It was a Saturday night back in September at Bill’s Music Shop & Pickin’ Parlor, and the place had the feel of a great big family picnic. There were laughter and hugs. Small children scampered here and there. A long table was filled with covered-dish staples, and folks were unpacking guitars, banjos, and fiddles.
A hush fell over the crowd when someone said the guest of honor was on his way. Cameras were readied, kids were shushed, and when the doors to the Pickin’ Parlor swung open, in stepped Bill Wells, the man who has championed bluegrass music in South Carolina for the past 26 years."
That's how I began my column a few weeks ago for the new issue of Jasper, which will be released next week. I'd heard that Bill was suffering from stage-four melanoma and was in a bad way. I'd known Bill for more than 20 years, and a friendlier, more humble person you'd never meet. In a small way, I wanted to pay tribute to the man who raised awareness of bluegrass in the Midlands and gave pickers and grinners a place to call home on Meeting Street in West Columbia for more than two decades.
Bill died yesterday, and his passing has left a hole in the heart of the Columbia music community. Bill was steadfast in his devotion to the music he loved, and for him, pure acoustic bluegrass music was the highest art there is. I'm sure he's circling around a single microphone up in heaven right now with Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt, having a good ol' gospel sing. Rest in peace, old friend.
-- Mike Miller is associate editor at Jasper --The Word on Columbia Arts
(To read Mike's column on Bill, please pick up a copy of Jasper Vol. 1 No. 2 available throughout Columbia and the Midlands on Tuesday, November 15th, 2011.)