What began as a Sunday afternoon social gathering under a shade tree near Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Washington County has exploded 15 years later into the Manton Music Jam that last year drew about 2,500 music lovers.
“That first year maybe we had 100 parishioners and people in the community,” said Bobby Smith, who, along with his family, has been the driving force behind the annual music event. “Father Chris Allegro was our pastor when we got started. He was well-liked throughout the community so that helped. We had three (singing) groups and did potluck in the beginning.”
I had never heard of the Manton Music Jam until last year when some friends in Bardstown said it was something my wife and I would enjoy. They were right, and I won’t miss the one scheduled for July 28.
The village of Manton, mainly the church that dates back to 1844, and a general store, is not far from the Nelson and Marion county lines. But be forewarned, forget your GPS. No service here.
In addition to great entertainment on a permanent covered stage, the event is free with ample parking.
“It’s a fundraiser for us,” Smith said. “We make money on our food vendors, T-shirt sales, raffle, cake auctions, ice cream and lemonade.”
Bag chairs and blankets are spread across the grounds as families and friends seem to know everyone. It’s more like a reunion.
“We moved from a one-wagon event to three wagons and then to a four-wagon (event) until the stage we have now,” Smith said.
What is even more unique about the Manton Music Jam is that all of the entertainment donates their talent. Last year, the festival, which gets underway at 11 a.m., featured 10 groups.
Some of the lesser-known talent is permitted to register as walk-ons and perform early, and then at 1 p.m. the “stars” of the day play mostly southern rock and bluegrass until the festival concludes at dusk.
Past years’ performers have included Honeysuckle String Band, Manton Dew, Fifty Foot of Flame, Endless Road with Jimmy Yates and Todd Nally, Styktight and Sweeney Walker (Billy Walker’s grandson), Layla Springs (“American Idol” star in 2018), South 49, Rainy Day Band, Phillip Clarkson and Laura Mattingly and the Brown Brothers. Speaking of brothers, the Miles Brothers that includes legendary Elvis Presley impersonator Eddie Miles have displayed their vocals in the past.
The great thing about the Manton Music Jam is some of the regulars will return and new talent rises to become stars. It has become an entertainment staple for not only music lovers, but also bands and singers.
There’s lots of music festivals throughout Kentucky from Paducah to Corbin, but few have reached the success Manton has, especially located in the middle of nowhere. This is what makes it so special. Getting there is part of the experience.
It might make for an overnight. Visit areas around Bardstown, Harrodsburg, Lebanon or Springfield. Soak up some of the bourbon history, and Smith is quick to point out that Manton has some history of its own.
“Back in the time when the church was built in 1844, this little community was thriving,” Smith said. “There was a post office, hotel (it’s still standing), general store, blacksmith shop, mill, a one-room school house and a distillery. In the late 1700s, the beginning of what is now Beams Distillery was started here on the waters of Hardin’s Creek.”
The general store is owned by the church and according to Smith is very much an active part of the community. It’s still heated by a pot-bellied wood-burning stove during the winter.
All roads may not lead to Manton, but enough of them do to draw an unexpected experience for first-time visitors. Politicians walk the grounds. Singers and bands wait their turn to take the tin-roofed covered stage.
Mark your calendar and make plans. The festival is free and so is the parking, and you can even take your own food.
Remembering King Kelly
In this space since 2005, I have occasionally written about King Kelly Coleman, the legendary basketball player from Wayland in the mountains of Kentucky.
Kelly died Father’s Day night. He was 80 years old.
Without question, King Kelly was the most legendary high school player to ever play in our basketball-crazy state, and the records he set at the 1956 state tournament will probably never be broken (68 points in a single game, 185 points in four games and 28 rebounds in one game).
I wrote a book, “King Kelly Coleman, Kentucky’s Greatest Basketball Legend,” and became a close friend of Kelly’s, so when the family asked me to be a part of his funeral service, I was honored.
The first day of his visitation took place in the old Wayland Gym, and it was only fitting that his casket was placed beneath one of the goals. Several hundred visitors, including former basketball greats, made their way to Wayland, some 15 miles from Prestonsburg in Floyd County.
J.R. VanHoose from Paintsville played in four state tournaments and was 1998 Mr. Basketball. He was there. So was Ervin Stepp, 1980 Mr. Basketball, who set national scoring marks at Phelps High School. Elisha Justice, the 2010 Mr. Basketball who led Shelby Valley to the state title, was there, too. Geri Grigsby, the 1977 Miss Basketball, paid her respects. Corky Withrow from Central City, a high school rival of Kelly’s who later became one of his best friends, was there.
Others came by the old gym that is being restored to be the site of the Mountain Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. Lyle Dunbar and Lowell Hammers, who played with King Kelly at Kentucky Wesleyan, came by. So did former Western Kentucky University All-Americans Bobby Rascoe and Darel Carrier. Ralph Richardson, a 1958 Mr. Basketball, also was there along with countless others who traveled long distances to get to Wayland and pay their respects to the King.
There’s no excuse, get up, get out and get going!
– Gary West’s column runs monthly in the Daily News. He can be reached by emailing email@example.com.