Just a Man and a Guitar: Vince Gill, Bill Kirchen at Wayne Henderson Festival

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A big crowd braved Virginia’s highest mountain on a rainy and sometimes stormy Summer Solstice at the 2014 Wayne Henderson Festival and were rewarded with an intimate afternoon with a couple of guys and their guitars. Vince Gill headlined the day and came to the stage with just an acoustic guitar. In a touching and casual set, he told stories about friends, family and fans before each song.

Early in the show, he sang the lovely Face of an Angel was written about his wife Amy Grant.

Gill’s down-to-earth personality came through in stories about the songs he wrote after the loss of his father and brother.

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His voice rang through the mountain with beautifully sad ballads. Just Vince and an acoustic guitar. The connection with the audience was deeply personal.

Liza Jane is a fun number with a great beat. This Old Guitar and Me was introduced with the story about how he acquired his pre-war Martin guitar. He told about the seller asking if he could buy the $2,500 guitar. “’Helllll no,’” I told him,” Gill said, with a sweet accent. He eventually worked a trade of his newer guitar and all the money he had. He left the transaction “flat broke” but with an old Martin that he still has today.

He wrapped up the set with Go Rest High on that Mountain. So very sad but such a lovely song. He’s a powerful singer and the lack of a backup band highlighted the strength of his songwriting and his voice.

It’s worth noting that Country Hall of Famer Vince Gill was the lead singer with Pure Prairie League early in his career and his bio says he declined Mark Knopler’s offer to join Dire Straits. He’s recorded with the greats of country, bluegrass and Americana and his latest album is a tribute to Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Finally, a country star that really gets country.

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Earlier in the afternoon, Bill Kirchen came out, also armed with just a guitar. He is best known as a member of Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen. Yes, he’s the guy behind that famous lick in Hot Rod Lincoln. The set showed why Guitar Player magazine called him “The Titan of The Telecaster.” He did a rousing rockabilly set including Down to Stems and Seeds blues and Hammer of the Honkey Tonk Gods.

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Then he lured Wayne Henderson out for some Milk Cow Blues. Wayne brought a Henderson guitar and Kirchen switched to a yellow trombone.

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After the song, Wayne gave the new guitar to Kirchen. One of the perks (or maybe it’s the payment) for playing the festival seems to be a new Henderson guitar.

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The Snyder Family band did a great set as well. Their strong brand of bluegrass is tight and they are a lot of fun. Their little brother joined them for Wayfaring Stranger and he did a great job! The older brother is a wonderful picker and the sister is a strong fiddle player.
Wayne Henderson is a renowned luthier and fingerpicker.

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For 20 years, he’s hosted this wonderful little festival on the highest mountain in Virginia – all to benefit traditional music programs for children in Appalachian Virginia and North Carolina. His “Wayne and Friends” jam set opened with his daughter Jane, pictured above. His sets usually include young performers, many of the same ones winning scholarships to help with their lessons or trips to music camps.

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Two young girls did Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire with Vince Gill sitting at the edge of the stage, singing along quietly.

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The jam also included Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow with Wayne, Gerald Anderson (another Virginia luthier) and Bill Kirchen on guitar with Vince Gill helping with vocals. Definitely worth the rain!

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Like many festivals, the artists were very accessible. Vince Gill visited with fans and posed for pictures for a long time after his show. Bill Kirchen walked around and talked with fans as did the other performers. Also, a raffle is done for a Henderson guitar. This one was special, made from the same wood as Eric Clapton’s Henderson. Reportedly worth $35,000, it was won on a $50 raffle ticket by a lucky guy from Texas.

Grayson Highlands State Park is an amazing place, even without music going on. Last year, with better weather, we hiked afterwards and saw the wild ponies.

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