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7:30 - until - Free Admission (Donations Accepted)
Contact James Ford at 910-895-6253
Ford's Bluegrass Mill: Man's
dream comes alive, spreads tradition
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By Mary Katharine Ham/Richmond
County Daily Journal
can hear it in the air outside the high walls of Ford's Bluegrass Mill.
The wooden door squeaks open and the sound gets louder - a high
explosion of notes from the fiddle, the twang of hard-plucked banjo
strings and the metallic clack, rasp, clack, rasp of clogging shoes on
That's more than the sound of a good, old-fashioned country time. It's
the sound of tradition being passed down.
on stage at Ford's Bluegrass Mill, 12-year-old Little Joe Grooms plays
his banjo in the same band with his father, Big Joe Grooms, on upright
In the back of the large building, James Ford watches from
afar as his daughter and granddaughter clog together on the dance
floor. The air carries the scent of popcorn popped by his wife,
Phyllis, for the mill's guests. Above him is a dropped ceiling he put
in, twenty feet below the rafters of the feed mill that used to house
the Ford family business.
Now it houses Ford's dream. A
long-time bluegrass fan and musician, Ford finally filled the old feed
mill with music in December 2002. At its year anniversary, the mill is
bringing in a couple bands every Friday night and about 125 guests from
all over the state, he said.
Admission is by donation only right
now, he said, and he designed the place for families, he said. There's
no smoking allowed inside and he doesn't sell alcohol, so that everyone
can come enjoy the music he loves.
"It tells about real life,
when times are hard, when times are good," Ford said. "There's quite a
few young people who want to learn and we just want to pass it on."
Some come to play
Ford's idea for building the bluegrass mill was simple - give people a
safe place to listen to live music.
It worked. Now they come every Friday to listen, to play and to dance.
Joe Grooms is one of those who comes to play. He's been playing the
banjo for about five years. At 7 years old, he heard a "Smoky Mountain
Christmas" tape of his mom's and got hooked on the sound of bluegrass
and the instrument.
"I just liked the sound. It's just different," Grooms said.
liked it enough that his parents got him a banjo for Christmas and he
started taking lessons. His bandmates and most of his audience have
been listening to bluegrass longer than Grooms has been alive, but it
doesn't seem to faze him when he's on stage.
He stands in one
spot, a baseball cap pulled down on his eyes, his face serious, and
plays solos for the hall like it's nothing. The little banjo player is
a crowd favorite, but he doesn't let the cheering get in the way of his
plucking. Even when Dueling Banjos sounds like it is speeding out of
his hands, Grooms is calm.
Joe caught the bluegrass
bug, his whole family went with him. Big Joe picked up a bass about a
year ago so he could pick with his son and Luke, 8, is already playing
the mandolin," Big Joe said. "I can't get him up on stage yet."
Dotson, who plays the other part to Little Joe's dueling banjo, has
been playing guitar since he was 10, he said, and listening to
bluegrass since he was 20. He sings lead and plays guitar in the same
band with the Groomses, Appalachian Sound.
"I'm glad this place opened up ..." he said. "It's a family deal out
here. Anybody who wants to come out can."
brings his 12-year-old daughter Kortni with him. She's tried the guitar
and fiddle, but neither has worked for her, she said. Instead, she
sticks to dancing.
Outback is usually on the
stage every Friday night. Visit their website.
Some come to dance
the Ford Bluegrass Mill, there is only one dance - clogging. Some
people dance in lines, some in couples, but it's all a variation on the
traditional Appalachian dance, which originated in North Carolina.
Ford, James' daughter, used to travel with her father to bluegrass gigs
all over the state. She used to ride in the back seat of the car up
under his huge upright bass, she said.
She taught herself to
clog as a kid, naturally learning the old dance, kicking her feet to
the driving rhythm of fast bluegrass songs. Since the bluegrass mill
opened, she's taught her daughter Hannah, 7, to clog too.
"It took me about two weeks to teach her how and she was rollin' after
that," Michelle said.
proves it on the floor, her blond hair bouncing up and down as she and
her mom show off the family talent side-by-side. Kortni Dotson, who has
grown up around bluegrass because of her dad, is just learning to clog.
She gets tips from Michelle as her dad's band plays Rocky Top on stage.
and Hannah wear shoes with metal taps on the bottoms. As they bounce to
the rhythm, their shoes add the noise of a band of spoon-players to
But Hannah has other aspirations. She plans to become quite the
mandolin player, she said.
going to be the next Rhonda Vincent," she announced on a break from
dancing, referring to the three-time bluegrass female vocalist of the
Paul "Doc" Little, 63, has missed only three Fridays the
whole year since the mill's been open, he said. He comes dressed to the
nines, with a black and white Western-style shirt and a matching
belt-buckle and clean, white clogging shoes.
When he clogs, he
does it with the precision of a tap dancer, letting the metal taps on
his shoes accent the music on stage. He's never taken a lesson, though
his performance draws applause from the crowd. He just does what he
feels, he said.
"I love fast bluegrass music," Little said. "I
grew up with it and it grew into me and I still got it ... Sometimes it
brings tears to me."
It takes him back to his young days in
Rockingham, when live music was just part of the family. Almost all of
his dad's side of the family played an instrument, he said.
tell you what it reminds me - an old barn dance. It has that
atmosphere," he said. "I've been waiting quite a few years for
something like this to open."
So have James Ford and his bandmate Gene Sizemore, who have been
playing together for about four years.
the only kind of music there is," Sizemore said. "I was listening to
bluegrass when the other kids were listening to rock n' roll."
The same is true of Little Joe Grooms, but bluegrass is important to
him because it's part of where he came from.
"That's what country families listen to, I reckon," he said as he
hefted his banjo case into the back of the Grooms' van.
dad shuts the trunk on another gig for the young musician just as the
wide wooden door of Ford's Bluegrass Mill swings open again, spilling
the sound of tradition out into the night air.
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