Rodeheaver Boys Ranch

This appeared in the Palatka Daily News - October 14, 2008

Marty Stuart put an exclamation point on the first Palatka Fall Bluegrass Festival with two hand-clapping, foot-stomping performances and, in return, got something he may not have been expecting: A pleasant return to the roots of a career that has made him a Grand Ole Opry star with a string of country and western hits he has recorded or written.

As always, dressed in black as a tribute to Johnny Cash, his late former father-in-law, Stuart and his band put on a pair of 45-minute bluegrass sets that brought the older, normally placid audience to life.

His band played such standards as "Rawhide," "Cripple Creek," "Ridin' the Bluegrass Express," "Unseen Hand" and a Travis Tritt hit written by Stuart called "The Whiskey Ain't Workin'."

After he exited the stage, Stuart was welcomed by a throng of fans asking to have their pictures made with him, to get an autograph or just to exchange pleasantries.

"That was nice, really nice," the 50-year-old Stuart said. "It was like I was telling one of the guys as we were leaving the stage - that brought back a lot of memories."

"There used to be a Sunday park circuit ... where they had a lot of places kind of like this. They had them just about every weekend and I played a lot of them. It was real down to earth, nothing pretentious about it.

"It brought the artists and the fans together."

While Stuart was playing, many of the other acts left the booths where they were peddling their CDs and tapes and mingling with the fans, and moved closer to watch him play.

Among those was Little Roy Lewis, himself a bluegrass legend. As Stuart whaled on his mandolin, he looked toward Lewis, smiled, and said affectionately, "Take that, Little Roy," paying homage to his colleague's reputation as a world-class picker.

"I love the small-town atmosphere and I appreciate Mr. (Norman) Adams giving me the chance to play some bluegrass," he said. "I make my living playing country, but I'm one of the biggest fans there is of bluegrass and I love playing it.

"I'm from a small town, Philadelphia, Mississippi, and the first time I ever saw bluegrass was when the Lewis Family played there when I was just a little boy."

Stuart was the unquestioned headliner during the first fall festival at Rodeheaver and is perhaps the biggest name to appear here including the four winter events that have made Palatka one of the top venues in bluegrass.

The fall festival was put together in little more than six months, with promoter Adams and the Rodeheaver staff deciding only in mid-March to go forward.

"It was great for the first one," said Adams, considered by many fans and performers alike to be the top promoter in the genre. " ... It takes a while for these things to take root, but the first one here was an exception. We had a full year to prepare for it.

"We didn't have as much time to advertise this one. After we made the decision, we had to make sure the talent was available."

Landing Stuart, the pouffy-haired country star, might have been the linchpin, but there were a lot of other bona fide big-name bluegrass stars: two-time entertainers of the year The Grascals, the Lewis Family, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, two-time female vocalist of the year Dale Ann Bradley and Bobby Osborne and the Rocky Top X-Press.

By Bob Mayes

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