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A first-place win at the 75th Galax Old Fiddlers' Convention was special enough, but this year’s competition meant more than bluegrass bragging rights to members of local band Broken Wire.
The young musicians gathered on the stage in Felts Park to sing and play in honor of their bandmate — 18-year-old Houston Caldwell, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in April 2010.
Pulling back together for the winning performance — with Galax banjo player extraordinaire Stevie Barr, a close friend and mentor of Caldwell, filling in — the band dubbed themselves Houston Drive.
“When we won at Galax, I felt like it was our whole objective to show how much Houston meant to us,” said Houston Drive guitarist Asa Gravley, a childhood friend of Caldwell. “I can definitely say it felt like Houston was standing on stage with us, because we prayed before we played and everything just felt like he was right there with us.”
“It’s been very hard to go through this, but I think it’s something [Caldwell] would have wanted,” says the band’s fiddle player and vocalist, Courtney Burroughs.
Gravley, Burroughs and Barr are joined by Broken Wire members Dustin Pyrtle and Nick Keen.
This incarnation of the band will reunite Friday on stage at the historic Rex Theater in Galax for a fundraising concert for HoustonFest, an two-day music festival being organized in Caldwell's memory.
“Although the band members' hearts continue to long for the days when the band traveled the bluegrass music circuit together, working hard to hone their craft by writing and recording and seizing every opportunity to learn from the pioneers of traditional music, they have found solace in continuing to play, sing and serve,” says event organizer Debbie Robinson. “ This is exactly what Houston would have wanted, and he would be extremely proud of his bandmates.”
Proceeds from Friday night's concert will benefit HoustonFest, which will in turn raise money for music scholarships and the Galax Volunteer Fire Department, which Caldwell served with pride as a cadet and — just before his death — a full-fledged member.
“Anything we can do to help raise funds for HoustonFest is important, as we’ve come to realize how difficult it is to get a festival started. This one is already looking very promising,” Gravley said.
HoustonFest, set for May 6-7 in Galax's Felts Park, has booked some major talent among the 43 bands and performers signed so far.
Headliners include John Berry, Blue Highway, Cherryholmes (in their farewell concert), Darrell Webb Band, Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time, Mountain Heart, Sierra Hull & Highway 111, Ron Block, Wayne Henderson, Jeanette & Johnny and Big Country Bluegrass.
Friday’s concert — part of the weekly Blue Ridge Backroads live radio show at the Rex — will get underway at 8 p.m.. Admission is $5 at the door, with proceeds benefiting HoustonFest and the fire department.
A special tribute video, recently produced by Galax Volunteer Fire Department auxiliary officer Sarah Hankley, will be shown preceding the concert at 7 p.m.
"The video I made was in memory of Houston and based on his dedication with the fire department," Hankley explained. "It shows bits and pieces of his love for the banjo and music."
She says the plan is to show her video at HoustonFest, as well.
"We all miss him so much, but an event like HoustonFest is something he always wanted, so we are trying our best to fulfill his dream," Hankley said. "I am so honored to be a part of the HoustonFest committee."
• For information, visit HoustonFestGalax.com or call 236-9908