Free State Ramblers celebrates 75 years with Barns concert
Posted: November 22, 2012
The Winchester Star
Berryville — The Free State Ramblers will be the guests of honor Sunday at a 75th anniversary concert and dance at the Barns of Rose Hill, but they are not looking for a lot of fanfare.
The Ramblers are not a show band; they are a country and square dance band, said George “Skip” Ashby, 69, of Fauquier County. The members get their best reward when people are just dancing to their music.
“We don’t put on a show. We just play dance music for people to dance by,” said Ashby, who has been in the group since 1969.
The event will begin with a potluck dinner at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at the venue at 95 Chalmers Court, Berryville.
At 6:15 p.m., caller Jim Morrison will offer a short instructional lesson on dancing before the real event starts at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free, but attendees are to bring a covered dish.
None of the original members are still alive, but their goal of playing music people can simply dance to and enjoy continues on, Ashby said. The group was started in 1937 by his father, John Ashby, and three other family members.
The band’s lineup today consists of Skip Ashby, fiddle; Richard Ashby, guitar; Ashby Kyhl (his mother was an Ashby), guitar and vocals; Kevin Roop, banjo, and T.J. Morgan, upright bass.
The group is not nearly as active as it once was, only playing the occasional wedding and square dance now, Ashby said. His father was the driving force behind the band, so it has slowed down since he died in 1979.
However, the group did play at this year’s Watermelon Park Fest, where it caught the attention of Maria Nicklin, who was writing a freelance magazine article for a friend’s magazine, “The Piedmont Virginian.” She interviewed Ashby and was impressed with the band’s sound and history. She suggested a show at the Barns.
She liked that Ashby is an advocate for playing traditional music and keeping it alive. While the Internet is great at connecting people in new and exciting ways, it also is causing some regional sounds to be lost, she said.
“Everything is sounding alike because nothing is isolated anymore,” she said. “He was saying that back in the day you could go to a festival, and you could tell if a fiddler was from Ohio or North Carolina just by the way he played. It was bittersweet talking to him because he feels like there is no way to bring that back anymore.”
Ashby said he is proud that the Free State Ramblers have held out this long and “still keep pretty much the same old sound that we had.” Most of the music the group uses are “old hoe down and fiddle tunes” that have been passed down from the days Ashby’s dad played with the group.
“My dad just loved playing the music, whether it was playing at a dance or festival or just playing,” Ashby said. “We played at lot at this old farm house on Sundays for years and years.”
The band recorded three albums before John Ashby died, but none since, his son said. The music is “not something that is a big seller,” but when played at a dance, it still gets people moving, he said.
The Free State Ramblers 75th anniversary and square dance will begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Barns of Rose Hill, 95 Chalmers Court. Admission is free, but attendees are to bring a covered dish.
For more information, call 540-955-2004 or go to barnsofrosehill.org.
— Contact Laura McFarland at firstname.lastname@example.org.