ALEXANDRIA — For Johnny Goss, bluegrass is all about the community.
First, it was about a small community of friends and neighbors in Alexandria who supported his band, Valley Road, when it was just getting started eight years ago, by booking shows and spreading the word about concerts. Then, it became a much bigger community of bluegrass lovers from all over the Southeast, who travel hundreds of miles every weekend to hear the best bluegrass music, including Goss' band.
Valley Road invited both communities to check them out Saturday night at the Valley Road Community Bluegrass Festival at Trantham Farms. The band shared the stage with Backwoods Revival and Crossing Grass in what Goss said he hopes will become an annual event.
"Our main thing is about giving back to that community," Goss said Saturday morning, while getting things ready for the show. "You come to these shows and you see 1,500 friends, all having a good time."
Saturday's show started off as just a anniversary event for the Alexandria band, but blossomed into a festival when word got out about the Calhoun County concert, Goss said.
"Once we added the word 'community' things kind of went nuts," Goss said. "In a good way, though."
While setting up for the show on Saturday morning, Goss joked that he expected somewhere between 200 and 2,000 people to show up. But really, Valley Road said they feel as comfortable playing headline at big festivals as they do playing for a handful of friends.
"We play for literally dozens of people," said bassist Mike Smitherman with a laugh.
"All at the same time," Goss added.
More than just dozens showed up Saturday night at Trantham Farms, located between Alexandria and Weaver on State Farm Road. Bluegrass lovers from all over Alabama came out for their music and Judy Mann, a board member of Alabama Bluegrass Music Association, said that's pretty much the norm for bluegrass shows in the state.
"I see faces here that I see everywhere," Mann said. "It's a very dedicated community."
One who doesn't mind driving a couple hours to hear some bluegrass, Ron Neeton, a school teacher from Lawrence County, said he saw a commercial for the concert on a Birmingham television channel. He said he and his wife knew they didn't want to miss it, even though they had never heard Valley Road or the other bands at the festival before.
"We like to go to as many bluegrass festivals as we can," Neeton said. "We just like hearing good music."
Part of what makes bluegrass concerts so special, Goss said, is the blurred line between the audience and the performers. A staple of bluegrass shows, he said, is inviting anyone who wants to play to bring their guitar or banjo and jam.
"We expect as many pickers as we do listeners," Goss said. "We encourage it."
But Saturday's show wasn't just for hardcore bluegrass fans, Goss said, and he hoped casual listeners would get a chance to experience music most might not appreciate.
"A lot of folks think bluegrass is just the ‘Beverly Hillbillies,’ but it's a lot more than that," Smitherman said, alluding to the old TV show’s famous theme song.
"It's a lot more complex than that," said Luke Ford, Valley Road's banjo player. "It's pure."
Authentic was a word Betty Weldon, a fan from Sylacauga, used for it while she waited for the show to start Saturday evening.
"I love the instruments," Weldon said. "The guitar, the banjo, all of it. I just love the sound of good music."
No matter what words they use to describe it, bluegrass fans just don't understand why anyone wouldn't want to hear a couple hours’ worth of picking.
"There was an old lady at one of the first shows I ever went to who said, 'how can you not like this?'" Mann said with a laugh. "I mean, this is great."
Staff Writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @Banderson_Star.
Staff Writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.