Irish Bluegrass Blogger Richard Hawkins Writes as Guest Blogger Here About Legendary First Lady of Banjo, Roni Stoneman’s Visit to Ireland.

Image635085313864933295   If accounts of the demise of the Bluegrass Ireland Blog (BIB) have been exaggerated,  no one is really to blame but myself: I did say I was retiring from blogging. However, it seemed a good idea to maintain the BIB calendar, so as to keep people aware of continuing events.

   On top of that, friends and others continue to send me news, which deserves to be published. As a result - though I no longer go looking for news to ensure that something appears every day - in the four-and-a-half months since 'retirement' about a hundred new posts have appeared on the BIB, or somewhat under half the previous rate.

   I am very glad that Ray O'Brien - formerly lead singer, guitarist, and bass player with Southern Welfare, a powerful bluegrass band from Waterford city - set up the 'Bluegrass in Ireland' Facebook page(https://www.facebook.com/BluegrassIreland).

   Ray and I frequently swap information; he automatically gets a copy of anything I publish, and it's fair to say that over eighty per cent of the news on his Facebook has previously appeared on the BIB. However, Ray adds photos, videos, links, and other information, and of course other Facebook members contribute their comments, all of which give his site unique value.

   In the last few months, one topic has had at least as much attention and space on the BIB as it would have received Image635085311330308323before 'retirement', and I have no regrets about that. Late last year Tom Connor, husband and agent of the 'First Lady of Banjo', Roni Stoneman (http://www.ronistoneman.com), sent word that he and Roni would be in Britain in May 2013 and would love to visit Ireland as well - not as a formal 'tour', but to see the country, to meet friends and make friends, and for Roni to play for and with people who appreciate the music.

   I had known of Roni since about 1960, when she was already the first woman to have been recorded playing 5-string in Scruggs style. I knew a little about her family's place in old-time, bluegrass, and country music history; her banjo work with the Stoneman Family/Bluegrass Champs in the 1960s; and her long association with the 'Hee Haw' TV series. And her late brother 'Scotty' Stoneman is my all-time favourite bluegrass fiddle player. So there was no doubt that the visit would be a historic occasion.

 Image635085305910468326  On such an occasion, you wish you could put the visiting artist in full concert halls all round Ireland, because that's what someone like Roni deserves. We didn't manage that, but she and Tom were in the east, south, west, and north of the country, and Roni had an honoured place at the 7th Folk and Bluegrass Festival in Westport, Co. Mayo, a town that regularly wins awards for Most Desirable Place to Live in Ireland.


  She was also in the two most highly regarded house-concert venues in Ireland, both in idyllic surroundings - Croc an Oir at Mullinahone, Co. Tipperary, and the Red Room at Cookstown, Co. Tyrone. After she wowed audiences at two Dublin shows, our friend Gerry Fitzpatrick (who organized one of them and ran the sound at the other) composed a dobro instrumental, 'Roni's visit to Dublin', directly afterwards in celebration.

   And of course the schedule was not the most important thing about the trip. Even Roni's take-no-prisoners banjo-playing and her amazing flow of jokes and stories don't explain all her impact. Ellen Wright, in her afterword to Roni's book "Pressing On", mentions "her sense of humor, her intelligence, her compassion, her philosophical turn of mind, and her verbal facility," and these will have been felt by anyone who had more than the briefest contact with Roni. I've been involved with American old-time and bluegrass music for over fifty years, and a few days of listening to her left me feeling closer to the heart of it than ever before. We hope to see Roni and Tom again in Ireland; and if anything wasn't quite right on this trip, we'll get it fixed before next time. 

Ed. Note:  Our thanks to Richard Hawkins for clarification on the status of the Bluegrass Ireland Blog.  You’ll find a link to it on the sidebar here underOther Bluegrass Blogs

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