Community invited to Pickers Reunion at Rocky Branch
By Melanie Tucker | (email@example.com)
Since 1996, Friday nights at Rocky Branch Community Club have offered up the chance for starters and seasoned musicians alike to share their talents with the rest of us — a virtual pickers’ and grinners’ delight.
But this week’s a little different. In addition to tonight’s weekly showcase of talent, there will be a special session at the former school in Walland that’s being billed as a Pickers and Grinners Reunion. The fun gets under way at 4 p.m. on Saturday and lasts until 7 p.m. Anyone who’s ever just showed up for a night of awesome music or danced the night away is welcome. Even if you’ve never been before — organizers say it’s the best family entertainment you simply can’t miss. There will be music, food and a whole lot of fun.
The place to be
“There are 200 to 300 people who show up every Friday night,” said Mary Gregory, one of the reunion’s organizers and longtime attendee. The rooms at the community center each has its own identity. One is billed as the gospel room where fiddlers, guitarists and others make a joyful noise.
There is also a place for country and bluegrass and maybe a little rock ’n’ roll. Guitars, banjos, fiddles, mandolins, dobros and bass — all tuned up and ready to grab some attention and hang on.
“Babies up to 100,” is the age range you’ll see, Gregory said.
Rocky Branch ceased being an elementary school years ago, and residents in the area wanted to have a place to gather. The Friday night acoustic jam sessions have grown over the years for sure. And it’s not just residents in and around Walland or even Blount County that make it a point to clear their calendars of everything else on a Friday night.
Knox County residents make the weekly visit as do some music lovers from Roane County. Gregory said there are even families who travel here from North Carolina. Still, the word hasn’t gotten out here locally about the talent you’ll see here.
“We’re the best kept secret in the county,” Gregory said. “And we don’t want to be.”
Sharing the spotlight
There is a reason the 4 p.m. slot was selected on Saturday for this reunion gathering. Music Row in Maryville has its live music performances at 7 p.m. each Saturday and Gregory said Rocky Branch didn’t want to interfere with that popular venue. This way, everybody can come to Rocky Branch at 4 and enjoy the reunion and then travel up the road to Music Row at 7, she said. “We all work together.”
Sisters of the Silver Sage and Soul Winners will be performing at 7 p.m. Saturday at Music Row. There is a $3 cover charge.
Gregory has been part of Rocky Branch’s weekly night of fun since 1997 and has definitely seen her share of the best pickers to be found anywhere. There’s a family that comes from Kingston, and they all play something, she said. The 6-year-old can play the upright bass.
The family atmosphere is one of the things that makes this gig unique, Gregory said. There aren’t too many activities that appeal to multiple generations. Children come in who are just learning to play and get coached by the older ones. Teen musicians pair up with seniors as the music starts to hum.
A special place
There is no alcohol or drugs permitted, and the adults keep a close watch on the younger ones. It’s become a big family of music lovers who take care of their own, Gregory said.
You never know who you’ll run into — bank presidents, lawyers, teachers, carpenters and car repairmen. All in the same room, all making Rocky Branch a special place to be.
“It is a real unique place,” Gregory said.
There are few places like it. Just ask those who’ve been. There is no fee to play or listen, but donations for the upkeep of this community gathering place are certainly appreciated.
Gregory said people who come here for the first time recognize the authenticity of the music and the special bond that exists between fans of the Rocky Branch experience.
One couple brings their grandchildren here from Indiana, Gregory said. They tell people “I wish we had something like this in our town.”