Celebrating Sidney: Blue Moon packed for Tapscott memorial

On a muggy Sunday night, friends of the late Sidney Tapscott gathered at his second home– the Blue Moon Diner– to celebrate the local legend’s life and say goodbye in proper fashion: with a sweaty, cathartic performance by the Hackensaw Boys, an old-time string band that started here in the 1990s and has since risen to national acclaim.

"Sidney was a once-in-a-lifetime unique individual, the likes of which I am certain we will never see again," said local photographer Rich Tarbell at the memorial get-together in honor of Tapscott, who died Tuesday, July 17 at age 89 and whose impact was manifest from the nearly 1,700 people who joined a Facebook page in his honor.

Indeed, bands and music establishments embraced him. He plays harmonica on the Hogwaller Ramblers and Hackensaw Boys albums, and a painting of an overalls-wearing Tapscott pushing a shopping cart and broom hung on the wall of the defunct Starr Hill Music Hall on West Main Street.

He'd been leaving an impression on people for decades, says Leo Daugherty, a professor in UVA's Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies program who first came to town in circa 1961 to look at UVA for graduate school and picked up Tapscott, who was hitchhiking on West Main Street. More than 50 years later, the memory is still vivid.

"I was 21 that day. Sidney just looked like he always looked," says Daugherty. "Now I am 72, whereas Sidney just stayed the same until he died yesterday. He didn't exactly exist inside time, Sidney."

The Blue Moon’s bar— which features a stool reserved with a name tag for Tapscott— was standing room only July 22 as friends, family, and children– packed their way into the compact West Main Street eatery, eager to pay their last respects and catch a glimpse of a local-gone-national act playing its heart out.

"We sang a song that Sidney wrote for us called "Sweet Potato Pie," said Phillip St. Ours of the Hackensaw Boys, a band that Tapscott typically called the "Arkansas Boys."

"I do believe I heard everybody singing some part of it along," St. Ours added, "and I do believe this community is at its best.”

The audience spilled out onto the sidewalk, where musicians and friends enjoyed the festive atmosphere, reminiscing and swapping memories of the man known around town for sweeping the Downtown Mall in front of Miller’s and other businesses– a job the former Cabell Hall janitor embraced.

The Hackensaw Boys weren’t the only group of bearded pluckers to give Tapscott a tuneful sendoff. The festive evening continued late into the night at Fellini’s as the Hogwaller Ramblers– called "Tennessee Ramblers" by Tapscott– kept the music coming with over two hours of their energetic American old-time.

"He could play one song a million ways, and give it a million different titles," writes Tapscott's friend, New York-based writer and bartender Patrick Reed in a Facebook post.

Laura Galgano, co-owner of Blue Moon, took the lead on starting a "pass-the-hat" collection to give Tapscott a funeral service and burial. While donations rolled in, she says funds are still sought to create a permanent memorial.

"He leaves behind a cultural and musical legacy that's unquantifiable by any conventional means, one that can only be measured in intangibles: handshakes, laughs, broomsticks, uncomfortable moments, waves, hugs, rolled eyes, root beers and iced teas, harmonica solos, friends," writes Reed. "He did his own things in his own way, and was loved for it. He was impossible to miss, and now it's impossible not to miss him."

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