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St. Simon's Episcopal hosts bluegrass concert benefit

Proceeds from concert to support local shelter for domestic violence victims

Special Photo The bluegrass band the East Dixie Boys, from left, Matt Southern, Terry Butterworth, Billy Butterworth, Randy McClung and Dale Roberts will play at St. Simon's Episcopal Church on Sunday.

Special Photo The bluegrass band the East Dixie Boys, from left, Matt Southern, Terry Butterworth, Billy Butterworth, Randy McClung and Dale Roberts will play at St. Simon's Episcopal Church on Sunday.

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Special Photo Long-time St. Simon's Episcopal Church member Dona Bopp, of the retro and classical country group the Angel Biscuits, will perform at the church on Sunday.

With Dona Bopp and The Angel Biscuits, The Skeeters and The East Dixie Boys on stage, one can be assured of a good-time bluegrass concert this weekend as St. Simon's Episcopal Church hosts a community-wide benefit for Project Renewal. The Sunday afternoon concert begins at 4 and admission is free, but a $10 donation is requested.

"We're happy to be able to lend any kind of assistance we can, whether it's great or small," St. Simon's Father Dan Crockett said. "The abuse of a spouse, male or female, is a horrible thing and certainly (Project Renewal) provides a sanctuary for them."

Project Renewal is a domestic violence intervention program serving Rockdale, Newton and Walton counties with its tri-county shelter for victims of domestic violence.

"I don't know if statistically abuse is on the rise during the recession, but these are hard times, tempers flare, things happen," Crockett said. "We just want to help when we can. People need to live free. This seems like such a simple thing -- go listen to some good music for a couple of hours and help. What a wonderful way to do your outreach work."

All three groups performing Sunday have connections to the congregation at the Conyers church in some way, including Dona Bopp of the Angel Biscuits, a retro and classic country group.

"She sings like an angel," Crockett said, adding that Bopp has been a member of the church for many years.

Ernie Gregory, the drummer for The Skeeters, a contemporary Christian folk band, is also a long-time church member and has played in different bands with his current band members through the years.

"They're all real nice folks," Crockett said. "They're wonderful musicians and all are really good Atlanta area musicians."

The East Dixie Boys, which is now working on its debut CD, is a professional touring band, performing throughout the Southeast playing traditional, hard-driving bluegrass music. The bass player is the son of a former St. Simon's member who moved to Gwinnett County and Crockett was the minister at his wedding.

With the bluegrass concert, Crockett said the church is "stretching a little more this year" in providing a community-wide music event.

In planning for Sunday's program, Crockett said he talked to Bopp and Gregory, who agreed for their bands to play, and then called Dale Roberts, the bass player for The East Dixie Boys. While the band's schedule was already full and busy, the group agreed to work in the benefit at St. Simon's.

"It was very nice for them to add us to their schedule," Crockett said. "They're traveling down from various parts of north Georgia and we're glad they have the energy and time for us. It was so gracious of them to find time for us this time of year."

Each member of the East Dixie Boys has an impressive bluegrass heritage, beginning with Terry Butterworth and Matt Southern, who founded Terry Butterworth-Matt Southern and The East Dixie Boys in 2007.

Butterworth, who held first chair violin in his school orchestra, saw the great "Chubby" Wise perform and said it ended his school music and launched a "life and love of bluegrass." His father provided at least one of every bluegrass instrument for him to learn to play and he continues to use those talents with his band today.

Southern is the grandson of Jim Southern, a "Hee-Haw" and WSM Grand Ole Opry veteran who led the Jim Southern-Bill Blaylock and The Modern sounds of Bluegrass in recording six albums. Southern's father grew up with Buck Owens and other country stars at his house.

Matt Southern began playing drums in bands in the 1980s and opened for Marty Robbins and "Little" Jimmy Dickens, to name a few. He developed a love of bluegrass and gospel music in the late 1990s, playing with bands for church services, revivals, singing tenor and playing the rhythm guitar.

He had learned to play the pedal steel guitar from Vern Kendrick and began playing the pedal steel and resonator guitar.

Southern has performed on a number of Christian and gospel albums, written songs for artists under commercial labels and performed with many Nashville bluegrass artists, as well as such pop artists as Phil Collins, Enrique Iglesias and Christina Aguilera.

Billy Butterworth, much like his brother Terry, has been exposed to bluegrass and old-time music since he was born. His father A.E. Butterworth Sr., managed old-time and bluegrass bands for years.

Billy Butterworth learned to play the mandolin at the age of 31, and has continued to play music with his brother and friends, who have said his talents add the "rarely heard styles reminiscent of the late Bill Monroe to the no-nonsense bluegrass style that makes the East Dixie Boys unique."

Dale Roberts became interested in bluegrass at 17, when he met the Osbourne Brothers, Lester Flatt, Marty Stuart and Bill Monroe. He and his high school buddies formed his first band, which played country and western music at the local American Legion.

Roberts got the opportunity to play bluegrass as a fill-in guitar player at his own family reunion when he joined his cousin Carl Duck, a banjo player for The Pine Log Mountain Band at the time. He later joined The Pine Log Mountain Band as a bass player.

In 2004, Roberts became what he calls "a full-blown Outlaw" and began playing with Jody Prince the The Shady Creek Outlaws, which recorded for Rural Rhythm Records.

Randy McClung has played for The Peachtree Pickers, Dallas Burrell's Mid-Georgia Crackers, Corn Fusion and Randy Franks, with whom he toured for three years. He also played bass in country music bands, but in the early 1990s, returned to traditional bluegrass. He plays banjo, guitar, dobro and mandolin.

Tony Duck began playing guitar at the age of 9, and in the early 1970s, his father began playing banjo while his mother started playing the upright bass and Tony began playing the mandolin. He played drums throughout elementary and high school, and learned how to play the violin in middle school, which he "converted" to fiddle music and continues his love of bluegrass music today.

Crockett, who began his ninth year this week leading St. Simon's Episcopal Church, is himself a long-time bluegrass fan and musician.

"I play the banjo," Crockett said. "Well, my wife says, 'Honey, that doesn't sound nearly as much like a bridge falling down as it used to.' I don't think I play the banjo; it plays me."

Crockett makes jokes about his banjo talents, but his trombone and trumpet playing once found him among professional musicians when he performed with Ray Price in Branson, Mo., for eight months one year as one of the Cherokee Cowboys. He also played trombone and trumpet for a circus part of a year back in the 1970s.

"I've had a storied career," he laughed, adding that he also played trombone and trumpet with the band put together by Elvis' twin second cousins.

"They looked like Elvis," he said.

Crockett said it was his connection to several of his fellow band members that led him to become a Christian. They invited him to join them for meetings and he joked that he got hooked on the spinach dip and kept going back."Isn't it funny how the Lord works?" he said. "They eventually got under my skin and I converted to Christianity."

Crockett said he is looking forward to Sunday's concert and said he hopes the community will come out for an afternoon of "great music."

"We're just very excited to have them come," he said of the performers. "We're hoping we can raise some money for Project Renewal.. People who come out to hear this won't be disappointed. It's a good cause, good musicians and a good time. How could you beat that?"

St. Simon's Episcopal Church is located at 1522 Ga. Highway 138 in Conyers.

Beth Sexton is a freelance writer based in Snellville. If you have a story idea, contact Karen Rohr, features editor, at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.

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