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Bluegrass fest runs in the family

Dispatch/Argus Photo By Nobuko Oyabu

Local musicians get together and join an instant band at the Aledo Bluegrass Music Weekend at the Mercer County Fairground last summer.

ALEDO -- More than 25 years ago, Bill Barnes of Viola bought his wife an upright bass, telling their seven kids to leave it alone.

But Mr. Barnes knew they wouldn't listen, and they didn't. They fiddled with the big bass, which peaked their interest and spurred them to learn how to play instruments, said daughter Cathy Wonderlich.

Soon they formed a band called The Bluegrass Redheads -- they all had red hair -- and the rest is history. Last summer marked the 25th year the Barnes family has hosted Bluegrass Music Weekend, a Labor Day gathering of various bands and fans.

The event was held at the Ponderosa Campground north of Aledo for the first two years, and then moved to Mercer County Fairgrounds outside Aledo to accommodate larger crowds.

Mr. Barnes and his wife, Eleanor, coordinated the show every year until two summers ago. They want to retire from the job, but the many fans have begged them to stay, daughter Cathy said. She now has taken the wheel, gathering corporate sponsors to fuel the festival. One business donated a shade awning to ensure the event goes on, despite the weather, she said.

The weekend's proceeds benefit the Easter Seals Foundation, where Ms. Wonderlich is a resource development coordinator.

A lot has changed since the first bluegrass show. The seven Barnes children have grown up, married and started their own families. The next generation is learning to play the music, and some perform at the annual event. But the grandkids someday might want to change the band's name -- most of them aren't redheads.

-- By Kay Yadon (February 9, 1998)

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