Any anniversary celebration is special. But when it’s a double anniversary, that’s extra-special. And when one of those anniversaries marks 130 years . . . well, that’s unique.
So it was with the Gretsch 130th Anniversary celebration, which was held this past May 4 at Randy Wood’s Pickin’ Parlor in Bloomingdale, Georgia. The location was appropriate, since Bloomingdale is just “down the road a bit” from Pooler, which is where Fred and Dinah Gretsch (company president and CFO, respectively) reside. And the Gretsch USA Custom Drums factory is located just across the river, in Ridgeland, South Carolina.
The setting for the event had a somewhat rural feel, with a big white tent covering the table area and the aroma of authentic southern barbecue in the air. And despite grey skies and occasional showers, nothing could dampen the enthusiasm of the 100-plus guests in attendance.
The event was made all the more special by the fact that it also celebrated Fred and Dinah’s wedding anniversary. Friends, business associates, and a substantial array of family members were on hand to help the anniversary couple commemorate this unique occasion. Guests were presented with personalized I.D. badges on classic Gretsch-logo lanyards. Each badge also contained a special 130th Anniversary pin as a token of the family’s appreciation.
Dinner began with a benediction delivered by Archabbot Douglas Nowicki, of St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania and the Benedictine military school in Savannah. A long-time friend of the Gretsch family, Archabbot Nowicki regularly sends them photos of Gretsch drums and guitars that he sees on his travels around the world.
Guests then enjoyed a down-home barbecue meal provided by Mac’s Place (attached to the Pickin’ Parlor). Dessert consisted of three special cakes: two in celebration of the Gretsch Company’s anniversary and one for Fred and Dinah’s wedding anniversary.
Comments made by Fred and Dinah during the event highlighted their pride in the Gretsch family’s history. As Fred put it, “I’m a fourth-generation member of the family business. My grandfather first brought me to the factory in the 1950s. I started working full-time in 1965, and I’m still here some forty-eight years later. Dinah’s business skills and warm, outgoing personality have made her an integral part of the Gretsch operation—and my indispensable partner—for thirty-four years. And for more than nineteen years Dinah and I have been ably supported by our daughter Lena Thomas, who is a skilled administrator and operations guru. Between Lena, Dinah, and me, that’s just over 100 combined years of ‘sweat equity’ in the family business. And I’m pleased to report that the sixth Gretsch generation includes sixteen-plus grandchildren, many of whom are pursuing educational tracks that will help them continue the family legacy for years to come.”
Of course, no Gretsch celebration would be complete without music, and the 130th Anniversary event was no exception. Once all the guests had finished dinner and dessert, everyone moved into the Pickin’ Parlor—a stage venue that brought performers and audience together in an intimate setting.
First on the bill was the husband-and-wife team of Richard Smith and Julie Adams. Richard is a finger-picking specialist in the style of (and heavily influenced by) legendary Gretsch guitar artist Chet Atkins. He was ably accompanied on cello and vocals by his lovely wife, and together they delivered a varied and highly entertaining set of pop standards, country favorites, and instrumental classics. Richard made a point of telling the audience about one of the guitars he was playing: a custom-built prototype created in association with the late, great Paul Yandell (Chet Atkins’ long-time bandleader and confidant), who died in 2011. Only the second one built (the first went to Paul), the guitar was loaned to Richard for this occasion by the current owner . . . Fred Gretsch himself.
Next up was a truly international trio led by Australian-born guitar phenom and Gretsch artist Joe Robinson, backed by Brazilian bassist Marcelo Bakos and Portugese drummer Tito Pascoali. Joe’s original music knows no stylistic limitations, as evidenced by a set that ranged from Zappa-esque progressive rock to a lush solo rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”—with funk, reggae, and pop stops along the way. Virtuoso playing was the order of the day, and the 100-plus guests rewarded the performers with rousing ovations.
After a brief break Joe Robinson and Richard Smith returned to the stage for an impromptu jam session. Seated side-by-side, the two stellar guitarists took turns accompanying each other, with one taking the lead while the other offered musical support. Joe displayed his own brand of deft finger-picking, and when he and Richard launched into the classic Chet Atkins instrumental “Happy Again,” everyone in the room smiled as one, basking in the talent of these two tremendous players.
Good company, great food, and terrific musical entertainment . . . what more could you ask for to celebrate the history—and the ongoing legacy—of the Gretsch Company, the Gretsch Family, and “That Great Gretsch Sound.”
Additional photos from the Gretsch 130th Anniversary Celebration may be seen in this online album.
Additional video clips from the evening’s entertainment can be seen at the Gretsch Company’s YouTube Channel.