TERRE HAUTE —
Bound for the Grammy Awards on Sunday, Terry Eldredge stopped in his hometown for a concert, bringing some famous friends along for the ride.
The co-lead singer and guitarist for The Grascals helped bring a touch of Nashville to Indiana 46 on the stage of Union Christian Church on Friday evening. The group plays again tonight in Chicago before Sunday’s Grammy Awards ceremony, where they’ve been nominated for Best Bluegrass Album.
Inside the church, Eldredge joked that he hopes the third time is the charm for the group, as this is their third such nomination, this time for “Life Finds A Way.”
“Just glad to be back home. Being back brings back a lot of memories, all good,” he said inside the church.
These days, The Grascals perform between 120 and 130 shows a year, and will soon hit their 138th appearance at the Grand Ole Opry. In recent weeks, they performed on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” as well as at the inaugural ball of President Barack Obama.
But long before his name appeared on record labels, it was typed onto a birth certificate at Union Hospital. Eldredge grew up in Paris, Ill., and Terre Haute, graduating from West Vigo High School in 1981, where he sang with the “Vikatones,” the school’s choir, directed by Becky Akers.
His father, Merlin “Bud” Eldredge was a computer programmer who played piano, and a university education was one option, but Eldredge took a path straight to Nashville, Tenn.
“My college was the Grand Ole Opry,” he said, expressing slight regret at not continuing his education. “I do wish I went to college for the business part of it.”
Landing his first Grand Ole Opry job in 1980, while still in high school, Eldredge performed with “Lonzo and Oscar,” a comedy team most famous for their novelty song “I Am My Own Grandpa.”
“I played in all the bars,” he said of his youth in Terre Haute, guessing he was about 13 when he began to play in the taverns and at festivals such as the Bean Blossom.
His family had a musical bent, with his Aunt Vera Eldredge Shipley playing piano alongside his dad.
“She was known as the ‘Carolina Sunshine Girl’,” he recalled, adding she had her own radio show during the 1940s.
Eldredge’s brother, Grady, played banjo, and it was the lessons Grady received which led to Terry’s start.
Serving as an opening act was Louie Popejoy, who recalled teaching the banjo to Grady while Terry was a kid.
“I’ve known him since he was 6 or 7,” he said after Eldredge credited him as the reason he went into music.
Popejoy, owner of Popejoy’s Music Center since the early 1970s, said he was happy to play Friday night as an opening act for his old student.
“We’ll have as much fun here as anybody will,” he said, explaining that entertaining the audience and having a good time is what it’s all about.
Minister Mark Grayless said he too would be joining in on the dobro.
“I play tonight,” he said proudly. “I’ve played bluegrass hard the last 10 years.”
Having a Terre Haute native make the big time is very exciting, he said, particularly since The Grascals have never played here before.
Eldredge advised upcoming musicians that dedication is required to be successful.
“Just know that’s what you want to do and work hard at it, and stay in school,” he said. “Eat your Wheaties. You’re going to need them.”
Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.