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Rutherford County fan recalls "close friend" Earl Scruggs; celebrating Earl's 100th

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Musicians on stage at Ryman Auditorium. Photos by Sharon Decker

The celebration of Earl Scruggs' 100th birthday on January 6 - his actual birth date - at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville was truly an extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime event, Mary Beth Martin said. Martin, the executive director of the Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby, was among the packed crowd at the Ryman as bluegrass artists from across the the country paid tribute to the Cleveland County native.

Appropriately Scruggs' nephew JT Scruggs began the night's celebration welcoming everyone to the auditorium.

"Being at the Ryman for Earl's 100 birthday party was great," Scruggs said. "It was great to see all of the musicians on stage having a good time. It felt like that was because many of them knew Earl personally and he meant so much to them. Many banjos were played Scruggs Style. It was a great night."

Missing from the 100th celebration was one of Earl Scruggs' long time friends, Dan X. Padgett of Mooresboro. Because of illness, Padgett, 86, wasn't able to go to Nashville, but he was there in spirit.

"Me and Earl were real close," Padgett said.

As younger men, Padgett said the two often picked music on the screened-in front porch at Scruggs' home.

"It was in the summertime and we'd just be playing the banjos," Padgett said.

When Padgett was a "young boy" he left the area and went to Nashville to be near Earl Scruggs and the music industry.

"Every Saturday morning Earl would come and pick me up and we'd go to his house in Nashville and play records and play with the banjos," Padgett said.

During a 2022 interview with Padgett, he said Earl Scruggs' brother Junie taught him to pick the banjo.

"I had the opportunity to pick the banjo with Earl," he said, including on the Grand Ole Opry. They also picked together on a Nashville television station.

Although no longer teaching music, Padgett is renowned for teaching music for many years to young students who wanted to learn to pick the banjo. He had a studio in Shelby and later in Boiling Springs.

In November 2022, Padgett was given a piece of memorabilia from Earl Scruggs that he said he always wanted.

Scruggs' niece, Shirley Blanton traveled to Boiling Springs one afternoon and presented Padgett the red bowtie Earl Scruggs wore in his appearances on The Beverly Hillbillies.

At the time, Padgett told Mrs. Blanton he always wanted that bowtie more than anything.

She said it never mattered to her Uncle Earl. "If anyone wanted any of his things, memorabilia, he would give it to them."

Padgett's music rooms in Boiling Springs included memorabilia from Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain boys, and memorabilia from his own lifelong music career.

The celebration at the Ryman

Jerry Douglas was the musical director for Scruggs'100th birthday celebration. According to Bluegrass Now, Douglas thanked Nashville and North Carolina for showing up.

Douglas said if it weren't for the "master of the five string", none of these musicians would be here if it wasn't for Earl Scruggs."

Some of the best and brightest in today's bluegrass community took the stage including 10 banjoist, three ladies and seven men, Douglas told Bluegrass Now.

"The concert at the Ryman was the most wonderful and appropriate celebration of Earl's 100th birthday. It truly was a gathering of some of the most accomplished and beloved bluegrass artists, all paying tribute to Earl and affirming his incredible influence on them personally and on the music," Martin said.

She described the event and the atmosphere as "absolutely electric" and said people attending from all over the country knew they were witnessing an extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime event.

The 100th birthday celebration continued in honor of Scruggs back in his home county, Cleveland, Saturday night as the Earl Scruggs Center presented "Remembering Earl" at Shelby High School.

"Earl Scruggs is one of the giants in American music and it's so special that he's from Cleveland County," Martin said. "At the Earl Scruggs Center, we share and emphasize that it was this region - our traditions, culture, and music - that shaped Earl and the world-changing musician that he became."

Martin continued, "We live in a remarkable place, and it was wonderful to see that recognized during the event."

She commended Jerry Douglas and his team, the organizers, for being so generous to involve the Earl Scruggs Center, "and make us the beneficiary of the event."

"I just don't have words that are adequate to express how grateful we are for this incredible support," she said.

Martin said the Earl Scruggs Center organized a bus trip to the concert in Nashville and there was a "great turnout."

"Everyone had a wonderful time and said that it was a memorable experience. There were also quite a few others who traveled separately from the region to attend the show," she added.

Sharon Decker, President of Tryon Equestrian Partners, Carolinas Operation, attended the celebration in Nashville along with her husband Bob and three of their children - Rob, Matt and Emily.

"The event at The Ryman was amazing! Historic! So fun!" she said.

The Tryon Equestrian Center (TIEC) will partner with the Earl Scruggs Center and WNCW for the third annual Earl Scruggs Music Festival Labor Day weekend, August 30-September 1, 2024.

"We are more excited than ever about the Earl Scruggs Festival," Decker said. "His legacy lives on through bluegrass and Americana music. It is an honor to host it at Tryon International."

JT Scruggs added, "I believe it will just continue to get better and bigger. I can't wait for another year."

"It has become one of the finest and most exciting music events in the region, and it gets better and better each year," Martin said of the Center's partnership with TIEC.

"Our theme is "The Music is Coming Home," and that's exactly the feeling that everyone gets when they enter the festival grounds - artists and attendees alike," Martin said.

"I find myself looking forward to that moment when it all begins again and people from all over the country and world come together to celebrate Earl and the music that helped to create. It's a special thing and I hope the word continues to spread."

The contingent of bluegrass fans from Rutherford and surrounding counties and states, will be there to pay honor to the "five string banjo" giant.

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