The sound

May 26, 2011 |

By Michael Swanger


Will the circle be unbroken? Bluegrass Tuesdays continues thanks to late couple


While going down life's weary road...

I'll try to lift some traveler's load...

I'll try to turn the night to day...

Make flowers bloom along the way


Those lyrics, from "A Beautiful Life" by the great Stanley Brothers, come to mind when listening to Jim Johnson talk about the late Steve and Maxine Mealey. Johnson, founder and operator of the free Bluegrass Tuesdays concert series held in Indianola every summer on the Warren County Courthouse lawn, credits the late couple for helping to preserve the series and wishes they were alive to see the fruits of their generosity. Steve Mealey died Feb. 9, a year or so after his wife passed away.

" Steve and Maxine were big bluegrass fans, and they never missed a show. They're sponsoring this year's series, but unfortunately they're not here to see it," Johnson said.

Bluegrass Tuesday's 12th season is arguably its best considering the lineup of marquee acts slated to perform this summer, including The Grascals, Rhonda Vincent, Michael Cleveland and Dry Branch Fire Squad. Opening for those acts are some of Iowa's highly touted bluegrass bands like Southern Reign and Mr. Baber's Neighbors.

" Last year, Steve donated $10,000 to the series on behalf of Maxine. That helped us bring in some big name bands we would not have been able to bring in on our own. Then Steve told me after that that he wanted to do one more thing for Maxine. So he started rattling off a list of artists he wanted to see play Bluegrass Tuesdays. He named 'em and I got 'em. He wanted the biggest bluegrass bands in the world to play Indianola, Iowa," Johnson said.

To help pay for the all-star lineup that he requested, Steve Mealey donated $50,000 to the Bluegrass Tuesdays series. Though Johnson had spent thousands of dollars over the years hiring national, regional and local bluegrass bands to help grow the series, the cost for this year's acts was the highest.

" For once, I feel like we're playing in the big leagues, but there's still no guarantee that we'll be able to pay for everything because the acts cost $57,000," said Johnson, who in his line of work could easily become a man of constant sorrow, but enjoys promoting bluegrass music.

Each day I'll do a golden deed

By helping those who are in need

My life on earth is but a span

And so I'll do the best I can

As tradition dictates at bluegrass concerts, a hat used to collect tips from the audience will be passed to help defray the additional costs for this year's series, which as in past years, is free of charge to music fans. Over the years, Johnson said, passing the hat has been an important part of helping to fund the series, and Steve and Maxine Mealey were always generous in filling it.

" Before they passed away, they would chip in $500 or $2,000," Johnson said. "Steve spent a lot of money on bluegrass here, and in the last couple years of his life he really had fun with it, buying a red top hat. He left money to his kids and the community and had a lot of fun doing it."

Which reminds me of two other lines from that great Stanley Brothers tune...

The only life that will endure
Is the one that's kind and good and pure. CV


Caption: Grammy-nominated The Grascals and local openers Mr. Baber's Neighbors kick off the 2011 Bluegrass Tuesdays series in Indianola on Tuesday, May 31 at 6:30 p.m. on the courthouse lawn. Admission is free.


Bluegrass Tuesdays


Warren County Courthouse Lawn, Indianola. 6:30 p.m. Free.

May 31 — The Grascals, Mr. Baber's Neighbors

June 7 — Michael Cleveland and the Flamekeeper, Highway Home

June 14 — Dry Branch Fire Squad, County Line

June 21 — Punches Family Bluegrass, Youth in Bluegrass

June 28 — Monroe Crossing, Sammy and Amy Greer

July 5 — Rhonda Vincent, Spring Hill Bluegrass

July 12 — Daily and Vincent, Southern Reign

July 19 — Randy Waller and the Country Gentlemen, Rob Lumbard