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Blue Ridge Pickers perform for area nursing homes

May 07, 2001

Blue Ridge Pickers perform for area nursing homes



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer


SOUTH MOUNTAIN, Pa. - "They're in good now so I'm singing again," said Ray Watson, lead singer in the Blue Ridge Pickers bluegrass band.

Watson was talking about his false teeth.

"They used to fly out, so I couldn't sing," said Watson, who also plays mandolin.

At 81, Watson is about in the middle, age-wise, among the five band members. Mandolin player Floyd Benchoff and guitarist and vocalist Crawford Brechbill are the oldest at 87. Dobro player Elwood Eicher is the youngest at 77 and George Benchoff, the banjo player and band leader, is 79.

Watson and George Benchoff live in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa. Brechbill is from Fayetteville, Pa., Eicher lives in Emmitsburg, Md., and Floyd Benchoff lives across the Franklin County line in Adams County.

John Gilland, guitar, vocals and harmonica, sometimes plays with the band when he's not working, George Benchoff said.

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The Blue Ridge Pickers perform mostly in nursing homes in Franklin, Fulton and Adams counties in Pennsylvania and Washington and Frederick counties in Maryland.

Performing recently before a dozen residents at Michaux Manor Living Center in South Mountain, Pa., the band was clearly at home among people in their age group.

They usually play for about an hour then move among the residents to greet them, George Benchoff said.

"We just go around and say hello. Sometimes they remember us," he said.

The band plays for donations, often in the form of food.

"We get a lot of free dinners," Benchoff said.

"We'll play for anyone who asks us," Brechbill said. "We're happy to get money for gas."

The Blue Ridge Pickers are no fashion plates. An average costume consists of run-of-the mill pants, a plaid or western wear shirt and their singular common clothing item - string ties.

The five have been playing together as a band for about two years, George Benchoff said. All play or have played in different bands and all except Eicher have been playing for decades.

"I started playing 12 years ago when I retired," Eicher said.

"I've been playing for 67 years," Watson said.

Brechbill started playing when he was 13. Years ago, he said, he used to play solo on a Saturday morning show in Hagerstown.

George Benchoff has been playing for 35 years and Floyd Benchoff for 19 years.

The band's roots stem from an earlier group. George and Floyd Benchoff, who say they are distant relatives, played in that band. The Blue Ridge Pickers started up when the members of the old band died off, George Benchoff said.

The band performs in nursing homes three to four times a week. The members say they don't know how many songs they know. They play them as they learned them years ago, by ear.

Their repertoire includes bluegrass, country and western, gospel and pop.

A sampling from their recent South Mountain performance included "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," "It's a Small World," "Nobody's Darling But Mine," "Wabash Cannonball," and "When You and I Were Young, Maggie," which enticed some audience members to join in.

"This keeps me going," Brechbill said.

"I'm going to keep on playing as long as I can," Watson said.

"If I was in a home like this, I'd like somebody like us to come in and play," Floyd Benchoff said.

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