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Larry Efaw

At age ten, Larry Efaw first got on stage with a bluegrass band in his home state of Ohio. When he was seven, he started playing the mandolin and grew up watching his dad’s band, Ed Efaw and the Bluegrass Mountaineers. “He put me on stage with the band when I was ten years old, but I stood in the background and picked a little when I knew something. Every now and then, he’d bring me up to the mic for a solo, but I returned to the back as soon as I could.” 


Larry got the hang of it, and he’s made a lifelong career of playing and promoting bluegrass music. While he had opportunities to join national bluegrass bands through the years, he remained loyal to his father. Even so, Larry’s musical career has afforded him the pleasure of playing with many bluegrass greats, including Dr. Ralph Stanley, Jim and Jesse, Doyle Lawson, Bill Monroe, Del McCoury, and Rhonda Vincent. “I was fortunate to have played with the first generation of bluegrass artists, and I learned something from all of them. They were all so nice to me.”


Because of the support, he got growing up, Larry has always made a point of encouraging young people. “If I see young folks jamming at a festival, I stop and join in with them. I learned from other people helping me on my way up, so I try to do the same.” 


Ed Efaw started the band in 1962. “Dad knew three chords on the mandolin,” recalls Larry. “When I told him that’s what I wanted to play, he brought a mandolin home and laid it on my bed. He told me not to touch that mandolin. Well, that’s like giving a kid candy and telling him not to eat it. I taught myself to play.” 


Sometimes, being in the right place at the right time can change your trajectory. It happened to Larry when he was playing a show in 1987. “We opened for Ralph Stanley. His lead singer didn’t show up, and he asked me to join him on stage. I ended up doing two shows with him. Then he asked me if I’d put on a show.” 


Larry told Ralph he knew nothing about putting on a show, but Ralph wouldn’t take no for an answer. “I started calling around and talked with a lady who worked at the O.J. Work Auditorium in Wadsworth, Ohio. She was really nice, and she told me they had held a few shows there, but they didn’t have good attendance. That scared me even more.” The auditorium rented for $25 an hour. They booked the show in March 1987. Jim McReynolds said he’d like to come, and between Bill Monroe, McReynolds, and Larry’s band, they sold out the 1200-seat venue. “It was standing room only, and we had to have local police help escort people out. “Ralph called me and said, ‘You drew a pretty good crowd, didn’t you?’”


Ralph told Larry to plan another show in April, but Larry wasn’t so sure about it. They had the show, and the Lewis Family played, then they did a show with Charley Waller and the Country Gentlemen, and they brought in Doyle Lawson. “Pretty soon, we started having the Ralph Stanley birthday celebration there every year. One year, I called Jimmy Martin to come play, but he said he takes off in the winter to hunt. I don’t know how, but I convinced him to come play anyway.”


Larry got so good at running shows that he was asked to run the Coonhunters Club Festival in Greenwich, Ohio. “I ran that festival for a long, long time.” Over the years, Larry and his wife, Lisa, have worked to promote shows and festivals, including the Maumee Bay Bluegrass Festival, Lake Wapusun, Play Pen Park, Clay’s Park, Paradise Lakes Park, and shows in Springfield High School’s George E. Tombaugh Auditorium. 


Now Larry and Lisa plan bluegrass cruises. “We’ll be taking our eleventh cruise at the end of October,” says Larry. “It should be the thirteenth, but Covid knocked us out for a couple of years. We were the first to do a cruise after the pandemic.” 


The cruise idea started at a show when Lisa was talking backstage to Ralph Stanley’s wife, Jimmi. Both wives said they’d always wanted to cruise to Hawaii, but Ralph had no desire to go because he had seen enough water in the service. “Jimmi told Lisa to book it, and she’d get Ralph to go.” As fate would have it, Ralph got sick and couldn’t go on the cruise, but Larry says the performers sang some of Ralph’s songs each evening as a tribute to him.


Larry and Lisa have cruise planning down to a science. “Lisa has a travel agency, so she books all the passengers and works to get them the best cabins,” says Larry. “I book the talent. We never do shows when at port because we want folks to enjoy their time off the boat, but when we are at sea, we have an early dinner, then about three hours of music every night.” 


This year’s Bluegrass Cruise to the Caribbean will depart from Port Canaveral in Orlando, Florida and set sail to the Bahamas, stopping at Half Moon Bay, Grand Turk, and Amber Cove. Performers on the cruise will be Larry Efaw and the Bluegrass Mountaineers, Ralph Stanley II and the Clinch Mountain Boys, The Baker Family, Edgar Loudermilk Band, Corey Zink, and Deeper Shade of Blue. 


“It’s fun to see people who come back year after year for the cruise,” says Larry. “But it’s just as much fun being with first-time cruisers. A lot of them were like me – I was scared to death the first time I got on a cruise ship. But now I love it!” 


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