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A Portion of an article in SC Living Magazine

Author: Hastings Hensel

Sept 1, 2014

Homespun Bluegrass

'Once we start, it never stops'

I left Spartanburg and hit Highway 221, heading 22 miles north to downtown Chesnee and hoping to arrive right at 7 p.m., when the Homespun Bluegrass jam was set to start. But I was five minutes late, and 15 players were already halfway through their gospel rendition of Hank Williams’ “Dust on the Bible.”

Of all the jams I visited, Homespun was, by all measures, a true picking parlor, complete with farm equipment décor and old men in overalls and cowboy hats singing their hearts out.

Homespun’s founder and leader, Keisler Tanner, known to everyone as KT leads the jam by strumming a Martin guitar in perfect rhythm and seamlessly passing a vintage microphone around to the inner circle of pickers who want to play lead or sing. The whole thing is a fluid, well-timed, seemingly choreographed dance that might be described as very organized chaos. And, boy, does it sound good.

Just after 7:30 p.m., the place was packed, but I found an open seat and joined in on “Going Up the Ladder,” trying to keep up with the chord changes by eyeing the player beside me. When the song was over, we launched immediately into the next one.

“We’re not polished, and we’re not professional, but we have a good time,” K.T. says. “And once we start, it never stops.”

The first two hours are gospel songs played in a bluegrass format, followed by two or more hours of what K.T. calls “anything goes” bluegrass, which allows folks of all different skill levels and ages to participate.

“There’s people who come here, and you wouldn’t believe the improvement,” K.T. says. “They couldn’t keep time in a bucket, and now they’re sitting up here on the front row.”

At Homespun that night, there were some hot pickers indeed—folks like dobro player Nathan Barnett and mandolinist Greg Farmer, musicians who approach every solo as a way to give new life to a song.

But one thing I learned at Homespun is that sometimes it’s best to put down your instrument and just listen. On my visit, K.T. calls out a special guest from New Mexico, a lifelong railroad worker who requests a train song called “The Wreck of the Old ’97.”

So, they play it for him, and darned if Homespun doesn’t have a guy named Steve “Freight Train” Jackson who leans into the microphone during the song and belts out the best train whistle anyone has ever heard. I take that as the signal that it’s time to hit the road once again.