By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
It isn’t often you get a Friday night show at Rattlesnake Ridge Community Center. In fact, we haven’t gotten many at all since COVID disrupted their regular seasonal schedule. But this Friday you can scratch your itch for bluegrass on the Ridge with the debut of a new group, East Kentucky Grass.
But while East Kentucky Grass – or EKG for short – might be new, they’re made up of faces you’ll be familiar with if you’ve spent much time at all out on the Ridge, and they have their roots in the COVID pandemic too.
Fiddler Gary Jones, who has also served as a longtime emcee for Rattlesnake Ridge shows, explained that while COVID curtailed a lot of their shows, as restrictions eased he and fellow Rowan County Rambler Denny Wilson wanted to start playing music again, but it looked like the Ramblers wouldn’t be getting back together right away.
“I played with Denny Wilson in the Rowan County Ramblers for 22 or 23 years,” Jones explained. But while the band was out on their COVID hiatus their banjo player was unfortunately stricken with cancer. He’s fighting the disease, but, Jones said, it might be some time before he has the strength to play again.
Fortunately, though, Jones knew another banjo player – Dwight Whitely.
“I had met Dwight six or seven years ago at Rattlesnake Ridge Community Center, and played fiddle with him as he was doing a benefit show,” Jones said. “We stayed in contact and played a few evenings at one of his friend’s homes.”
“As COVID eased off, this past February, Denny and I wanted to begin picking again,” he continued. “In early March, I said, ‘I’ll call Dwight Whitley and see if he’s interested in picking.’ That was good with Denny, and, to our delight, Dwight said, ‘I’m awfully rusty, but would love to get together and see what happens.’”
He said they played together for three evenings, and saw the potential, but they needed a bass player.
“I’ve known Beau Lambert since he was a kid coming to the Rattlesnake Ridge Community Center,” Jones explained. “He heard we needed a bass player and called to say he would like to see how he would fit in.”
After they did, they knew they had the right chemistry.
“We all four got together about a week later and, as the old saying goes, it’s all history now. The four of us get along really well, and I’m so very honored to be in a band with these three fine gentlemen and very talented musicians.”
But they needed a name. Though Jones and Wilson had both been Rowan County Ramblers, Wilson was the only member from Rowan County, with Jones and Lambert – who used to play with the Larry Sparks Band – both hailing from Carter County and Whitley from Elliott.
“Since Denny was now the only member from Rowan County, he thought the name should change,” Jones explained.
He teased that he and Dwight wanted to be Old & In The Way, but since that name was already taken, “Denny came up with East Kentucky Grass, EKG, and we went with it.”
Their premiere show out on Rattlesnake Ridge is this Friday, October 14, with two sets starting at 7 p.m. and going until they run out of steam, or the club kicks them out. Admission is $10 at the door, with concessions available, “including those famous Rattlesnake Ridge hot dogs,” Jones reminded.
For more information contact Jones or reach out to the Rattlesnake Ridge Community Center. Both can be contacted through Facebook.
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