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Country Scene | Stripped-down version of Steel Guitar Show comes to Albion
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Country Scene | Stripped-down version of Steel Guitar Show comes to Albion

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Local steel guitar enthusiast are going to need a little more gas money.

The not-for-profit Southern Illinois Productions recently canceled the steel guitar convention it hosts each year in Mount Vernon.

“We are sorry, but it doesn’t seem that the pandemic is anywhere near over,” the group posted on its website.

The news hit Dennis Stroughmatt hard. With the music world locked down for more than a year, he was anxious to get back to playing music with his friends.

Stroughmatt is a world-renowned Cajun fiddler that was been a member of the house band at the Mount Vernon event for more than a decade. He personally thinks it is safe for people to congregate if established protocol is followed.

After asking permission from Southern Illinois Productions and receiving “their blessings,” Stroughmatt has organized a slightly stripped down version of the steel guitar show and moved it 48 miles to his hometown.

The Southeast Illinois InsideOut Steel Guitar Jam will be held April 17 in the Exhibition Hall at the Edwards County Fairgrounds in Albion. Music starts at 10:30 a.m. and will conclude at 8:30 p.m. Doors open at 10 a.m.

Tickets are $16 in advance and, if available, $20 at the door. For additional information, call (618) 445-3615.

“We are going to be spreading the love for pedal steel guitar,” Stroughmatt says. “I just wanted people to be able to get back together and have a good time.”

The “InsideOut” part of the name is a result of the exhibition hall configuration. It has two huge doors that can be opened and, weather permitting, patrons will be able to sit inside or outside.

"There is going to be plenty of room for social distancing and with the doors open there will be tremendous airflow,” Stroughmatt says.

Only 225 tickets are available and 120 have already been purchased. Tickets are being sold exclusively on Stroughmatt’s www.honkytonkfiddle.com website.

Mike Sweeney will be the featured steel guitarist at the show. He played in the road bands of Ray Price and Vernon Gosdin. He contributed the mesmerizing steel guitar licks on Gary Stewart classic “Out Of Hand.” Sweeney will be conducting a two-and-a-half hour workshop at Albion that is available for an additional $20 fee.

"Mike is a close friend of mine and one of the best steel players in the world,” Stroughmatt says. “His workshops are always popular and fill up fast. The man is a walking encyclopedia of steel guitar knowledge.”

Featured entertainers will be the mother/son duo of Ron and Leona Williams. Ron is tentatively scheduled to perform at 5 p.m. and Leona will serve as headliner in the premium 7:30 p.m. slot.

Leona William was married to Merle Haggard from 1978 to 1983. The duo sang the Top 40 hit “The Bull And The Beaver.” She also wrote Haggard classics “Someday When Things Are Good” and “You Take Me For Granted.” In 2017, she won Honky Tonk Female vocalist of the year honers from the Ameripolitan Music Awards.

“When this all started, I was just feeling sorry for myself. I wanted to get on stage and play. It had been so long. I thought if the show is not happening in Mount Vernon, why not move it to Albion. I didn’t really have any plan on how it was going to work or a budget. All I had was a couple friends that volunteered to play and that was about it,” Stroughmatt says.

“One day, I got a call from this lady in Central Illinois and she ask me who I had for singers and I hadn’t really thought about it. She suggested Ron and Leona Williams. I told her we didn’t have the money. I was ecstatic when she offered to sponsor their performance. Things kinda snowballed from there.”

Soon afterwards, an individual funded the appearance fee of Lake of the Ozarks steel guitarist Mike McGee.

Regional steel guitarist scheduled to participate include: Paul Carie, Dave Flanagan, Larry Dolan, Vernon Mandrell, Dave Bolin and others to be announced.

The staff band will be Dow Smith, Cord Fitch, Jerry Mayo, Brian Sterling, Melody Staff Freeman, John Farrell and Stroughmatt.

Ron Head will serve as master of ceremonies.

Concessions will be provided by the Albion Chamber of Commerce.

“Local hotels are starting to sell out of rooms,” Stroughmatt says. “It’s amazing how much money a little festival like this pumps into the local economy.”

Stroughmatt says tickets have been purchased by individuals in seven different states. He says Southern Illinois Productions plans to resume its steel guitar series in 2022. Because he is “amazingly amazed” at positive reaction and public support to his event, he is strongly considering bringing the InsideOut Jam back to Albion in the fall of 2022.

Vince Hoffard can be reached at vincehoffard@gail.com or 618-658-9095.

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