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Local bluegrass staple to open for Seldom Scene

Members of Five of a Kind, from left, are Bill Foster, Terry Barbin, Jimmy Drummond, Tom Knowles and Norman Racey. Though membership has evolved, the band has been performing at local venues for 30 years. Courtesy photo (Buy photo)


Five of a Kind plays at 7 p.m. Friday at the Strasburg Theater, with Seldom Scene to follow.

Tickets are $20 in advance and $22 the day of the show, with special VIP packages available that include a dinner buffet. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.strasburgtheater.com or call 975-0813.
By Preston Knight -- pknight@nvdaily.com

STRASBURG -- Jimmy Drummond has found a way to increase his friend count without using Facebook.

It's called bluegrass music.

For three decades, Drummond has been a leader of local favorite Five of a Kind, a period of survival for the band marked by "perfect" personnel and a dedicated group of followers, he said.

"Mostly," Drummond said, "they're good friends now."

And plenty of them will be on hand for the group's next gig, one of its biggest. Five of a Kind is scheduled to play Friday night at the Strasburg Theater, opening for legendary Seldom Scene, considered one of the most influential bluegrass bands of its time.

"I'm looking forward to it," said Norman Racey, Five of a Kind's bass player. "It's going to be a pleasure to open for them. ... It's going to be good. I hope the people in town, around the county, all show up and support us and support them."

Given the local band's 30-year run, that should not be a problem. With Racey and Drummond, who plays guitar and is the lead vocalist, Terry Barbin is on banjo, Bill Foster on mandolin and Tom Knowles on fiddle. Drummond is the only one who was a part of the original group, while Racey is the second-longest tenured member, having joined in 1988.

The band formed in 1980 like so many musical acts do -- jamming in a garage, Drummond said. It played parties here and there, he said, before having its first gig at the Apple Blossom Festival.

In the middle of the 1980s, the band's first cassette project, "Five of a Kind," was recorded, and five more followed, according to the group's website. In the late 1990s, its first CD, "Best Hand," was finished, and the third and latest CD, "Royal Flush," was recorded in 2007.

Knowles said the staying power of the band impresses him, noting that he once kept a group together for 10 years and people wondered how he even accomplished that. Drummond, he said, should be commended for getting the right people with the right personalities.

"It's really an accomplishment to keep a band together for 30 years," Knowles said.

Drummond, however, deflects most of the credit onto those he has played with.

"One thing I really consider being lucky," he said. "[New members] come in and they know the music, the old traditional style. We go over a few [songs] and they're ready to go. The personalities have been perfect. We're very open with people. We like to get to know people."

Members have come and gone from the band's outset. The original five changed within a year, when Vince Poling, who is retiring this summer as Shenandoah County's administrator, replaced Doug Arthur, the website states. Poling left in the late 1980s, at which point Racey joined.

A sixth member, Bill Poffinberger, came along in the 1990s, but the band's name stayed the same. Richard Kleese, an original member, left in the late 1990s and was replaced by Joe Passolano, keeping the band's membership at six.

The number fell to four, though, in the early 2000s, as Poffinberger and another original, Charlie Nicholson, left. The group found a fifth in Barbin in 2004, but soon went back to four when Passolano moved away, the site states.

In 2006, Foster entered the picture, but by November 2007, with the retirement of original member Gene Stokes, the band was at four yet again. It spent most of 2008 as a four-piece act, keeping its name, though. In August 2008, Knowles, who worked as a banker in Bethesda, Md., and has been in the bluegrass industry for 40 years, tried out and joined, bringing the group back to the magic number of five that it wants.

"They really have a name around here," he said.

And that is where Five of a Kind differs from Seldom Scene, Knowles said. The ambition of the local band, which has been composed of men with other careers and families, is to make an impact on the immediate area, and not have as much of a national appeal, he said.

"The guys are very content, as am I, to be a regional band, play in the area," Knowles said. "We want to play good music, be entertaining, just enjoy the fellowship of the audience."

Drummond said: "Not only music, but entertaining, we like to put on a show. We like to draw the crowd in with the band. We kind of get the crowd to participate. ... I'd like to thank the people who have supported us through the years."

Around the Northern Shenandoah Valley, Five of a Kind may not be Seldom Scene, but it is far from being seldom seen -- or heard. A packed house is expected Friday night, and that happens at many of the band's performances regardless of whether it is opening for a legend. The opportunity to do so, though, is much anticipated.

"Opening for the Scene at the theater," Foster said, "is going to be a hoot.



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