Rick Kirkland, Pauline Eklund and Roger Eklund are the three members of Southern Style, a League City band working to promote the tradition of blue grass music. Photos by Kelsey Walling
Local musicians keep the tradition of bluegrass alive
Whether he’s playing bass or the acoustic steel guitar, Rick Kirkland strives to keep the bluegrass tradition alive on the upper Texas coast.
Kirkland, a League City resident who serves as the Bay Area Bluegrass Association’s president, was introduced to the music in his youth.
“My mom and dad had a bluegrass gospel radio show back in the 1950s,” he said. “So, I’ve kind of been involved with the music my entire life.”
Founded in 1986, the Bay Area Bluegrass Association aims to continue its mission to entertain the Gulf Coast and introduce future generations to bluegrass and bluegrass gospel as an American form of music. Bluegrass is a kind of country music characterized by fiddle, banjo, mandolin, acoustic guitar, dobro and double bass often accompanied by harmonic singing. The music is rooted in the Appalachian region of the United States.
The association has more than 15 supporting bands and a yearly attendance of more than 3,000 people at its monthly show. It maintains its mission by performing at community functions, fundraisers and festivals.
Local events, including Bluegrass in the Park in League City are key elements to keeping bluegrass relevant in the community, he said.
“That’s what we’re striving for,” he said.
Kirkland moved to League City in the 1980s and his interest in the genre unfurled when he became aware of the Bay Area Bluegrass Association, he said.
“I went down there and fell in love with it,” he said. “I’ve been involved ever since.”
Since the organization’s conception, Kirkland has worked closely with a dedicated group of musicians and the members have managed to keep the association thriving and continue to expand the musical genre, he said.
Several bluegrass associations in regions such as Louisiana and Colorado have created a type of circuit to keep bluegrass alive, he said.
The connection between differing associations is important and helps maintain the genre’s popularity, the Bay Area Bluegrass Association Vice President Laney Sims said.
“Those type of close-knit connections between associations are a bond of what we love in the bluegrass world,” Sims said. “It’s definitely beneficial.”
The association continues to push the bluegrass movement through a free show on the third Saturday of each month at the Johnnie Arolfo Civic Center, 300 W. Walker St. in League City, Kirkland said.
“There are several bluegrass associations around the state and they all have their own particular weekend,” he said. “When it was originally formed, the third weekend was an open weekend so that it wouldn’t interfere with some of the other festivals that are all the way up north of Conroe.”
The monthly shows also serve as a vital opportunity to entertain residents, but also teach prospective musicians, he said.
“We have three jam rooms for musicians to come up there and bring their instruments and join in and jam,” he said. “We have an instructive slow jam for beginner to intermediate type of players with an instructor in there who slows the music down a little bit and will actually give lessons to beginners. We also have a play-it-forward program to try and get youths involved.”
The hope is that these bluegrass shows can unite a wide spectrum of people because of the music’s unique flair, board member Arvin Holland said.
“Bluegrass is music played on unamplified stringed instruments such as bass, banjo, fiddle, guitar and mandolin,” Holland said. “It is a form of American roots music influenced by the music of the Appalachian region and it is important that we preserve that form of traditional country music.”
Doug Burtchaell, a member of band Skidaway River, has been involved with the association since 1990.
“There have been many changes over the years, but the core values of the organization remain constant — provide family friendly entertainment, foster young talent and above all preserve the wonderful heritage of a true American art form,” Burtchaell said.
Amid the festivals and mission statements, the association simply wants the Gulf Coast crowd to have fun with the music, Kirkland said.
“We hope people come to our events and have a good time,” he said. “We do it as a community service and because we love the music and keep the music alive.”