It’s hard to believe that another year has passed! While all the staff and volunteers take a short break, we’ll be posting photos and words of thanks from all those behind the scenes right here. Check back soon for the updates. In the meantime, have you read Houston’s story? Take a moment to read this page through. You’ll understand why this festival means so much to our community and the volunteers, staff, parents and sister who make it all possible.
Houston Kyle Caldwell, 18, left this world at a very early age: he suddenly and unexpectedly transitioned to eternal life on April 30, 2010. Even at this early age, this remarkable young man had accomplished more than most. It is because of his many accomplishments that his family and friends decided his memory and legacy must always be kept alive. One of the most outstanding attributes of Houston was that he put so much pride in and believed so much in his own community. From his untimely death, HoustonFest was born.
Houston was very diligent in his service to the community and had established public service as a lifetime goal for himself. As a volunteer for civil agencies, Houston was part of the Galax Fire Department and regularly did “ride-alongs” with the Galax Police Department. He graduated high school a year early to get started on his service goals. Immediately, he joined the Army and completed his basic training. Becoming a policeman was his ultimate ambition and he had planned to attend college in fall 2010 to pursue just that. From Houston’s perspective, he could combine his military expertise, his volunteer civil activities, and his college education, to help protect his family and the residents of Galax.
There is not one word spoken in regard to Houston Caldwell that is complete without mentioning his passionate love for music. He was an accomplished banjo and guitar player, but it was the banjo that he loved so dearly. As an excellent accomplished banjo player, the bluegrass music community considered him one of the finest young musicians in the area. He began his music journey playing with The Galax Little Leaves when he was 12. Later, he formed the band “Broken Wire” and loved attending festivals to play, to meet the legendary icons of bluegrass, and to learn as much as he could about music.
In a letter written to the director of the Blue Ridge Music Center while in basic training, Houston spoke of his love of Galax and its mountain heritage. He also asked the director for information about how to start a bluegrass festival. He wanted to promote tourism in the home he loved and cherished. Houston was very proud of the area where he grew up and wanted to showcase it to the world. He always invited people he met to come to Galax when he traveled. Not only for the music, but also because he loved small town country living.
About 6 years ago, Houston and his dad were attending a local cancer benefit. Houston looked up at his dad while they were waiting in line to give their contribution and said, “Dad, if anything should ever happen to me, will you have a benefit, I think it’s a nice thing to do for people in need.” How could they refuse?
Even in the depths of the initial grief for their tremendous loss, Houston’s family started thinking about blessing others with Houston’s love of home and hometown bluegrass music. They determined to best honor his memory by carrying on in his stead. From Houston’s involvement in previous festivals, they knew this endeavor would take tremendous amounts of time and planning to bring to fruition. After seeking approval for a festival from the City of Galax, and after bringing together a group of diligent volunteers willing to work overtime to make this dream a reality, HoustonFest is underway and soon to become a reality. Houston’s parents, Tess and Kenneth, and sister, Hayden, wanted the festival to kick off festival season and so they chose May for the event.
HoustonFest will benefit the City of Galax and the Galax Fire Department as well as music education programs for youth. At this time, all of the bands signed to play, even the headliners, are contributing time and talent. Everyone involved is volunteering to carry on Houston’s perspective of what country folk in a small mountain town can do for music and for each other. For a direct explanation of what HoustonFest’s goals are precisely, please see the Mission Statement. Our hope is that everyone will participate in the festival’s numerous activities. We know that Houston would never want anyone left out, and he would want everyone possible to take part in this wonderful and memorable event.
As Houston would end any letter…God Bless.
“Most of my friends like Green Day,” admitted Little Leaf Houston Caldwell, 13, a banjo prodigy with all of three years’ playing experience. He said he wants to start a bluegrass appreciation club at his school.
“I want to keep the heritage alive,” he said, sounding quite philosophical for somebody in braces and barely out of Little League.
The kids are taking over this factory town, whose best-known exports for generations have been furniture, glass and mountain music. The boosters of bluegrass and old-time music like to remind you that music is the one industry that can’t be outsourced.
Excerpted from the Roanoke Times, July 31 – August 5, 2005 – article “A New Set of Strings”