Arts and Entertainment

Bluegrass in the hills

From left, Otis Whiteside, Roy Morgan, Betty Arrington, Bertha Whiteside, Diana Morgan, Jim Phillips and Sid Simmons play old time bluegrass and gospel music as The Combinations at the recent grand opening celebration of Mountain Loop Highway. - SARAH ARNEY Arts & Leisure
From left, Otis Whiteside, Roy Morgan, Betty Arrington, Bertha Whiteside, Diana Morgan, Jim Phillips and Sid Simmons play old time bluegrass and gospel music as The Combinations at the recent grand opening celebration of Mountain Loop Highway.
— image credit: SARAH ARNEY Arts & Leisure

DARRINGTON ?Folks in Darrington are working up a storm this week, getting ready for the 32nd annual Darrington Bluegrass Festival. The festival starts at

6 p.m., Friday, July 18 and runs until 6 p.m., Sunday.

At 78, Bertha Whiteside doesn't have to mow lawn anymore, but she sure is anxious for the event to start.

"I always look forward to seeing old friends at the festival," said Whiteside, formerly Nations. She and her then- husband, Samuel Nations, were founding members of The Combinations and the Darrington Bluegrass Country Music Association.

Samuel Nations, who died May 28, 2000, is honored with a brass plaque located front and center at the music park at the foot of Whitehorse Mountain in Darrington. The music association built the amphitheater specifically for the annual bluegrass festival.

"We got together and started playing in 1977 and have been playing together ever since," Whiteside said. Musicians in Darrington still jam on the second Sunday of every month through the year, including the Sunday before the festival.

Bertha's daughter, Brenda Fate, sings with the group and plays a little guitar, she said.

Bertha's new husband, Otis Whiteside, is a member of the band as well.

"He lost his wife in 2002. We had played music together all those years and went camping together," said Bertha. The Whitesides live in Snohomish and they still enjoy going camping at Pateros, Leader Lake and Conconelly. Bertha started playing the guitar when she was 12 in North Carolina.

"I got me a book and my brother showed me some chords," Bertha said.

Samuel played banjo and guitar, she said.

"Before I got married I played in revivals, just takin' my guitar and singin' myself," Bertha said. She moved to Darrington at age 17.

Her favorite songs are "Wings of a Dove" and "When Angels Sing." She was inspired by the most famous of bluegrass musicians, Bill Monroe and Lester Flat.

"I look forward to seeing all the fans that love the music," she said.

"Everybody is so friendly at the festival."

As a member of the association, Bertha is part of a team of 14 or 15 members who choose what bands to bring to Darrington each year.

"We go through all the resumes and listen to the music," she said. "This year we had 30 to choose from. It was hard."

The president of the music association is Grover Jones, a guitar player who has not been able to play in his later years, and vice president is Dwayne Smith, who is not a musician.

"We have a lot of volunteers who help us get ready and put on the festival. It's not just musicians," said Bertha, who is especially looking forward to hearing Bobby Osborn, one of the featured singers at this year's festival.

"I like Bobby Osborn. Cedar Hills is good, but I don't know Blue Highway," Bertha said.

Another member of the band, Diana Morgan is active in putting on the festival and she is very enthused about Osborn. "Bobby's brother Sunny retired, so Bobby formed a new group. We are pleased to have them here," she said.

Along with Osborn and the Rocky Top X Press, headliners at the 32nd annual Darrington Bluegrass Festival include Blue Highway from Nashville, Cedar Hill from Missouri and Lost Highway from California.

Northwest regional bands include Silverado, Red Desert Ramblers, Lee Highway, Cascade Mountain Boys, Three generations, Hammer Down, Old Circle, Queens Bluegrass and The Combinations.

Queens Bluegrass is based in Sedro-Wolley and joins The Combinations at the monthly jams in Darrington sometimes.

"We are a little concerned that the gas prices might keep people from coming to the festival this year but then again maybe people that would have traveled to farther places to vacation will do things closer to home and make this our biggest festival ever," Morgan said.

"We just want everyone to come and enjoy the wonderful music and the beautiful view of Whitehorse Mountain. It has more snow on it than I have ever seen this time of year."

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