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Old-time music opens concert series in Helen
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Saturday Evening Concert Series
When: 8 p.m. Saturdays through Nov. 14
Where: Unicoi State Park & Lodge, 1788 Ga. 356, Helen
How much: Donation for concert; $5 parking
More info: 800-573-9659, ext. 305

The Saturday Evening Concert Series kicks off this weekend at Unicoi State Park & Lodge in Helen.

The series began in 1999 and since then, bluegrass, old-time and gospel players have filled the lodge or the park’s campground trading post with music, both for guests staying overnight and locals looking for entertainment.

Jessica James, recreation director at Unicoi, said many of the performers are local, too.

“Some of them are,” James said. “We have some that travel from as far away as Asheville, N.C., and some other parts of North Carolina, but for the most part they are local.”

James said White County-based musicians The Possum Knockers, Benny Allison and the Weaver Believer Survival Revival, a family of 10 that doubles as a gospel and bluegrass band, frequently perform for the series.

“We just kind of have a wide variety of folks. It’s mostly our gospel musicians that come from far away,” James said.

James said the performers donate their time, but “pass-the-hat” donations are taken up during the concerts, which vary in attendance from about 50 to 300 people.

“For anybody that just wants a great evening out, they can come to the lodge and have a nice meal in the restaurant, and then they can finish eating and take their full bellies and go enjoy a live concert,” James said.

This Saturday’s 8 p.m. concert will be located in the lodge’s Masters Hall and will feature Lavonia banjo player Ed Teague, 82.
Teague said he began playing the banjo when he was only 4 years old.  

“Well, I learned how to play an old five string banjo ... it’s been about 78 years ago,” Teague said.

Teague named his grandpa, Oscar Gibson, as his main influence.

“Well, I learned watching him play,” Teague said. “I guess you could say that he did teach me, because I’d lay in the floor and watch him play and just picked it up and started doing it.”

Teague said he has performed at several events in the Southeast.

“I’ve played at the World’s Fair when it was in Knoxville, Tenn.,” Teague said. “I’ve played for the Olympics when it was in Atlanta and I’ve played for a lot of different bluegrass festivals. I don’t play bluegrass music, though.”

Teague said he plays old-time music, “the way they used to play about 75 or 80 years ago.”

“It wasn’t near as fast,” he said. “Some of the same songs that they use as bluegrass, but back then it was originally old country music.”

Now Teague said he performs at The Georgia Mountain Fair and parks like Unicoi, Vogel State Park in Blairsville, Clem’s Shoal Creek Music Park in Lavonia and “just anywhere anybody wants us to play.”

“I’m getting to where I’m not able to go very much,” Teague said. “But I’m just going to keep on doing what I’m doing.”

Teague is sometimes joined by Lawton Dyer, a guitar player and singer from Gainesville, stand-up bass player Mary Ann West of Rutherfordton, N.C., and her husband, Norris West, who plays fiddle, dobro, mandolin, banjo and guitar.

“All I do is just sit there and pick and grin,” Teague said, adding that he likes playing at Unicoi and other parks because “you meet a lot of nice people there.”

Upcoming Saturday Evening Concerts at Unicoi include gospel group Reconciled, June 13; bluegrass group The Picking Partners June 20 and folk singer Joanne Steele on June 27.

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