Concert revives flavor of old-time country gathering
Bluegrass, gospel, country music draws crowd in outdoor school venue
As evening temperatures cooled and the lighting dimmed, the voices of Cody Cantwell, Gary Cook and Wyatt Clevenger blended in the air in the grove of trees next to the historic Kings Prairie school on Saturday. The vocalists of Spur of the Moment, the Monett-area bluegrass band, mixed their lyrics with fiddle, guitar, banjo, mandolin and bass. As the evening light faded, cicadas in the nearby trees joined in the singing.
More than 200 people gathered on the grounds for the 15th annual Kings Prairie Benefit Concert, raising funds to support the maintenance of the school building, now used by the rural community as a community center.
Just gathering on the school grounds provided a homecoming for many former residents of the neighborhood.
"I came here to school 75 years ago," said Noralee Faulkner, daughter of Lois and Raymond Phariss. "My mother walked me here."
Faulkner's mother, who turned 100 this month and lives in Springfield, accompanied her daughter to the concert. "We lived here for 58 years," Phariss said. "This is like coming home again."
The concert celebrated the music of past decades in the country, focusing on gospel, bluegrass, folk and classic country. For 13 years, Kings Prairie resident Al Brumley Jr. organized the concert, finding performers through his connections cultivated through growing up the son of gospel music giant Albert E. Brumley and performing for years in Branson.
Brumley returned this year as a performer, in better health than in the past two years. With recorded accompaniment, he sang several of his father's classics written in the 1930s, including "Amazing Grace, the Sweetest Song I Know," "There's a Little Pine Log Heaven," "Rank Strangers" and the most recorded of all gospel songs, "I'll Fly Away."
Since Brumley's retirement, John Hile, with the Revelators gospel group, has taken up the duties of festival organizer. This year, Hile used his own sound equipment for the concert. Hile's ensemble, with wife Wilma and daughter Tiffany, melded their voices in a spirited six-number set to open the concert. They preached the gospel message in songs such as "I'm Saved," "He's Forgiven," "The Cross is Now Empty" and "Homesick."
Due to other engagements by the performers, the concert started at 5:30 p.m. and continued until nearly 9 p.m. This year's concert was dedicated to the memory of Malcolm Mosby, who provided the sound system for the concert for 13 years. Mosby's father, Albert, played fiddle with Brumley's father, who wrote most of the gospel songs in Powell in the 1930s. Al Brumley Jr. introduced Mosby's grandsons Colby and Caleb in announcing the dedication.
"Malcolm's niche was working with old-style music," Caleb said. "This was his ministry. Keep it going on his behalf."
Marvin Carney, from Purdy, combined his slide guitar skills with a group of musicians headed by Jim Ed Harvey for a more traditional country music ensemble sound. Marcelle Craig joined the group with vocals for the first country and western song by a woman to sell a million copies, "I Want to be a Cowboy Sweetheart" from 1935. With vocals shared among the performers, the group toured the musical landscape from the bluegrass classic "Ashes of Love" from 1951, "Send a Message to my Heart" by Patty Loveless and Dwight Yoakum from 2010, to Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" and "I Love Classic Country," a song that critiques modern country music songs and even the dress of performers.
The four-person ensemble the Flyn' Buzzards took the stage next for a 12-song mix of bluegrass, country, gospel and folk styles. They ranged from "Dooley," a folk music revival classic to celebrations of country life such as "Fishin' in the Dark," "Bury Me Beneath the Willow" and "Old Country Church." Frances Ennis, who sang on the Ozark Jubilee, joined the ensemble wearing a "Mother Buzzard" T-shirt to join in singing the gospel song "I Will Follow Thee."
Closing the night belonged to the fast picking licks of Spur of the Moment. This five-man ensemble ramped up the tempo on hot paced instrumentals like Flatt and Scruggs' "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," showcasing fiddler Steve Jordan, to bluegrass showpiece "Forty Years of Trouble," with Gary Cook on vocals. Guitarist Ronnie Hedrick added his vocal impression of a train whistle on "Old 97" and Merle Haggard's "Rambling Fever." Gospel classic "Beulah Land" and the hard-driving "Rueben" brought the night's music to an end.
According to Larry and Jacquetta Hyde, from the organizing committee, around $1,200 was raised for support of the community facility.
The next major project on the grounds, organizers said, will be construction of bathroom facilities, having finished digging a well, installing plumbing and building the concession building.