Band carries on a bluegrass tradition

While fairgoers wander the grounds, the music plays on.
Tuesday, August 17, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:36 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 8, 2008

SEDALIA — In the Women’s Building at the Missouri State Fair, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources displays maps and models that show the location of state parks and reflect the quality of the state’s air and water. Outside, on the front porch, five musicians demonstrate another Missouri natural resource: bluegrass music.

Under a small tent, listeners sit on benches facing a wide porch and tall white columns. The band, in dark pants and light-blue shirts, plays traditional bluegrass and takes requests from the audience while fairgoers peruse attractions in the building.

A boy walks by between songs and talks to the band through the porch banister. The band leader throws a guitar pick down to the boy.

“You learn to play guitar, all right?” he advises.

The Bluegrass Five are part of the fair’s Front Porch Entertainment series, which runs through the end of the fair and features several acoustic music acts, a wetland animal display and scientific demonstrations. All events are organized by the DNR and take place on the porch of the Women’s Building.

The band plays old bluegrass standards and sings in four-part harmony about love, loss, home and faith.

“We learned to play on the porch when I was a little boy,” band leader Harold Rowden said.

Rowden started The Bluegrass Five in the early 1960s. The group of native central Missourians has been a living resource for old-time music ever since and has made seven albums. It entertains at events around the state and will play at the Dixon Bluegrass Festival over Labor Day weekend.

Group members are Rowden on guitar; Allen Gage on banjo, Joey Wieneman on fiddle; J.D. Fritchey on mandolin and Leisa Jones, Fritchey’s daughter, on bass.

“We make our own music. We do traditional stuff,” Fritchey said. “You’d think people would get tired of it.”

But people don’t grow tired of The Bluegrass Five.

“We make a special trip every year to hear them,” said Virginia Dove of Appleton City. Bob Wieneman, father of fiddler Joey Wieneman, believes bluegrass belongs at the state fair because it’s family entertainment.

“It’s old-timey,” he said. “Our grandparent’s grew up to it with square-dance and fiddle.”

Joey Wieneman is part of a younger generation maintaining the musical traditions of previous generations.

Rowden agrees bluegrass music belongs at the fair because both are state traditions.

“It’s original American music,” Rowden said.

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