Rolla Lions Club presented the gamut of bluegrass from tradition to contemporary — some of it even sounded avant-garde, if such a sub-genre exists — at the club’s fifth annual bluegrass festival Saturday night.

Rolla Lions Club presented the gamut of bluegrass from tradition to contemporary — some of it even sounded avant-garde, if such a sub-genre exists — at the club’s fifth annual bluegrass festival Saturday night.

Opening the program was Beverlys Hillbillies, a local group that sticks with a traditional approach to Bill Monroe’s music.

Closing the program was The Claire Lynch Band, a national touring band that likes to spice up its music with some jazz and swing, while remaining rooted in Monroe’s music.

In between was The Hillbenders, a Springfield-based combo that is willing to push the envelope or break through the envelope and ignore Mr. Monroe entirely.

In other words, there was something on the program for everyone either to love or to hate.  

Most listeners probably were like this reviewer and found gems in the performances of all three bands. That means the Lions Club did a great job in booking the bands for the festival.

You can’t go wrong with Beverlys Hillbillies. They opened with a 30-minute set and returned later in the program for a song or two during the intermission between the sets for Claire Lynch.

If you haven’t heard Beverlys Hillbillies, where have you been? They are wisely picked for several events throughout the year, and it is always a pleasure to hear their performances.

I’ve loved the voice of Claire Lynch from the time I heard the Front Porch String Band singing “The Wabash Cannonball” on the Ray Hicks-hosted Saturday Morning Bluegrass Show. I started paying more attention and listened to Ray’s show and Wayne Bledsoe’s KUMR?(now KMST) programs for more by the Front Porch String Band and soon heard “If You’re Ever in Oklahoma.” I believe Id rather hear Claire Lynch sing those songs than either Roy Acuff, whose version of The Wabash Cannonball is set in stone in the country music cannon, or J.J Cale, who wrote that terrific song about avoiding the cops in Oklahoma.

Claire Lynch’s bluegrass music is not traditional. She and her current group of musicians eagerly bring in influences from outside bluegrass. She told the audience how she embraced swing music while performing in Colorado. Her musicians are prone to go off on long jazzy solos. No complaints here, though, for all of it is tasty.

The Hillbenders was a new experience for me. Although I probably like traditional music the most, I’m open to music that is contemporary.

For all of you who think I’m a bluegrass stick in the mud, I once wrote a positive review for a bluegrass magazine about the Yonder Mountain String Band, a band influenced by the music and practices of Rastafarians.

Nevertheless, I have to acknowledge I shut out The Hillbenders from time to time during their set. I sat at a picnic bench under a pavilion, opened my notebook and worked on a short story during some of their songs.

They sang a country song, “Past the Point of Rescue,” in bluegrass mode. I prefer the original country arrangement. Toward the end of the song, they got real creative and the vocalist added something that sounded like a Mexican yodel. Then, the final note sounded like a parody of Josh Groban. It was confusing. Maybe I am a stick in the mud after all.

I recognize, though, that there were many who liked it. After I shot some pictures in front of the stage, I walked past some folks when the song ended. “Did y’all like that?” I said. One woman shook my hand and said she liked it and had heard The Hillbenders at Winfield, Kan., which I think if I heard right (my ears were ringing from walking past the giant speaker in front of the stage) was where she was from.

Another woman with a big smile, her face absolutely shining, said, “I loved it.”

So there you go; some folks have different musical tastes than I, and the Lions Club does a good job appealing to all of us.

Near the end of her first set, Claire Lynch said she was looking forward to getting off the stage so she could “shake and howdy and walk amongst you.”

So not only was the music good at the festival, but seeing and visiting with folks was an added benefit.  In addition to visiting briefly with Claire Lynch, I got to visit with a whole bunch of other local people, some of whom I hadn’t seen for awhile.

Ray Hicks was one of them. He looked good and it was a pleasure to visit with him and find out he is working hard to overcome the effects of the stroke he had 16 months ago.

I did not get a chance to shake hands with Jerry Rosa, who did a great job as master of ceremonies.

What a great evening Saturday at Lions Club Park. Thank you, Rolla Lions Club and event chairman Ray Heniff.