three options in addition to barbecue.

The ability to offer different food options was another reason for moving the event, Boley said. At the former location, only simple concessions were offered.

“You can’t eat a hot dog twice a day, in my opinion,” Boley said.

Boley is also the executive director of the Alabama Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and said that four of the 17 total inductees to the Hall performed at the Showcase.

One of those inductees who performed at the event was Jake Landers, who played with Iron Horse to cap off the evening as the last group to take the stage.

Among other accomplishments, Landers, an Alabama native, wrote “Walk Softly On My Heart,” which was recorded by Bill Monroe and later the Kentucky Headhunters in a different version.

Boley said ABMA’s purpose is to promote and educate people about bluegrass music, and noted Alabama’s importance to the genre.

“We’ve got a pretty rich history,” Boley said.

Performers and attendees came from across Alabama and several other states.

Farren Bates and Tuscaloosa and Bobby George of Pell City were among the attendees who took advantage of pleasant weather by spending time in a school courtyard.

Informal picking sessions were common throughout the day.

George performed on stage with Renfroe Mountain Medicine Show but said he prefers jamming.

“That’s what I like best,” George said. “I’m not as comfortable on stage.”

Bates has not been part of a band for a few years but has played banjo and guitar.

When George said he can play “guitar, bass and whatever else,” Bates joked that he needed a harmonica player next weekend.

“I ain’t got the wind for that anymore,” George laughed.

Bates said there are many “fantastic musicians” in Alabama but added that bluegrass’ greatest appeal is the community it creates.

“It’s all about fun and family,” he said.