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Shorty Byrd could be found at many a bluegrass campsite jam in much the same humor. (Courtesy Pic N Grin Photography)

Beloved bluegrasser Shorty Byrd dies

If you have ever camped at local bluegrass music venues such as Stanly County’s Big Lick Festival, Denton FarmPark’s Doyle Lawson Festival or Snow Camp’s Lil’ John’s Mountain Music Festival, you probably crossed paths with Shorty Byrd of the Grantville Community. He was hard to miss.

Like old Saint Nick, he was a little man that was lively and quick. He loved to sing and play bluegrass until all hours in the campsites. Shorty’s whole body and demeanor reflected it. A wide smile covered his face, big laughs rumbled up from deep within his chest, and if he wasn’t playing a bass, he was patting his belly in time to the music. He was the life of the party wherever he went. If he was singing, you could guarantee “Why Don’t You Tell Me So” and “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke” would be included in the song list.

Shorty loved to get into jam sessions at campsites. (Courtesy Pic N Grin Photography)

In the 1990s, Byrd hosted a weekly jam on his property he called the Lower 40 on Kemp Mill Road. Upon retiring after over 25 years of service with NCDOT, the music lover, along with family and friends, erected a 15-foot covered bridge on the site in 1999. 

His reasoning for such a feat: “I grew up next to the old Spoon covered bridge,” he shared years ago upon its completion. “Hurricane Hazel knocked it down in 1954. “

Byrd knew that NCDOT would never rebuild it, so he did. He also erected a gathering place for the community to fellowship, share a meal and enjoy bluegrass music. It was first a weekly assemblage, then every other week, then once a monthly. The jam sessions finally ceased when Byrd lost Cedar Falls mandolinist Matthew Allred. The picking parties just weren’t the same without his close friend.

“Shorty’s place on the Lower 40 in the early to mid-’90s had a building that we jammed in. Outside he had turkeys running around that you could see and feed,” Franklinville bassist Travis Brady shared. “Shorty and I were close friends at the end. Just glad I got to know him.”

On Jan. 23, 2022, 83-year-old Colvin M. (CE) Byrd, known lovingly as “Shorty,” passed away following an arduous battle with esophageal cancer. Word of his death spread quickly throughout the music community.

At Shorty's funeral, friends sent him off with several bluegrass numbers. (Sandy Hatley / Randolph Hub)

A fitting funeral service for a true bluegrass lover was held Friday afternoon in Ramseur. Eight musicians played five songs to begin the service. The first number — “Prayer Bells of Heaven” — was sung by Byrd’s granddaughter, Kyna Gunter.

Caroline Owens of Denton followed with “The Fields Have Turned Brown” and then Scott Hancock of Asheboro sang “Life is Like a Mountain Railroad.”

After the service, Hancock admitted, “You know how Shorty would always put his hand on your shoulder and lean in and sing. He’s done that to me a hundred times. When I was singing (during the funeral), it felt like his hand was on my shoulder. It gave me cold chills.”

Byrd’s bandmate Kenny Welch stepped up to the mic and said, “About every jam I went to, Shorty would sing ‘Dim Lights’. This is going to be a hard song to do,” but he sang it in memory of his fallen friend.
“I think Shorty Byrd’s funeral is the only funeral that you can get by with singing that song,” teased Owens at the conclusion of the tune. Then she sang “Lord, I’m Coming Home.”

At the close of the service, family and friends were invited to share stories and fond memories of Byrd.
Cedar Falls’ guitarist Derrick Allred joked, “Shorty Byrd had the prettiest voice around. He just tore it up getting it out.”

Shorty and Glenn Chriscoe. (Courtesy Pic N Grin Photography)

Big T Lassiter of West End recalled, “Shorty would be up until 4 or 5 in the morning with Fat Cox (his neighbor and fellow music lover) until the last note was picked.”

The service concluded with a recorded version of Byrd singing his signature song, “Why Don’t You Tell Me So.”

Local musicians relayed their memories of the Grantville native.

Owens, a young, up and coming artist, enjoyed campsite jams with Byrd. When she first learned of his passing, she recalled, “While I rejoice in the fact that he is no longer suffering, my heart is saddened to know that I have lost a friend, the kind of friend that everyone found in Shorty. He lived by the motto, ‘Be good to people and they’ll be good to you.’ And he stood true to that. And while I am reminded that bluegrass festivals and late-night jams will never be the same without him, I have peace in knowing that Heaven’s choir is much sweeter today because of the life and legacy of my friend, Shorty Byrd.”

Asheboro banjoist Trent Callicutt chimed in. “It was always a treat for me to be in a jam with Shorty Byrd! He was a character, always joking and cutting up! But, most importantly, he was my friend. I’ll miss hearing his big laugh around. I sure loved the man! I’ve known him for years!”

Byrd played bass in the Rocky Bottom Boys with the Welch brothers. Their band competed in local fiddlers’ conventions, taking home a band prize at the 2019 Highfalls convention. 

Shorty and his beloved Susie. (Courtesy Pic N Grin Photography)

Bandmate Ted Welch of Liberty shared, “I’ll sure miss Shorty Byrd. He always treated my family like part of his family. He introduced my brother, Kenny, and me to so many awesome pickers and we never missed an opportunity to sing together. Truly one of the best, he told us to ‘Love people and they’ll love you back’ and everyone loved Shorty. A bluegrass legend, love you, Shorty. Prayers for his family!”

Kenny Welch added, “We sure had good times. We sure loved Shorty and we're going to miss him. The last time I talked to Shorty, he said tell everyone I love them. I'm sure we can all say, ‘We love you, too, Shorty.’ ”
Brady recalled, “My dad (the late fiddler, Jimmie Lee Brady of Asheboro) and Shorty were acquainted years ago. They used to work together at the state department and played music with Richard McNeill, Wayne Miller and a lot of others. I got to know Shorty when I was real young, then later in life we bought campers, stayed at music festivals, and had our music jams at night. We always had a good time.”

Asheboro dobroist Larry Williams concluded, “Shorty Byrd was one of the best! We camped beside Shorty for several years. Things won't be the same without his big laugh and joyful singing! Rest in peace, my friend!”

Those campsite jams are going to be a little less lively without Shorty Byrd.