JOHNSON CITY – What started in the late 1960s as a way for one family to spend time together resulted in 14 albums and shows in more than 60 countries. And though the McLain Family Band stopped touring in 1988, the group will perform a special reunion show Saturday, Nov. 18, at the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, Va.
Band member Raymond W. McLain refused to label the type of music the audience will hear at the upcoming concert, saying instead that the McLain Family Band will perform pieces from a variety of genres – mostly bluegrass, old-time country and folk.
“It's about music,” he said. “It's just about music. We've never tried to fit into any category.”
The group features Raymond K. McLain on vocals; his son, Raymond W. McLain on fiddle, banjo and vocals; his three daughters, Alice White, Ruth Smith and Nancy Ann Wartman, on mandolin, bass and vocals; and his son-in-law, Al White, on multiple instruments and vocals.
An article in the Pittsburgh Press described a show by the McLain Family Band: “Their performance was full of open-hearted earnestness, wholesomeness and energy. If you can't make it to the Kentucky mountains, a concert by the McLains is the next best thing to being there.”
The McLain Family Band first received public exposure through a weekly television series on WKYH in Hazard, Ky., in 1969. A year later, the family moved to Berea, Ky., when the elder McLain accepted a position on the music faculty at Berea College. When the music panel of the National Endowment for the Arts met at the school in 1971, the McLain Family Band performed for it. The result of that show was an invitation from composer Gian Carlo Menotti to perform at the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy.
The family accepted the invitation and toured Italy, Germany and Belgium in 1972. More overseas tours followed, including several for the U.S. State Department.
In between international trips, the McLain Family Band was also staying busy in the United States. The band performed in such notable venues as Carnegie Hall, the Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center for the Arts. It was also the first bluegrass band to perform with a symphony orchestra.
Though the McLain Family Band stopped touring in 1988, its members have not been absent from the music industry since then.
Raymond W. McLain recently accepted a position as assistant director of the Bluegrass and Country Music Program at East Tennessee State University.
He and his brother and sister-in-law, Michael and Jennifer McLain, perform together as The McLains. Last year, they released a compact disc on Pinecastle Records entitled “More Fun Than We Ought to Have.”
Raymond K. McLain is also working on a CD, which is scheduled for release next year. Al White teaches bluegrass music at Berea College.
The McLain Family Band's concert at the Carter Family Fold will begin at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults, $1 for children ages 6-11, and free for children under 6.
For directions or more information, call (540) 386-9480.