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Old time fiddle player Clark Kessinger was my grandmother’s brother making him my great uncle. I had heard the name many times growing up but never really grasped the fame he attained in the bluegrass music world until my early adult years. Most of what I now know about Clark I learned after his death in 1975. Sadly, I only saw him play once.
It was an overcast day in the early 1960s. I was excited because my aunt was taking me to a place called Cedar Lakes near Ripley West Virginia. If anyone mentioned I was also going to see Clark Kessinger play, I don’t remember, I was eight years old and excited about going to a lake.
When we arrived I was deeply disappointed. There was a long, low cinderblock building painted a pale yellow in the middle of a large treeless field. In a little draw there was a smallish “lake” that looked like it had been freshly dug by a backhoe. A berm of clay dirt sparsely covered with weedy grass surrounded the water. This was Cedar Lakes?
At the performance we stood of to the left side of the stage. In my mind I don’t hear the music but I do remember the old man in the middle with a dark suit and brown hat. He danced when he played, bobbing up and down, shaking his hips and throwing in a full body shimmy now and again.
After the performance he came down and my aunt introduced me. I don’t remember what he said but I do remember a crowd gathering around us. That is all I recall of that day.
They say his music could bring a tear to a glass eye. My fleeting memory of Clark brings a tear to mine. I wish I could have known this talented man better.
Note: I should say that Cedar Lakes has since become a beautiful place for a retreat or conference.