Front Porch Magazine
“It’s a Live Thing”
By A.E. Bayne
Rain spritzes First Friday revelers outside The Recreation Center, the soft lights and promises of chili dogs, beer, and bluegrass music drawing more than a few of them into the cozy interior. Once inside, the sound check in front of the wide picture window invites them to sit a spell. An amp squeals until one of the guys behind the microphones quells it and quips from amidst the cacophony of guitar, banjo, and bass, “Hey Bud, your ears aren’t bleeding, are they?”
Bud Griffis belly-laughs, then continues relating his history of The Believers, “At one time I played with four different bands, any time I had a chance I would play. I love to play.” An understatement, considering he’s been playing anything with strings for close to sixty years, and in that time penning and recording a wide array of gospel tunes, more than a few of which the band intersperses with the traditional bluegrass and folk-tinged rock songs on their playlist.
Stephen Hu and Andre Eglevsky wander over to add their pieces to Griffis’ puzzling timeline, for Griffis is puzzled. He’s been playing so long that his bands run together like Mississippi mud. As for inception, he recollects it to be sometime around 1962.
Hu guffaws, “1962! I wasn’t even born that long ago.”
“You got your six upside down,” Eglevsky teases.
Griffis chuckles and shrugs as Hu shares what banjo-picker Lowell Sale calls “the genetic DNA of the band.” He reflects on a night at the tail end of the 1990’s when he and Sale fatefully journeyed to Mr. B’s in North Stafford. Mr. B picked banjo and would open his shop in the evenings to fellow musicians. It was there Griffis approached Hu and Sale about jamming regularly. The group gradually tightened up, began playing open mics at The Rec Center, and eventually picked up the versatile Eglevsky on double bass. The guys proudly ascertain that they have only missed three Fridays in the seven years since they were asked to be the First Friday house band at The Rec Center.
As Hu finishes fitting facts together, the guys erupt into greetings for fiddle-legend and honorary Believer, Jimmy Delozier. Delozier, a well-known bluegrass recording artist, has been playing music his entire life; and since Griffis and Delozier have known each other since they were knee high to a pig’s eye, they have been riffing off each other for nearly as long.
As with any creatively talented group, one might wonder whether egos ever rub the wrong way, but Eglevsky assures this is not the case, “Each of us brings something to the band, and that‘s one of the reasons I think it really works well. Stephen knows music, and what he and Lowell choose to sing is influential. Bud and Jimmy are walking histories of music; they’ve been playing since before our parents were born! Lowell is a comedic front guy, one of the best soloists up on stage, and just overall talented. There are no hidden agendas; it’s about having fun and being out on First Fridays. ”
Hu concurs, “There is no clash of egos; no one is trying to control the band. Bud wrote the original numbers that we do, all the gospel numbers. Lowell and I choose a wide range of material; much of it is traditional bluegrass, but a lot of times we’ll take the rock genre and play it as bluegrass, anything with a folksy feel, we bluegrass-ize them.”
Sale motions to the guys from the floor and Hu takes front mic, calling, “Welcome everyone, we’re The Believers.” Delozier’s fiddle runs scales up one ear and down the other, while Griffis’ mandolin courses through the veins and Eglevsky’s bass matches the heart. Sale’s banjo chugs, a merry locomotive driving the song, as Hu harmonizes with him adding guitar melody and crying, “I’m on my long journey home.”
A.E. Bayne is a teacher and writer who has lived and worked in Fredericksburg for thirteen years.