MS. REBECCA SHEIR
All right, continuing in the musical vein, we head now from old town Alexandria to the tiny Hamlet of Lucketts, Virginia. Seven miles north of Leesburg, Lucketts is home to an antique store, a gas station, one stop light and a very, very special 40 year musical tradition. Jerad Walker has more.
MR. JERAD WALKER
There's not much to do in Lucketts, Virginia. It's just a small cluster of homes at the crossroads of US Route 15 and Stumptown Road. But on Saturday nights, this intersection becomes a beehive of activity, all centered on the historic Lucketts schoolhouse. This 100-year-old building now serves as a community center, but it's best known as the venue for perhaps the oldest bluegrass concert series in the world.
MR. PAUL GARVIN
Who's to say that it's not some little place buried in the Ozarks that we haven't heard about, but to our knowledge, it is.
That's Paul Garvin, President of the Lucketts Bluegrass Foundation. This all volunteer, nonprofit organization has been the catalyst behind the series since 2007. But the event can trace its origins to a single person, a local bluegrass musician and promoter named EJ Spence. On a blustery January day more than 40 years ago, Spence ran into the President of the Lucketts Civic Association, on the street, in nearby Leesburg.
They got to talking about the old schoolhouse that had been abandoned when a new elementary school was constructed. And the idea of using the building to put on bluegrass shows came up.
Garvin says the fledgling series likely saved the dilapidated building from falling into total disrepair.
It was in pretty bad shape at the time. Bluegrass was one of things, perhaps the primary thing, that kept it going through a bunch of lean years, but they patched up the broken windows and things like that.
Repairs kept the building functional until the community center underwent a two million dollar renovation two years ago. But Garvin says modernization hasn't changed the intimate feel of the performance hall.
If we have a full house, it's very tightly packed in there. And people put up with that because there's just something about the ambience. It's seven o'clock on Saturday night at the old Luckett's schoolhouse. It's time for bluegrass.
Tonight, the house is packed to the rafters. It's standing room only at the 225 seat venue. While the schoolhouse serves as a dramatic backdrop, Luckett's volunteer and concert emcee Bob Veatch says the crowds are the most important part of the event.
MR. BOB VEATCH
I think one of the reasons the bands like to play here so much is that everybody who comes here comes for the music. Here we're serious about our bluegrass.
Veteran musician Dudley Connell agrees.
MR. DUDLEY CONNELL
The only places that were available for us in the late 70s, early 80s, in the D.C. area, were clubs, night clubs. And, actually, night clubs is a stretch. And the people that came out to see us, they liked the music OK, but they came out to also socialize and to drink and to have a good time and blow off a little steam at the end of the week. Lucketts was this oasis for us. When we went to Lucketts the first time, we were actually shocked that we had an absolute listening crowd. It was thrilling.
That band was The Johnson Mountain Boys, which went on to become one of the most important and popular bluegrass acts of the 1980s. Connell credits those wonderful Lucketts crowds with much of their success.
It enabled us to completely change our show, because we weren't trying to play over the den of beer bottles clinking and people talking. We played to the people that came there to listen to music. It was one of the most important parts of our early career.
When The Johnson Mountain Boys decided to disband in 1987, there was little doubt in Connell's mind where the final show would be held. You chose Lucketts at your final concert. I wanted to ask you why.
Tradition and loyalty. And I couldn't think of a better place to close the door on that band than the place where we started.
The live recording from that show was released as a full length album and eventually garnered a Grammy nomination. While that moment served as a high water mark for Lucketts bluegrass, one that might never be topped, the series is as strong as ever, backed by crowds filled with enthusiastic regulars like Frances Carpenter. What keeps you coming back?
MS. FRANCES CARPENTER
It's just good music. My husband and I generally try to get out here 90 percent of the time, and the entertainment has been fantastic.
Although the crowds are healthy, they skew to an older demographic. Lucketts volunteer and live sound engineer Paul Hope says this presents a long-term dilemma. Where do you see this event moving in the future?
MR. PAUL HOPE
The only way I can see it going forward in the future is if we can find somebody to pass it on to. Because we don't want it to end with us.
Lucketts Bluegrass Foundation President Paul Garvin says his organization is committed to preventing that, even if it means moving away from the traditional style with which Lucketts has long been associated.
I look at the goal as keeping the program going. If it means going away from the traditional stuff and trending more towards the contemporary, we're gonna have to do that.
Garvin and the other volunteers realize that the event itself has become a tradition. It transcends the music. And just maybe, with a little bit of luck, and a lot of hard work, the old schoolhouse will be filled for 40 more years of Saturday nights. I'm Jerad Walker.
Jerad Walker hosts "Open Mic" on WAMU's Bluegrass Country at 105.5 FM and 88.4 HD Channel 2 in Washington, D.C. He'll be airing the first show from the 40th season of the Lucketts Bluegrass Concert Series on the 14th and on the 20th. For more information, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
After the break, we'll hear about a new take on a tried and true theatrical tradition.
MS. JUDITH IVEY
Obviously, the structure of "Our Town" is what Darrah used to write "Our Suburb," but it wasn't a copy cat.
And we'll go knocking around the region in another installment of our "Door to Door" series. That's all coming up on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5
Transcripts of WAMU programs are available for personal use. Transcripts are provided "As Is" without warranties of any kind, either express or implied. WAMU does not warrant that the transcript is error-free. For all WAMU programs, the broadcast audio should be considered the authoritative version. Transcripts are owned by WAMU 88.5 American University Radio and are protected by laws in both the United States and International law. You may not sell or modify transcripts or reproduce, display, distribute, or otherwise use the transcript, in whole or in part, in any way for any public or commercial purpose without the express written permission of WAMU. All requests for uses beyond personal and noncommercial use should be referred to (202) 885-1200.