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A step back into the past

East Carter High School Band Alumni performing with Bluegrass Wind Ensemble

Miranda H. Lewis

Carter County Times

Contrary to its name, you won’t be hearing any bluegrass music from the Bluegrass Wind Ensemble.

You will, however, hear a little bit of everything else as the band takes the stage at the Central Park bandstand on June 29 beginning at 7 p.m.

Boyd County High School Band Director, John Johnson, is the director and founder of the ensemble that began circa 2004.

Although the name implies bluegrass, Johnson explained it isn’t representative of the music played.

With a chuckle, he noted that the original band members should have given more thought to the name when they first organized it while students at Morehead State University.

He described the initial formation as a, “bunch of friends that got together once a year to play music.”

“Most of us were from Kentucky and paid homage to our home state through (the) ‘bluegrass’ (name),” he explained.

Although the ensemble has changed throughout the years, the name has stood the test of time.

“It’s changed over the years, as folks have moved around. Some of the original folks are still here and some are new. The roster changes from year to year, this year will be the first concert for many,” he said.

In 2005, the group was invited to perform at the Kentucky Music Educators Association State Conference, which was an honor, Johnson said.

Although such honors were never his intentions, he describes each concert as a “special event”.

“We are just a group of like-minded musicians that want to do something nice for our community,” said a humble Johnson.

After a short hiatus, Johnson felt it was time to reassemble the group in 2021, just in time for Independence Day.

“Music is a good outlet for people and I thought that would be the perfect time for the group to get back together, ” he said. “A free concert in central park where all you need is a lawn chair or beach towel to have a good time.”

This year’s concert boasts a 70-member band that hopes to conjure up happy memories of days-gone-by, with a program of patriotic tunes, opera, film score music, typical band music and a little bit of light, classical music.

“Good, old-fashioned Americana, and newer music within the past 100 years or so,” quipped Johnson.

Logan Skidmore, East Carter High School Band Director, joins the ensemble in the percussion section for the third consecutive year.

“The group is top-notch high-level musicians,” said Skidmore. “It’s a lot of fun when you get a large group of players together that put in the work and play lights out.”

“Getting to play along with former students is very rewarding,” he added alluding to the East Carter Raider Band alumni performing with the ensemble.

Skidmore shared that a few of his favorite songs from the group’s performance include a medley from West Side Story and Stars and Stripes Forever.

The concert will also include guest vocalist, Cynthia Sullivan, and Ashland Mayor Matt Perkins will serve as the Master of Ceremonies.

The ensemble will premiere a new piece, a tribute to Southern Hills Garden Club, entitled “Petal Parade”.

The tribute, which Johnson wrote, pays reverence to the gardening club founded in the 1950s.

“This piece was written as a way to say thank you to Southern Hills Garden Club as they are responsible for all of the beautiful landscaping in downtown Ashland,” he said.

Johnson described his new tune as a little less Sousa style and a little more concert march style.

“They are a long-standing club that plays a formidable role in the beautification of Boyd County,” he added.

He hopes “Petal Parade” is reflective of the spirit of hope and optimism that the gardening club provides to the city of Ashland.

Skidmore added that he hopes concert goers come out and experience “something that is a kind of step back into the past”.

“Outdoor band concerts in the community pavilion aren’t very common these days and what better time than over the Fourth of July to get a feel for what used to be a pretty common experience across the country,” he said.

Contact the writer at miranda@cartercountytimes.com

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