Sitting at my desk a couple hours after the ball dropped in The Big Apple, I was pondering the present state of the country music industry, splintered between the progressive bro-country support of Sam Hunt and Florida Georgia Line and traditional fans of George Strait and Mo Pitney.
After more than three decades of writing about music in The Southern, a golden rule revealed to me a long time ago will never have an expiration date and will always be true.
Mike Hendrix, founder of the band Eight Miles High in Massac Country in the 1970s, opened my eyes with a simple profound statement.
“There are only two types of music, good and bad,” he said. “Everybody is different. A song may hit one person like a sledgehammer and mean nothing to another. It's all about personal taste.”
Hendrix didn't achieve major musical stardom, but made two very significant contributions to the local music scene. From his Eight Miles High band emerged a lanky, long-haired, left-handed guitarist from Brookport named Stanley Joe Atkisson.
Atkisson would change his stage name to Joe Stanley and dominate the tri-state music scene in the Gary Jones/Joe Stanley Band. He eventually became band leader for Dan Seals in 1984. Seals reeled off nine consecutive No. 1 Billboard singles from 1985 to 1988.
At the height of his fame and productivity, Atkisson died suddenly of cancer in 1990.
Recently, Hendrix urged Corey Evitts of Metropolis to take his music to a larger audience.
The 32-year-old Evitts may be the busiest performer in the area. He is in constant demand on the local wine trail and frequently plays two or three jobs in a single day.
The Bankesters didn't ride off quietly into the sunset when the Jackson County family retired from the bluegrass circuit and played a November farewell concert at The Old Feed Store in Cobden. At the time, their album “Nightbird” was perched at No. 7 on The Roots Music Report and holding its own against big names like Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, The Infamous Stringdusters and Chris Hillman.
On Dec. 22, The Bankesters had climbed to No. 5 on Bluegrass Today with single “If it Wasn't for the Rain.”
“We had a great 14-year run. The local fans were awesome. The music took us places we never dreamed of going,” says founder Phil Bankester.
Bankester and his wife, Dorene, formed the band to showcase the talent of daughters Melissa, Emily and Alysha.
Melissa and her husband, Kyle Triplett, plan to continue as a bluegrass duo and have been invited to perform in February in Nashville by the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America at the annual Bluegrass Music Awards.
Emily married singer Mo Pitney in 2016 and the couple had a daughter in January. Although his opinion may be a little biased, Phil Bankester says his son-in-law and daughter have the talent and potential to be “the next Johnnie and June.”
Youngest daughter Alysha is “taking time off” from the music business, Bankester says.
Local fans will have a difficult decision if they are seeking live music on Saturday.
On one hand, there is Kendell Marvel. He will be appearing at 7 p.m. at Morello's in Harrisburg. Tickets are $10. This unplugged acoustic show features special guests Dannny Myrick and Travis Beasley.
The show is expected to sell out. Call 618-252-2300 for more information.
A Thompsonville native, Marvel made a name for himself as a songwriter, penning hits for George Strait, Jake Owen and Gary Allan.
Watching the market rapidly turn toward his brand of outlaw country music, Marvel released his debut album “Lowdown & Lonesome” in October and the project received rave critical reviews and is receiving heavy airplay on satellite radio.
Marvel is close friends with Chris Stapleton and has written songs for each of the superstar's last three hits albums.
On the other hand, there is Dennis Stroughmatt and Swing 'N' Country appearing at 6 p.m. in the Rt. 37 Dance Barn in Spillertown. There is a $5 cover charge.
Stroughmatt is a member of the National Oldtime Fiddlers Hall of Fame. His band at the dance barn will include: Jeff Stoffel, drums; Cord Fitch, steel guitar; Dow Smith, guitar; and Bill Toler, bass.
The Albion native must display amazing agility and versatility Saturday. From noon to 4 p.m., Stroughmatt will appear with his band L'Eprit Creole at the St. Louis arch. The group plays genuine French creole music popularized 200 years ago in the Missouri Ozarks.
He will then blaze down the interstate to pursue his true passion — playing the classic honky-tonk sound popularized by Ray Price. Ensuring the sound is truly authentic, he has closely studied the style of Nashville A-Team fiddler Buddy Spicher, who played in the road band of Price for many years.