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Ramblin’ Conrad Folklife Institute Tells the Story of the Blue Ridge Buddies at ODU Concert; Three More Scheduled

Old Dominion University Libraries and the Ramblin' Conrad Folklife Institute (RCFI) welcomed members of the Blue Ridge Buddies from across the country Wednesday, Jan. 11 for the premiere seminar and concert of the RCFI Spring Seminar Series, "'Roots & Branches': The Transmission of the Folk Process."

Dick Jensen, who played with the Buddies in the 1970s, arrived from California just in time for the blizzard that shut ODU down for 2 1/2 days.

"I lived here for six years in the '70s," said Jensen. "I think I've seen more snow since I got here than I did in those six years cumulatively. I even got a memorial cold!"

The RCFI Spring Seminar Series at Old Dominion University consists of four free seminars and concerts through April, with all participants having performed at the original Ramblin' Conrad's across from Old Dominion. Upcoming programs are:

  • Feb. 8: Sparky & Rhonda Rucker, Americana/roots legends

  • March 8: Alan Reid, co-founder of Scotland's honored Battlefield Band, performing with Rob van Sante

  • April 5: Caroline & David Paton, founding family of Folk-Legacy Records

All seminars will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and the concerts from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Diehn Composers Room at the Diehn Fine & Performing Arts Center at Old Dominion.

Last year, local folk music legend Bob Zentz helped establish Ramblin' Conrad's Folklife Institute in the Diehn Composers Room. Zentz also will donate his archives to Old Dominion Universities Libraries. He has had a long history at Old Dominion, performing on campus and attending classes for two years.

The Blue Ridge Buddies has strong ties with both Zentz and the person for whom the institute is named.

It was a local band in which lifelong Lambert's Point resident William "Ramblin' Conrad" Buhler played in the 1940s and '50s.

Zentz and the crew at Ramblin' Conrad's Guitar Shop and Folklore Center near campus adopted the band's name in the 1970s. They used the moniker in live performances at the shop and in the community - and the band even recorded a single. Many musicians cycled in and out of the lineup over the years, while friends and supporters participated in the many coffeehouses, dances and other events fostered by the shop.

"The Blue Ridge Buddies is an example of what we mean by 'Roots and Branches,'" Zentz said. "The 'Buddies' of Conrad's generation were neighborhood pals who got together to play music in their time, and, in turn, those of us who were inspired by Conrad's singing and example became a new chapter in the story. In a way, all of us who come out of that tradition are part of the Buddies, as long as we keep singing his song, so to speak."

George Bame, who performed with the Buddies at the original Ramblin' Conrad's Guitar Shop and Folklore Center, drove six hours from North Carolina to perform.

"I've been friends with Bob since 1970," Bame said. "Of course I was going to come for this."

The afternoon seminar covered the life and times of Ramblin' Conrad as well as the history and influence of Ramblin' Conrad's Guitar Shop and Folklore Center. Zentz also spoke about his experience with folk music and the impact it's had on Old Dominion and beyond. Members of the Blue Ridge Buddies played and answered questions about their lives, their part in the "folk process" and the importance of sharing folk traditions.

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