Promptly at 6 p.m., Red Bridge began its bluegrass set, sending a shower of banjo notes from Mark Zimmerman into the air to open "Shuckin' the Corn." Group leader Larry Mayfield on lead guitar provided lead vocals on numbers like "I Wonder Where You Are Tonight" and "Little Mountain Church House."
Warren Hull on mandolin and Alan Young on resophonic guitar and fiddle propelled the ensemble's traditional sound. Mary Mayfield, playing bass, jumped in on vocals for "Just Any Day Now," framed around a cascade of mandolin and banjo accompaniment. Larry and Mary Mayfield blended their voices on several of the group's dozen selections.
To close in upbeat upbeat bluegrass style, the band cut loose on "Panhandle Rag." Larry Mayfield showed off the melody on the first run-through, turning the tune over to Hull on mandolin, Zimmerman on banjo and then Young on the resophonic guitar. One final take brought in all the instruments, showing off their solo licks simultaneously for big romp.
This year's show was dedicated to the memory of Louella Helmkamp, one of the festival team's founding organizers who served as committee secretary and coordinated pie sales. Helmkamp died during the past year. Her daughter, Linda Hammons, and son, Sam Helmkamp, appeared on stage with festival organizer Al Brumley Jr. for a tribute. Brumley also offered a tip of the hat to Vedas Davis, who had the original idea for the annual music event.
Brumley, who announced he was planning to retire from performing soon, offered a set of songs to showcase the work of his father, gospel music titan Albert E. Brumley. He opened with the 1937 song "Turn Your Radio On," playing along on guitar with additional accompaniment by award winning guitarist and songwriter Dwayne Friend.
Brumley continued "Amazing Grace, the Sweetest Song I Know" with an added taped bluegrass accompaniment. He then gave single verse versions of "If We Never Meet Again This Side of Heaven" and "I'll Meet You in the Morning."
Friend played Chet Atkins' instrumental, "Bells of St. Mary's," the first song Friend learned to play in the Atkins style, displaying Friend's polish from a lifetime of guitar playing. Tapping into the audience's nostalgia, Friend then asked audience members if they recalled their days in a rural school with eight grades taught at once in one room, or getting a new pair of shoes from the Sears Roebuck catalogue. There were voices responding in the crowd as Friend described scrubbing clothes on a washboard in a #2 galvanized steel tub in the back yard under a walnut tree.
Then Friend jumped into one of his best known songs, "Let's Go Eat," a favorite post-church song often performed at the festival by Speedy Haworth, part of the Happy Goodmans with whom Friend has performed.
Brumley sang "Glory To God, He Set Me Free" and "Blessed Jesus, Hold My Hand." With a recorded accompaniment by Merle Haggard, Brumley sang a song he wrote with the late Dale Best, "That Road Down the Road a Ways." He closed with two of his father's best known songs, "Rank Strangers" and "I'll Fly Away."
Dewayne Bowman and four members of his band, Swingin' West, took the stage at 7:30 p.m. With a big infectious laugh, Bowman launched his group with "Remington Ride," written by Bob Wills' steel guitar player, Herbie Remington. The big sound of the five-member Western swing band was quickly apparent with Bowman on lead guitar, Johnny Henderson on steel guitary, Ernie Reid on electric fiddle, Gary Hill on rhythm guitar and Ronnie Bleacker on drums.
The band's driving sound captivated the crowd in a set that lasted for 19 songs over 85 minutes. The mood ventured into classic country melancholy with Faron Young's song "Face to the Wall," about a boyfriend's photo turned around while another man took his place, and Bob Wills' "Misery." Songs like Dave Owens' "Everything's Rosy Down at the Cosy Inn," "Same Old Me" and a Western swing version of "No Teardrops Tonight" rebounded with an irrepressible spirit.
Bowman closed with Ray Price's "The Night Life" as a slow ballad, then took an upbeat stance with a Western swing version of the "American Bandstand" theme song.
Donations raised $1,200, in addition to concession sales. Proceeds will be used on maintenance and improvements on the grounds of the historic Kings Prairie school. The festival began as an effort to develop the site into an active community center. Over the years, a well has been dug for new bathrooms. The next step will be to erect a building for the bathrooms.
Donations of materials and labor are now being sought for the project. Construction could begin as early as this fall with additional pledges of support. Anyone interested in helping is asked to contact Larry Hyde at 235-7860.