Column – Nearly four decades later, the Edwards family plays on

Published 4:05 pm Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Pardon Steve Edwards for feeling a little nostalgic this week.

When his Pasture #3 band from Mill Swamp Indian Horses takes the stage, weather permitting, for the Downtown Smithfield Summer Concert Series on Friday evening, a lifelong love of music and family will again have come full circle.

His family performed on the same spot, if not the same stage, on July 31, 1987, the debut performance for a still-thriving, now 36-year-old community concert series that should be the envy of small towns everywhere.

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When John Edwards and then-Smithfield Ice Cream Parlor Dave Carroll rounded up some money from downtown merchants and collaborated on a test run of Friday evening concerts that summer, Nelson Edwards’ family bluegrass combo was a natural choice to be the first act.

John’s beautifully composed photo elsewhere on this page captured a scene that evening that has stood the test of time on Friday nights downtown for generations. Come out this Friday and you could take the same photo (albeit digitally, in color, with your smartphone rather than on 35mm black-and-white film) that John took in 1987.

Folks still bring their blankets for an hour of free, wholesome entertainment. The stage is permanent and quite nicer now, but that flatbed trailer borrowed from the Isle of Wight Recreation Facilities Authority (yesteryear’s Parks and Rec) served its purpose well at the time. 

To our knowledge, an audio recording doesn’t exist of that 1987 performance by the Edwards family, but this week’s music would sound mighty familiar if it did.

Pasture #3 features “a range of old time musical instruments that reach deep into the history and culture of rural America” and “songs are learned nearly exclusively through the handing down of oral traditions,” Steve Edwards told us. “From England and Scotland, to the Carter Family, to Woody Guthrie, to Steve Earle — a lot of music — a lot of history and a lot of fun.”

Familiar local faces like Edwards, who prosecutes criminals for a living and whose horse rescue work won him this year’s Citizen of the Year award from the Rotary and Ruritan clubs, and Commissioner of the Revenue Gerald Gwaltney are part of the band. We hear Nelson Edwards himself might even take the stage for a few tunes. 

For readers who might have been on the Times’ front lawn that night, it should feel like 1987 all over again. 

The Times reported on the front page of its July 22, 1987, edition that “if the concerts prove to be popular during the remainder of this summer, the (downtown) businesses will try to organize a summer-long series of similar events next year.”

And so it began, like many worthwhile endeavors with humble origins. You don’t know until you try. Townsfolk turned out in 1987, inspiring John to continue year and year.

The Times is proud to partner with the Isle of Wight Arts League and Town of Smithfield to keep the music playing.


Steve Stewart is publisher of The Smithfield Times. His email address is