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Toe-tapping galore in Coal Grove Monday

COAL GROVE – The sound of banjos, fiddles, guitars and a host of people filled Paul Porter Park Monday night as a part of the Coal Grove Betterment Club’s fund raising event.

Tuesday, September 04, 2001

COAL GROVE – The sound of banjos, fiddles, guitars and a host of people filled Paul Porter Park Monday night as a part of the Coal Grove Betterment Club’s fund raising event.

With lyrics like, "Corn won’t grow at all on Rocky Top, dirt’s too rocky by far – That’s why all the folks on Rocky Top get their corn from a jar," it’s easy to see why the few hundred people couldn’t stop tapping feet and singing along.

Conn Sparks has been singing and playing bluegrass music for the better part of three decades and continues to be swept by the music. He and his group, "The Ohio Valley Boys," played several sets of standard bluegrass and gospel tunes.

Sparks said he learned to play by watching others. His tenacity and love for the music has taken him all over the area performing bluegrass. He also had made appearances on the Bill Monroe show and had an opportunity to join Monroe on the road.

Sparks explained bluegrass music is based on "a lot" of improvisation work and harmony. Once band members decide what song they want to play and what key to play it in, the music becomes a give-and-take between the different instruments, each one getting a chance to play the melody of the song and then trading off with another musician.

Charlie Love, a banjo player, has also played bluegrass and gospel music for over 30 years. As with most bluegrass players, he picked up the music listening to others.

"I used to listen to (Lester) Flatt and (Earl) Scruggs records" Love said. He added, "I used to sit in my daddy’s school bus all night and play because I would drive’em nuts in the house."

Both musicians said they have noticed an increase in popularity in bluegrass music, especially among younger people. With musicians such as Ricky Scaggs and Alison Kraus and Union Station, younger generations, Sparks said, have a link where they are listening to traditional bluegrass tunes.

Hollywood has also provided another link to bluegrass. The movie, "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou" starring George Clooney has brought bluegrass into the limelight, featuring several bluegrass and gospel tunes.

The idea of combining bluegrass with Hollywood dates back before George Clooney ever made a screen debut, though. Love said he and a group headed by Hylo Brown brought the music to movie-goers back in the day of the drive-in theater. "We would climb on top of the theater" Love said and "play a whole show."

Back then, as with now, movie watchers appreciated the bluegrass entertainment. "Everybody was in their cars so in order to applause they flashed their lights and honked their horns."