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Elks’ inaugural bluegrass jamboree proves crowd pleasing

Generations of bluegrass musicians from across the country converged on Hemet for the Hemet Elks’ inaugural Bluegrass Jamboree last weekend.

More than 1,000 people attended, watching 20 acts on two stages over three days in addition to the impromptu music played throughout the venue.

“The quality of the music is incredible,” said Roy Davidson, the Elks stage manager. “The problem next year will be where to put all the people who come.”

Unlike many music festivals held in large grassy fields, the Bluegrass Jamboree musicians played indoors in air-conditioned buildings at the Golden Village Palms Resort. The weather also cooperated with cooler temperatures throughout the weekend for the vendors and portions of the jamboree outside.

Fred LeMasters, one of the jamboree’s organizers and a bluegrass musician himself, said this change was preferred by the performers he talked with.

“We were very blessed with the weather this year. Otherwise people would have stayed home,” LeMasters said.

Jerry Turner, who works with bluegrass events all over the state and sells T-shirts, said he was impressed with the Elks’ first jamboree.

“They should be very proud of what they have done,” Turner said. “It’s one of the best bluegrass events in Southern California, and it’s just going to get bigger in the future.”

LeMasters was the powerhouse behind booking the music acts from all over California and as far away as Tennessee.

The headliner was Ken Mellons, a Nashville-based recording artist whose hits include “Jukebox Junkie” and “Workin’ for the Weekend”. Mellons took the stage as the final show on Sunday night with his band, which included musicians who play on his upcoming bluegrass album.

“We’ve put a great band together,” Mellons said. “I’ve made a lot of records, but this bluegrass record is one I’m very proud of.”

The musicians include mandolin player and singer Don Rigsby, Phil Leadbetter on the dobro, and singer J.D. Meyers on the acoustic guitar.

Mellons, who recently launched his own music label, said his new record, “Rural Route,” will be released next month and includes songs with famous friends, including Vince Gill.

“I started my own label and did what I really wanted to do,” said Mellons, who said his past contracts had prevented him from exploring his other music passions. “It’s amazing the support we’re getting from this project with our fans.”

LeMasters said Mellons and the other musicians were understanding that the Elks did not have a great amount of money to pay for the performances. Many, including Mellons, took smaller payment since it was for charity.

“He is real down-home people,” LeMasters said of Mellons. “Everyone knew we were all doing this for a good cause.”

One of the popular music acts for the event was the duo McEuen & Gates, whose vocal harmonies seemed to wow the audience. Gates, 18, is a virtuoso on the mandolin and has been playing for more than 10 years.

“I would sum up our music in one word: Americana. We have folk, bluegrass, rock, and country,” said songwriter and record label owner Nathan McEuen.

David Dickey III of the Bladerunners brought the audience to its knees with his autobiographical ballad about brothers trying to win the affection of a girl. The song will be on the band’s upcoming album, said Dickey, who has been playing the mandolin for 16 years.

“The venue here is neat and the crowds are wonderful,” said John Corzine, who plays acoustic guitar and sings with the Bladerunners. “We want to come back again next year.”

Banjo player Tyler Walls of the band Whistle Stop from Arizona showed off his award-winning skills. Walls, who has been playing for almost seven years, has won top prizes for banjo at more than three major bluegrass festivals. He said he enjoys playing with Whistle Stop’s family band of husband and wife Carol and Greg Pearse plus their two daughters Brittany, 21, and Briana, 18.

“I just love playing bluegrass music,” Walls said. “I could do it every day.”

The money raised at the charity event will go back into funding the Elks’ community giving, including the Hemet Police Department, veterans at Loma Linda, Ramona Humane Society, and Kin Care. It will also help fund scholarships for local teens graduating from high school.

“I hope we will do really well on this to give back to the community,” said Iris Johnson, one of the organizers. “We started from nothing and the jamboree just grew. We’re totally amazed.”

The Elks Lodge holds a bluegrass jam from 2:30 to 6 p.m. the first Sunday of each month and it is open to the public and free of charge. The Lodge is at 1305 W. Florida Avenue.