It is with tremendous sadness that we report the passing of Houston Caldwell, eighteen, of Galax, Virginia. Houston was gifted and promising young banjo player, and a dear friend. I met Houston about five years ago in Barr’s Fiddle Shop in Galax, where he studied with local banjo master Stevie Barr. Houston immediately impressed me as mature beyond his years, both in his playing and the way he carried himself. Houston was Stevie’s prize student (some even jokingly referred to Houston as “Mini-Barr”). There is no telling where Houston’s talents may have taken him, but it is clear that he had already gained the respect and admiration of many of his banjo heroes, including Ron Block and Scott Vestal.
Houston quickly became a staple on Virginia Folklife Program stages throughout Virginia, including the Virginia Folklife Porch at Floydfest, and the Virginia Folklife Stage at Bristol Rhythm & Roots. Houston was an astoundingly versatile player, proficient not only in bluegrass, but in old time, swing, and the blues. But mostly, Houston brought an infectious energy and joy to our stages and recordings, that will forever be missed.
Nearly 3,000 people came to pay their respects to Houston at his memorial service—a true testament to the impact that he had on the Galax community. Houston was not only an accomplished musician, but an enthusiastic volunteer in both the Galax Fire and Police Departments. Only weeks before his passing, Houston had just completed basic training to join the US Army National Guard, and he intended to become a military police officer.
Houston was a bright light to all who were lucky enough to know him. He was a dear friend and amazing artist. He will forever be remembered and missed.
-Jon Lohman, May 5, 2010