Bluegrass family carries on tradition Eylers to do 1st show since patriarch died

July 11, 1996|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

When the Carroll County Ramblers take the stage at their bluegrass festival this weekend, it will be the family band's first show since the death of patriarch Leroy Eyler.

They're more than a little nervous, son Dale Eyler said, but his father would want to see them carry on with the 35-year-old group.

"This will be our first time performing without him," said Eyler, a classical violinist turned fiddler. "This will be our first show since Dad passed away."

Leroy R. Eyler, a Carroll County native who lived near Taneytown, played mandolin and sang with the all-acoustic bluegrass group. He died at home June 22, 1995, at the age of 65 of a cancerous brain tumor -- less than a month before the 1995 festival.

But that event went on, without the Carroll County Ramblers, as a benefit to help pay Leroy Eyler's medical expenses.

"Some friends helped take care of everything last year," Dale Eyler recalled. "We didn't play -- we couldn't."

Eyler spoke yesterday from the Kingsdale Fire Company's carnival grounds in Pennsylvania, across the Carroll County line on Route 194, two miles southwest of Littlestown. About 60 campers already had arrived by midafternoon, he said, although the music doesn't start until 7: 30 p.m. today.

Headliners are Jim and Jesse and the Virginia Boys, who will close out the festival Saturday night. The Carroll County Ramblers will play two sets on Saturday. With Dale will be his mother Dorothy Eyler on guitar, sister Bonnie Eyler Young on bass fiddle and Dave Mickley of Fairfield, Pa., on banjo.

The band leans toward traditional bluegrass and also features songs written by its members. They have released eight albums, most recently a 1994 compact disc titled "Best of All Things."

They won't have a mandolin -- his father's instrument, Eyler said -- and haven't worked out all the group's songs yet.

The first sign that something was wrong with his father came onstage in 1994 when he suddenly began to forget lyrics to songs that he'd been singing almost all his life, Eyler said.

"That was really unusual for him, so we decided to have it checked out," said Eyler.

They went ahead with their 1994 festival, although his father had just had surgery and the band didn't play, he said.

"He was here for the festival. When you have that music in your blood, you want to be where the action is," Eyler said. "He and my mother had been playing since the late 1950s -- bluegrass and country." The couple formed the Carroll County Ramblers in 1961.

In the fashion of most musicians who play in the less-than-lucrative bluegrass genre, Leroy Eyler never gave up his day job and worked for 37 years as a tool-and-die maker at Emeco Industries in Hanover. He retired about two years before his death, leaving more time for the music he loved.

Although the Carroll County Ramblers played many local shows, they also toured the country and played at national events.

"As we were born, I guess we just kind of fell into it," said Dale Eyler, 33. "Sometime, I think we really didn't have a choice. I took classical violin lessons through school, and I guess everyone gets to the point when there's this peer pressure and you don't want to be the only one carrying a violin on the school bus. But Dad kind of forced me into keeping up with it, and I'm glad he did it."

At 16, Dale began playing an occasional number with the group, then joined full time 10 years ago.

"It will be hard walking on stage without him," he said of his father, "but the show must go on -- so that's what we'll do."

Tickets to the bluegrass festival are $35 for all three days, $8 today, $12 tomorrow and $16 Saturday. Camping is $3 in the rough or $6 for electric hook-up. Food concessions will be open through Sunday breakfast. The information number at the carnival grounds is (717) 359-5566.

The schedule today includes two sets each by Bluegrass Image, Al and Jean Shade, and Pipe Creek Bluegrass -- another Taneytown-area group.

The music runs from 4 p.m. to midnight tomorrow, featuring Larry Sparks and the Lonesome Ramblers, Lost & Found, Bob Paisley and the Southern Grass, and the Pen-Del Mountain Boys.

The Carroll County Ramblers will kick off Saturday's program, from 11: 30 a.m. until midnight. Other performers, in addition to Jim and Jesse, will be the Warrior River Boys, the Eddie Adcock Band, the Larry Stephenson Band and Keystone Bluegrass.

Pub Date: 7/11/96

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