HoustonFest peformers share memories of festival's namesake

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Many of the headliners at this weekend's HoustonFest had personal connections to the late banjo picker who inspired the event.

By April Wright, Reporter


When Grammy-nominated bluegrass group Cherryholmes began touring in 2002, one of their first stops was the Rex Theater in Galax. It’s only fitting that they will present their final performance this weekend in Galax, during HoustonFest.
HoustonFest — a two-day festival featuring bluegrass, old-time, gospel and country music performances that runs today and Saturday — is in memory of Houston Caldwell, a banjo prodigy who died last year at age 18 in a motorcycle accident.
Caldwell’s parents Tess and Kenneth and friend Debbie Robinson set out to create an event that will benefit the Galax Volunteer Fire Department and youth music programs. Caldwell had been a part of the fire department for a couple of years.
Cherryholmes is slated to perform at 1:15 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday.  
The group consists of members of the Cherryholmes family, including father Jere and wife Sandy and their kids Cia Leigh, B.J., Skip and Molly Kate.
“This performance will be bittersweet,” said Skip. “We’ve played together for 12 years and have visited Galax off and on since our first performance. But it’s going to be exciting to open a new chapter in our lives.”
The children of Cherryholmes will be venturing out to begin new music careers.
Skip, who met Caldwell at the International Bluegrass Music Association awards, said he was a nice guy who always had a smile on his face, a good picker and fun to be around.
Progressive bluegrass band Mountain Heart is scheduled to perform at 9:15 p.m. today, Friday.


“Houston was absolutely one of the young upstarts of music,” said Jim Van Cleve, fiddle player in Mountain Heart. “He was authentic and so full of life. He was a ray of light that lit up every room.”
Van Cleve met Caldwell when he produced demos for Broken Wire, Caldwell’s band.
“It’s just awesome and inspiring to see a community like Galax come together to pay tribute to Houston,” he added. “I hope God can use Houston to help people. It’s what Houston would have wanted.”
Sierra Hull, who has just released a music video on CMT  — “Easy Come, Easy Go” — and has been mentored by bluegrass legend Alison Krauss, is scheduled to perform at 6:30 p.m. today.
Caldwell became one of her best friends over the years, said Hull, after she met him at IBMA awards about five years ago.
They didn’t get to see each other often because of the long distance between them, but they visited when they could.
Hull has dedicated her album, "Daybreak," to Caldwell.
“Anybody that knew him, knew he loved music,” she said. “Out of anybody that would be excited about my album release, I knew it would be Houston, and I hate that he won’t be around to hear it. He was really supportive.”
Robinson, who has overseen bookings for the festival, said once musicians found out about HoustonFest, they were eager to sign up. Caldwell, she said, touched so many lives through his music and by being the supportive, encouraging person he was.
“Many musicians knew Houston, whether they jammed with him or in passing,” said Robinson. “Musicians really wanted to be a part of this because they have a high regard for Houston and his family.”
Blue Highway, which will perform at 8 p.m. today, has began a scholarship program in Caldwell’s name.
Local guitar legend Wayne Henderson, Robinson said, received a letter from Caldwell before he passed away. Caldwell thanked Henderson for being his mentor. Henderson is scheduled to perform at 4 p.m. tomorrow.
Musicians have helped raise funds for HoustonFest, said Robinson, and some have written songs in memory of Caldwell.
Other headliners include the Darrell Webb Band, Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time, John Berry and Ron Block.

• For tickets and information, visit www.houstonfestgalax.com, send e-mail to houstonfest2011@yahoo.com or call 236-9908.

For a printable schedule, click the link below:

HoustonFest Schedule.jpg1.84 MB