A Visit to a Lost Bluegrass Music Temple

First view of the Blue Grass Park stage through the brush

First view of the Blue Grass Park stage roof line through the brush

By Art Menius, August 31, 2014

Barnum-like music promoter and artist manager Carlton Haney produced the first three-day bluegrass music festival with camping on Labor Day weekend 1965 on Cantrell’s Horse Farm near Fincastle, Virginia. Haney combined his and Bill Clifton’s idea of a big show with all the top bluegrass artists with the concept taken from Newport Folk Festival of a curated, multi-day festival offering some kind of narrative. Carlton capped off the three days with the “Blue Grass Story” on Sunday afternoon, creating a narrative arch for the community that brought the string tribe together. This was folklore being constructed on the ground. View 11 minutes from that first festival here,

After a second year in Fincastle, the original bluegrass festival moved to Watermelon Park near Berryville, Virginia for another two years. On Labor Day weekend 1969, the original festival arrived near Haney’s hometown of Reidsville, NC. On land besides Pat and Hazel Smith just south of Cherry Grove Road on the western edge of Caswell County, NC, Carlton built Blue Grass Park, the prototype for bluegrass festival venues for the next score.

Camp Springs Stage close up 8-30-2014

Camp Springs Stage close up 8-30-2014

There Carlton enjoyed his glory years, promoting bluegrass as a gospel, publishing Muleskinner News, telling the story, using up almost every ounce of energy Fred Bartenstein had. The theatrical documentary, Bluegrass Music, Country Soul, captured the third,  1971 festival. He added events there including the spring New Grass Festival, while also presenting famed festivals in Gettysburg and Berryville. By the late 1970s competition had grown fierce, while Carlton’s physical, mental, and financial health declined. Mike Wilson and John Maness helped promote three or four very presentable Labor Day weekend festivals during the middle 1980s, before the pair moved the event to Maness’ park. 

At one of those events, Carlton took me up the house, still standing on site, which already looked as if vandalized in 1986. Painstakingly, while he was supposed to be stage managing, Carlton located each issue – in order from Vol 1, No 1 – in the chaos. He seemed to have maintained every check book he had ever owned, including banks long out of business. Meanwhile, Maness and the Bass Mountain Boys had been on stage for 75 minutes with no stage manager to wake up the emcee, Bill Hill. When Carlton return to livid Maness, Haney responded, “Art, show John what I gave you! The whole history of bluegrass music.”

Stage right, where I can still see Bill Vernon standing, and remains of a speaker stand

Stage right, where I can still see Bill Vernon standing, and remains of a speaker stand

Camp Springs stage in 1970, still from Bluegrass Music, Country Soul with Lilly Brothers and Tex Logan

Camp Springs stage in 1971, still from Bluegrass Music, Country Soul with Lilly Brothers and Tex Logan

The Saturday of Labor Day Weekend 2014, my wife Becky Johnson decided we should head up to Camp Springs for the 45th anniversary and see if we could still find Blue Grass Park. It did not prove easy. First, I made the mistake of turning off of Cherry Grove Road on to Camp Springs Road and driving fruitlessly up its 2 miles thrice. Finally back on Cherry Grove east bound, both Becky, who had only been there twice, and I felt drawn to turn right on Boone Road. After a couple of passes looking for the “Blue Grass Park” sign that was still hanging in the 1990s, we pulled up to a lonely gate with several no trespassing signs.

Camp Springs Bathhouse

Camp Springs Bathhouse

I had feared a trailer park. What we found was kindly worst. We followed the remains of the entrance road, passed a pine thicket where the band vehicles used to park between Boone Road and the stage area. Turning the corner, feeling like seekers of lost Mayan temples in the jungle, we faced heavy woods, thick underbrush, and to the right of an area where trash had been burned and cans and bottles dumped, stood the Carlton’s old bathhouse. Numerous no trespassing and one “Dead Man Walking if I Catch You Here” messages decorated the cinder block walls. Becky saw a sign warning of “Boobee” traps. The thought of a cannabis plantation crossed my mind.

Becky Johnson drawn like a magnet to this historic Camp Springs stage

Becky Johnson drawn like a magnet to this historic Camp Springs stage

We pushed through widespread poison ivy and briers as if no deer or other wildlife cleared the brush out in what was once the seating area. Finally like a red clay Angkor Wat, the remains of the stage, one so many festivals copied, stood before us in tatters. Where thousands saw New Grass Revival for the first time, where Tony Rice jumped ship from Bluegrass Alliance to J.D. Crowe, where Carlton told the Blue Grass Story, where Bill Vernon and Fred Bartenstein emceed, looked like a burned out mobile home. Carlton doing an impromptu version of the story with Mac Wiseman, Lester Flatt, and Chubby Wise at Renfro Valley, KY in 1971 can be seen here.

The "new" stage at Camp Springs

The “new” stage at Camp Springs

Something of “Kathaleen’s” Kitchen could be seen in the distance. More adventurous than I and possessing two good knees, Becky 

campgrounds at Camp Springs 8-30-2014

campgrounds at Camp Springs 8-30-2014

took off through the underbrush and pine trees. She found a logging that took her to Carlton’s old house and the pond behind the stage. 

We drove on to Milton, NC. We talked about Caswell County’s need for more tourism attractions and how Blue Grass Park reminded us of the once-overgrown Historic Occaneechi Speedway looked in Hillsborough, NC before citizens took action together to restore it. As many bluegrass music devotees are exist, cannot Carlton’s Blue Grass Park be saved in cooperation with Caswell County Economic Development and the Caswell County Historical Association to created a living historical site that tells the bluegrass music story while presented concerts and festivals.




What is Radical Localism

By Art Menius

This essay appears on my new website radicallocalism.com. Please pay a visit to learn more about this breakthrough concept in political philosophy that cross all conventional party divisions. You can also follow @radicallocalist on Twitter, like Radical Localism on Facebook, and follow our tumblr blog

“The question is, which do we value more highly – efficiency or democracy? It has become heretical to question any demand of the market, as if the desires of human beings are legitimate only insofar as they facilitate the economy. We have been enslaved by our own invention. The answer, in my opinion, is a radical localism and it begins with a participatory local politics”.(New Zealand’s Ras Nandor Tanczos from his Waikato Times column 6 August 2010)


Manuel Castells in The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture (1996-1998) describes three fundamental shifts creating what he called the “Network Society:” 1) emerging technologies; 2) crises in both capitalism and communism; and 3) new social movements. Radical Localism exemplifies a new social movement addressing the crisis of outdated economic systems and enabled by new technology.

Writing at age 24 in 1997’s Act Now, Apologize Later the Sierra Club’s youngest president ever, Adam Werbach, promulgated a radical-localism “pact”:act now apologize later

“I will do my best to:

  1. Buy products produced locally, products made with local ingredients and local labor
  2. Demand that outside corporations respect local and incorporate local products in their product base
  3. Know my community, human and wild”

Asheville, North Carolina activist and politician Cecil Bothwell kept those thoughts alive in an essay in 2008’s Gorillas in the Myth: “Here is the front line in the battle against Wal-Martization, against tax-funded, corporate-welfare schemes to lure multinational business development, and against the export of jobs. The radical localist isn’t fooled by smiley faces and low prices that help destroy downtown businesses while funneling money into distant banks. It is pie simple to join the growing ranks of thoughtful consumers, who understand that dollars are votes, and those votes shape the places we live.”

A ComCast. executive testifying before Congress in 2008 against long standing local media ownership rules seems to have twisted “Radical Localism” in the mainstream by characterizing his opposition thus.

Simultaneously, the phrase gained popularity in Britain during the devolution under the Localism Act that permitted greater local autonomy in Scotland and Wales. During the devolution process, adjustment moved quickly with activists pushing for further devolution of authority below the city level: “Radical localism requires a new relationship between local authorities and communities as well as local and central government.” In a sense, the September 2014 vote for Scottish Independence is the first wide scale plebiscite on Radical Localism writ quite large – of reversing national policy, breaking up a world power. Nearly two years before that, onNovember 29, 2014 the Guardian declared: “The NHS needs radical localism to improve public health. Public Health England will support local government and the NHS by providing expert knowledge, research and know-how.”

Keeping the nation healthy can only become a reality through localism. Photograph: Martin Godwin for The Guardian 29 Nov 2012

In 2010, sociologist E. Russell Cole took the next step in his SUNY-Albany dissertation summarized in a 21 page essay “Radical Localism in the Network Society.” Studying Green and Populist Party use of social media, Dr. Cole identified Radical Localism as a potential means to break through the two-party choke hold on power in the USA. “[T]he morphology of the third-party should resemble the decentralized communicative infrastructure that the Internet permits.” In other words, from the ground up with policy built locally first.

In America, Radical Localism builds upon SmallMart/BALLE (https://bealocalist.org/) principles for vibrant Local Living Economies to create a framework though which individual citizens and communities can reshape national policy through the intentional individual choices they make. The Radical Localist political philosophy finds roots in the 17th and 18th Century British thought that shaped the worldview and language of the American Founders. Besides Michael Shuman, BALLE, and Wendell Berry, even Mao and Barbara Kingsolver have contributed to a philosophy that lies outside any convention American binary system. A Radical Localist can be Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green, Anarchist, or Socialist. At the most basic level, a Radical Localist believes in liberating herself and her community from the grip of the global marketplace and unmediated capitalism through intentional choices at ground level.

The Radical Localist analysis holds that the breakdown during the Reagan and Clinton years of the regulatory system which protected local economies from the full effects of global Capitalism has destroyed community in America and lead to ever widening income disparity. The most devastating blows came from permitting interstate banking combined with eliminating basic differences among financial institutions and relieving rules requiring local ownership of media properties. These governors on Capitalism produced stable, viable local communities. This has produced a wealth of issues for which good people across the political spectrum seek answers. Yet Washington has turned into a money-go-round that cannot find common ground.

Connected-localismAs Jefferson knew, the answer lies in the people and the land. Rather than waiting for policy to change legislatively, we can change from the ground up. Rather than trying to “fix problems,” we can imagine and build an enduring America based on strong local economies, participatory local democracy, and sustainable environment.

Radical Localism demands a major mind shift that again launches from Michael H. Shuman’s principles. The Radical Localist takes the long term view, sacrificing short term gains, making intentional and often initially expensive choices for the good of the community.Smallmart-Cover-LG

“The revolution starts now. In your on back yard. In your own home town. What you doing just sitting around. Just follow your heart. The revolution starts now.” Steve Earle

Nu-Blu Scores with “Jesus and Jones”

Siler City, NC’s Nu-Blu has scored big time with their collaboration with R&B legend Sam Moore (of Sam and Dave). August 17th brought a shout out on “CBS Sunday Morning,” which profiled Moore.

Look at the praise for Nu Blu and Sam Moore on the official George Jones Page: R&B legend Sam Moore and bluegrass group Nu-Blu Bluegrass Artists pay tribute to George Jones – The Possum and Jesus Christ with their new song “Jesus & Jones,” featured on Nu-Blu’s album ‘All The Way.’ For more information, visit http://www.nu-blu.com and download the song at http://cwired.co/GJ14JJ #TeamGJ

Here is the YouTube link

 for the official “Jesus and Jones” video

Why Bob Lefsetz Hates What He Does About America

Music blogmeister Bob Lefsetz has rarely been short of opinions, distributed in daily bursts on everything from what’s wrong with the music business to which Elton John album is most essential. Today he surpised me with a powerful socio-political column – in fitting with his politics – put with a rare sustained accuracy point after point.

Read it now: http://lefsetz.com/wordpress/index.php/archives/2014/08/19/hate-america/

I responded, after compliments and pleasantries, thus: 

From conformity to Ferguson, the breakdown of actual community has allowed 80% of the issues plaguing society to flourish. Community in America did not breakdown simply because of demographics and the ravages of emerging technologies. Community and capitalism had co-existed for decades.

Rather the deregulation largely associated with Reagan, but continued enthusiastically under Clinton, especially with NAFTA, removed a series of protections. Those prophylactics kept local economies functioning and geographic communities relatively staple, while placing a governor on capitalism’s engine. The effect proved similar to the way a healthy Arctic ice cap keeps the Jet Stream in check. In order to unchain capitalism, these essential policies disappeared.

  • Airlines and buses no longer had to serve smaller towns and cities that did not make economic sense.
  • Union rights won in long strikes and pitched battle eroded.
  • Savings and Loans ran amok as soon as unchained.
  • Banks could expand into other financial services that connected them to international markets.
  • Industries no longer tied themselves to communities but moved wherever labour costs were lowest and tax payer funded incentives the greatest.
  • Radio and TV stations and newspapers no longer had to have local ownership and one entity could own multiple properties.

The most damaging blows of all to the health of main street America culminated in Riegle-Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Efficiency Act of 1994. That completed a 15 or so year process during which state banking regulations collapsed and regional and national banks like BOA ($50B in losses on its brilliant Countrywide acquisition) and Wells Fargo to evolve.

The lesson I learned in coal country was that local control of a community’s economic destiny forms the essence of community health. The more insulated from the global marketplace, the more stable and self-sustaining the community. When banking is not local, valuing community over participation in a global financial marketplace for multiple instruments, our communities become mere pawns in the game. The message becomes consumption is good, making money is good, and only individuals matter, not communities.

This brings us back to issues with art today. My colleagues in the Voices From the Cultural Battlefront offer a surprising simple analysis. When money matters more than culture, communities die.

That is what is happening to America, my America, and I hate it.

Count me as an extremely radical localist. 

Ticket Sales Aren’t the Solution for Non-Profit Theater

Mike Scutari: “Moving forward, the company will rely less on ticket sales and instead focus on soliciting more individual donations as well as corporate sponsorships. The company will also broaden partnerships with local organizations to create a broader base of support across the community.”

This is case study in why copying for-profit earned income strategies usually cannot work in non-profit theater.

Check out this fascinating read from Inside Philanthropy here

My Mother, Lucy Menius, 12/14/1919 to 7/28/2014

Lucille Clarke Varner  “Lucy” Menius

RALEIGH, NC:   Lucille Clarke Varner  (“Lucy”) Menius, 94, died quietly on Monday afternoon, July 28, 2014, at Falls River Court in Raleigh following a prolonged battle with dementia. A memorial service will take place at White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh on Tuesday, August 5, at 2 pm.

Lucy was born in Chapel Hill on December 14, 1919 to H.B. Varner (dec 1938),  and Fanny Clarke Varner (dec 1979), both Orange County natives. She was graduated from Chapel Hill High School and then completed a two-year secretarial program at Pace College in New York City. She met A.C. (Buck) Menius, Jr., of Salisbury when he was a graduate student at UNC, from which he received the Ph.D. in 1942.     

During the war years she worked for the UNC Press. Her greatest accomplishment there came in assisting the octogenarian former Secretary of Navy, Ambassador to Mexico, and News & Observer editor Josephus Daniels in the completion of the final tomes of his multi-volume memoir, Editor in Politics (1941), The Wilson Era: Years of Peace, 1910-1917 (1944) and Shirt-Sleeve Diplomat (1947).  

Lucille Varner and A.C. Menius, Jr. married in Thurmont, MD on March 31, 1946. They moved first to Clemson, SC and then to Raleigh in 1949. At NC State College/University, Dr. Menius, who died on October 13, 1996, guided building the first non-government nuclear reactor in the USA and served as Dean of the School of Physical Sciences and Mathematics from 1960 until 1981.   In addition to serving as an exemplary faculty spouse, Mrs. Menius took on multiple leadership roles in arts and social service non-profits in Wake County throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Her board service included the NC Symphony Society, Hilltop Home, NC Museum of Art, Raleigh Fine Arts, and the Wake County Arts Council. Lucy was President of White Memorial Presbyterian Women (1961-63) and received the Honorary Life Membership in Presbyterian Women, Presbyterian Church, USA (1993). Lucy was a long time member of the Ola Podia Book Club and, for sixty years, Carolina Country Club. The Meniuses were active in the English Speaking Union and the Sphinx Club, among other organizations.  

Mrs. Menius is survived by her son, A.C. (Art) Menius III of Carrboro and his wife, Rebecca Johnson; a nephew Bruce Varner, Jr., a niece by marriage, Nancy Welchel, and her husband Ken, of Charlotte, and cousins including Tommy Bullock of Durham.   Memorial contributions may be made to The ArtsCenter; 300-G East Main Street; Carrboro, NC 27510; www.artscenterlive.org  .   Arrangements by Brown-Wynne Funeral Home, Saint Mary’s St., Raleigh.

Please see Lucille Clarke “Lucy” Varner Menius on Page 6B of Sunday, August 03, 2014 issue of News and Observer

Announcing the new Phase of my Life and Career

Three trains collided this July, yet they all faced the same direction. The first to leave the station held the stress, exhaustion, and long term overwork combined with poor physical and mental health that led to the sabbatical during July and August. The second brought a load of serious self-doubt about whether come September I could again summon up the intense level of energy The ArtsCenter demands, whether I could face day after day the stress of the position. The third train carried my mother away and brought the realization that while I am not ready to retire altogether; I no longer have to work full time. I no longer have to endure the wear and tear of one 60 hour work week after another.

I did not expect all this to come together so quickly, but it has with the inescapable conclusion that this proves the right time to retire from full-time work and take advantage of being able to afford self-employment. I love The ArtsCenter and will miss daily being part of its bright, exciting future. I look forward to returning to the project-specific contract work I love without the financial challenges of earning a full income from those activities. For once, during this next phase of my life, I can choose only work that gives me joy and satisfaction.

I am, therefore, announcing my retirement as Executive Director of The ArtsCenter effective at the completion of my sabbatical on August 31, 2014. Since I am on sabbatical, this means that I am no longer involved in day-to-day operations of The ArtsCenter.