Local Bluegrass aficionado George Portz is now a Kentucky Colonel.
The champion fiddler received his commission in the honorable order because of the role he played with one of Bluegrass musics most famous musical groups: the Goins Brothers Band.
The Goins Brothers Band was such a renown group they ended up going into the Kentucky Hall of Fame. And by them going into the Hall of Fame I became a Kentucky Colonel, Portz said.
He then explained, When they asked the brothers who they would like going into the hall of fame with them, Melvin and Ray (the brothers) named the group that included me, a fellow named Harley Gabbard and Joe Meadows. They said we were the most important and greatest group they ever had.
Which is indeed an honor because the brothers from Prestonsburg, Ky., have toured with various versions of their band for more than 60 years.
Portz said a representative of the hall of fame showed up at his annual Kaskaskia traditional music festival last fall to present the certificate.
I was touched by that because in the state of Kentucky that is a kind of a big deal, he said. Some very famous people are Kentucky Colonels.
Commissions for Kentucky Colonels are given by the Governor and the Secretary of State to individuals in recognition of noteworthy accomplishments and outstanding service to a community, state or the nation, and are the highest title of honor bestowed by the commonwealth. After a person receives a commission, he or she is invited to join The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels, an independent, non-profit charitable organization founded in 1932 to aid and promote the commonwealth and its citizens by raising money to support charities and educational organizations, and to carry out other works to benefit the Bluegrass State.
Discussing how the honor came his way, Portz said, It goes back to 1973, 1974, 1975. I got out of college at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and I got a chance to audition for a major national group, the Goins Brothers. And they hired me in May of 1973.
Those three years with the Goins Brothers were some great years, he said. Bluegrass is growing and growing today but we were in the vintage years, we were the pacesetters.
He explained, Even though old time music had been around for generations, actual Bluegrass music was only invented in 1945 thanks to Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt. And at that time in 1973 Bluegrass was just emerging as a national music form.
There were probably only about a dozen major Bluegrass groups in the country and I was lucky to have joined one of them, Portz said. We toured extensively. We got to play the White House. We played the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn. We also got to play a lot of big tours and I got to meet all the stars and ... I was awestruck.
He pointed out, over the years, the band appeared with stars such as Bill Monroe, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Jerry Lee Lewis, Marty Stuart and others.
I kept a diary of my years down there and I am just completing writing a book called Diary of a Bluegrass Sideman Champion Fiddler George Portz, Portz said.
Even though for the last 40 years I have headed my own group (The Friends of Bluegrass), then I was just a sideman playing bass and fiddle with the band, he noted.
But without good sidemen those stars are not really stars, he added.
Portz said his love of Bluegrass music was nurtured in his family, where both his grandfather Perry Biggs and mother Kathaleen Portz were champion fiddlers.
I was taught by my grandfather, who was an old time fiddle player, and I handed it down to my son Jason and daughter Kaitlin, he said.
Portz still shares his love of Bluegrass by teaching aspiring fiddlers in the music room of his Shiloh home. And, in addition to the traditional music festival he hosts each fall at the Fort Kaskaskia State Historic Site, he hosts an annual Bluegrass festival at the OFallon Knights of Columbus Hall on the second Saturday in April.