RAGHEADS: The story of a bluegrass family
Sometimes great things start from simple beginnings.
In the early 1970s, Al Taylor and his best friend Sam Karr strolled into a Holiday Inn in Lexington, Kentucky. A bluegrass band was playing there, one with a phenomenal guitar player with a smooth voice, a riveting mandolin player who would later become a household name in country music, a hard-driving banjo player who reinvented the instrument, a dobro player who changed the way bluegrass music would be performed, and a bass player who brought a deepness to the sound that was part of the reason the band became one of the most recognizable groups in the genre’s history.
The band was J.D. Crowe and the New South, and the banjo player was joined by Tony Rice, Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas and Bobby Slone. The two men were so taken with the sound of the band that they made routine trips to that location from their northern Kentucky homes. But that is just the beginning of the story.
In 1974, they attended the inaugural Festival of the Bluegrass at Lexington’s Masterson Station Park. Joining them there, were two little boys – 10-year-old Sammy Karr and 8-year-old Robby Taylor. The two sons were in the process of beginning a bluegrass phenomenon without their late fathers even knowing it.
After the boys got lost at the festival, the two worried fathers decided the boys had to wear full-sized, white towels on their heads so they were easy to locate. The boys grew tired of the cumbersome towels and later decided to tear off strips and tie them around their heads, something their fathers later imitated. A lady at one festival announced loudly, “There go them ol’ Ragheads.”
The towel strips stuck, the name stuck and now, some 40 years later, the Ragheads have stuck as the original community of bluegrass music followers with international representation and thousands of members from every walk of life.
They are young and old, rich and poor, men and women, but mostly fans of a music that has in some way shaped their lives and told relatable stories that celebrate humanity with songs about love, sorrow, struggle, spirit, perseverance and maybe a little moonshine.
So at many bluegrass festivals, Ragheads are in attendance and easily recognizable with a strip of a white towel wrapped around their heads. But the towel represents more than just a fan, it is a symbol of family, a bluegrass family that is always growing and welcoming of others who respect bluegrass music and its rich history.
And that’s just the way Al Taylor and Sam Karr would have wanted it.
LEFT: Bluegrass fans of all ages are welcomed into the Raghead family. (Children 16 and under are admitted to SamJam for free.) RIGHT: Bluegrass legend Larry Sparks wears a rag, along with the members of the Lonesome Ramblers, in support of the Ragheads at the 2017 SamJam.