With the late summer sun filtering through the Spanish moss hanging from decades-old oak trees surrounding a historic one-room schoolhouse, now the Cassia Community Club, the sounds of Bill Monroe's Lonesome Road Blues floated through the air from the strings of banjos and mandolins playing around the yard.
In recognition of the late "Father of Bluegrass," Bill Monroe's centennial birthday, I looked for people or events around Central Florida that were celebrating the life and sounds of the acclaimed musician. After speaking with our music writer Jim Abbott, he assured me that I needed to make the drive to Cassia, Fla. to experience a "pickin' n jammin' " session showcasing some of the finest bluegrass music in the region.
What started out with a couple of old-timers playing "hillbilly music" on the front lawn, now pulls in dozens of musicians from all over the state, twice a month to share their love of all things music, especially bluegrass and country. John Bogue, one of the original musicians who came to Cassia looking for a dobro player, jokingly calls himself the "stage Nazi." He coordinates the bands that want to perform on stage. "Basically, I never have known what we are going to have here until they show up. But now I do know a little better, but not that much better."
While more formal bands play inside to a packed house, others split off into smaller jam sessions of different genres throughout the property. On one corner you may hear the more traditional sounds of American Country music, while the sirens of gospel are singing a cappella across the way. Darlene Powell originally came to Music in Cassia while recovering from health problems about six years ago. "Music was my therapy, and now it's become my addiction."She is frequently seen and heard playing rhythm and bass guitar, "and sometimes if I'm very very good, they let me play my mandolin or my fiddle."
"This was another really good thing about this club, is that you can come out here with a stringed-instrument and someone will help you. They'll help you learn the chords; they'll help you learn timing. You'll never be alone."
Bennie J. Davis has been coming to Cassia between 12 and 13 years for the camaraderie with the musicians. "Times are hard, and this is not a rich community except in patriotism for our country and our music. Country music, whether you like it or not, it's not imported. That's American music. It's not imported from Korea or China. This is pure American music."
Davis says Music in Cassia is a story telling event set to music. "We all have our strong points. We have good pickers. We have good singers. And when you get us together, sometimes we sound pretty darn good."
Gary W. Green can be reached at email@example.com. Follow the Sentinel photo staff on Twitter @OSPhoto. Like us on Facebook: Orlando Sentinel Photography.