News/Thoughts

A Promoter’s “Jurney” in Berryville

During the summer festival season, we find it difficult to attend more than a few of the fine Americana music performances that the great promoters of this genre of music make available. The solution of course is to locate a source of this music that does not end when the leaves began to change color.

One really great fall/winter source for music has been the Berryville Bluegrass Concert Series promoted by the legendary Mr. Frank Jurney. Mr. Jurney has promoted this fine concert series for the past 18 or so years with the proceeds supporting the Clarke County High School Eagles Athletic Association. Over the years, this successful concert series has raised more than $300,000 since the series began in 2000. The association has used this money over the years to pay for uniforms and scholarships for the athletes.

The concert series is produced entirely with volunteer labor and sponsorship’s. The volunteers even fix a hot meal for the bands. Frank says he has always had ample help and good cooperation from everyone involved. The concert series sells out a 500-seat auditorium with season ticket and advance single-performance ticket sales making up the main block of concert goers leaving very few door sales available.

Hard Work and Dedication
Frank Jurney along with his wife, Cyndy, over the years have drawn upon Frank’s many years as a bluegrass music promoter and their year-around attention and work to make this winter concert series a reality. Alas, we recently learned that this up coming 2018/19 season is to be the last for the Berryville Bluegrass Concert Series with Mr. Jurney’s advancing age and declining health being cited as the main reason for the series coming to a close. With this announcement of the series coming to a close, it is fitting that we give you a bit of insight into the life and times of Mr. Frank Jurney, music promoter extraordinaire.

Frank Jurney has been in the bluegrass promotion business since the 1980s. He got his start raising funds for a local fire department and other local venues in his home area. Some years ago, a close friend, who was the athletic director for Clark County Virginia High School, asked if he would put together a concert to benefit the school’s athletic department, and Frank agreed to do it. He once told us, “We hired IIIrd Tyme Out whom I’d worked with previously and an overflow crowd showed up for the concert; so that encouraged us. The next year, we did three concerts and did very well with them. So, the next year we extended it to five and we are now at six per year. It’s a labor of love, really. We both have a passion for bluegrass and a desire to help a worthy cause so it fits very well.”

During his earlier years, Frank’s day job was serving as a professional firefighter for Washington, DC but his avocation was always bluegrass music. During the 1950’s and 60’s, Washington, DC and the surrounding northern Virginia area was a hotbed of bluegrass and country music (most likely due to the influx of southerners who migrated to the area for work during the war years). As a young man, Frank discovered The Country Gentlemen. From that introduction, he developed a real love for that genre of music and began following his favorite acts from place to place. Frank told us, “There were a lot of clubs in DC where you could catch bluegrass music; however, in 1972 along came Seldom Seen, and I’d never heard anything like them in my life.” This developing love of the music drew Jurney to the Birchmere (a well-known bluegrass club in Arlington VA where Seldom Seen was the house band at one time). When Birchmere closed, the bluegrass community raised enough money to keep it alive. During this time, Jurney became involved in the business end of things at the club; which led to him to become acquainted with many of the performers of the day; which, in turn, led Frank to become involved in the booking business.

It Just Happened
Here is Mr. Jurney’s take on how he got involved in the promotion business, “I had no intention of becoming a promoter. It just happened. Someone mentioned that I promote a little show down at my firehouse to raise a couple bucks. That was our very first show, and as they say ‘the rest is history’”. Along with the Berryville Bluegrass Concert Series, Mr. Jurney was at one time also associated with both the Graves Mountain Festival and events at Watermelon Park. When asked if he was ever a performer, he quickly admitted to being a failure at both picking and singing but claimed to having a knack for organization and a passion for music and the ability to combine the two attributes into promoting music events for the enjoyment of others.

There are many successful event promoters in the business but many people consider Frank Jurney also a performer’s promoter. While he is responsible for booking the acts for an event stage, he personally cares for them and their welfare as well. A close friend of Mr. Jurney’s, Bruce Carpenter, recently related a comment to us that was made to him by Mr. David McLaughlin of Johnson Mountain Boys fame and currently with Linda Lay and Springfield Exit. David maintained that Frank Jurney has done more to keep bluegrass music alive in the Shenandoah Valley than any other person. He went on to say that he knew for a fact that Frank had used personal funds to pay bands that were playing for the gate proceeds when those proceeds were a lesser amount than what Frank thought was fair. McLaughlin went on to tell Bruce that he knew this fact because he had been the benefactor of such generosity more than once. Carpenter also mentioned to us that John Bowers and Joyce, his wife, who produces the Pickin’ In Parsons festival, each summer, called Frank Jurney a true southern gentleman of promoters.

Bruce Carpenter is a very close friend to Frank Junrey and has taken on the role as his assistant to help in any capacity as needed to help Frank shepherd this final season of the concert series to its April, 2019 conclusion. He mentioned that with the last concert next April, it would be the end of the series in its current format (although there has been some discussion that someone might step forward and keep the concerts going because they are popular fund raisers; however, any such effort probably would be on a smaller scale).

The Show Will Go On
As far as the future of winter season live music series in the rural northern Virginia area, Bruce told us that Mr. Jurney encouraged him to promote a venture similar to the Berryville series but near his home in Frederick, County, VA. He said that he has recently put that plan in motion; and that Frank Jurney has promised his expertise as a consultant if his health permits him to do so. Therefore, beginning with the 2019/2020 season, Bruce Carpenter is promoting the Top of Virginia Bluegrass music series in conjunction with the Fredrick County Education Foundation. Proceeds of this new music series will fund grants that will support Frederick County schools as follows: in excess of 50 percent to aid in the advancement of agriculture and technology education; and the remainder percentage directed to the general education fund.

Know that while the stage lights on the Berryville Bluegrass Concert Series are going dark at the end of this current concert series, the legacy of Mr. Jurney, the performer’s promoter, is assured for all time and his promotion efforts over the years are well appreciated by the performers, venue managers, and benefit recipients.

You have one last season to enjoy the fruits of Mr. Frank Jurney’s labors, and get your ears around some live Bluegrass music promoted and produced by a seasoned veteran who knows what he is doing. For this 2018/2019 and final year for the Berryville Bluegrass Concert Series, Frank Jurney has produced seven shows instead of the usual six.
For more information, check out www.berryvillebluegrass.com.

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