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Event raises funds for educational programs

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By John Barnhart

Sedalia Center rang to the sounds of bluegrass music this past weekend as the Bedford County Sheriff's Office held its fifth annual bluegrass festival.

According to Sergeant David Marsh of the Sheriff's Office, this is one of two major fundraising events to support its educational programs such as GREAT, a school based program designed to encourage youth to stay away from drugs and gangs. A golf tournament is the other fundraising effort.

The Sheriff's Office rents Sedalia Center for the event, which took place on Friday night and all day Saturday with nine bands and a solo performer.

Two band member, Dobie Toms and Mason Thomas were busy fellows as they performed with two bands.

Dobie Toms & Faith Ridge started just two years ago. In this group, Toms sings and plays banjo while Thomas plays bass and sings harmony. It also includes Toms' son, Wyatt, 11, who puts in an excellent performance with the fiddle. They came on stage at 7 p.m.

Then, at 10 p.m. Toms and Thomas were back, this time with Hard Drivin' Grass. In this band, Thomas is the lead singer. Toms is the old man of this group. All the others are still in their teens. Thomas, who is 15, can't even drive yet. However, he and the rest put on a top quality, professional performance, with outstanding stage presence. Last September, they won first place in the 8th Annual Virginia Folk Music Associations Virginia State Championship Bluegrass Contest. They were competing in the All Adult Division.

What's it like performing with two bands?

"It's a lot of fun," commented Toms. "It keeps you on your toes."

Toms, along with Wyatt and others, also conduct a Bluegrass worship service at Holy Land U. S. A. Sunday mornings. Toms said they get various groups in, providing variety.

"We start at 11 a.m. and have a really good time," he said.

The first Sheriff's Office bluegrass festival was held in 2003 and Heather Berry, then 15, was one of the performers. Now 20, she performed twice on Saturday. According to her father, Raymond Berry, who worked the sound system for the festival, she is now touring through several states. He said that she performed at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville when Tom T. Hall and the Statler Brothers were inducted. According to Berry, his daughter has been performing songs that Tom and Dixie Hall are writing.

All of these folks have Web sites. Toms' group is Faith Ministries musical team. According to its Web site, www.faithridge.com, the ministry was started in 1999 by Toms and his wife, Lisa. It's a non-profit organization with a board of directors.

Heather Berry has a Web site at www.heatherberrymusic.com and Hard Drivin' Grass is at www.harddrivingrass.com.

Along with music, the event gave people a chance to talk to Sheriff's Office personnel, between 5 and 6 p.m. They were available to explain various Sheriff's Office programs. The program for the event also urged attendees to feel free to talk to staff members anytime during the event to ask questions or discuss concerns.