By JUDY SHERIDAN
Music is comfort and healing when the bottom falls out of your life.That’s what Aledo resident Rick Spence and his family found when their 16-year-old son, Barrett, was killed in a car accident on March 17, 2007.“He was probably my mini-me,” Spence said, “but the new improved version because of his mom.“Music was the only thing that gave me comfort. Playing and singing the old gospel songs my grandma had sung, I could feel the emptiness and bitterness go away.“And while I’m doing this, my wife is listening, and her mom and dad and sister and brother, and everybody is responding to the music.”Using the unique power of music to ease pain for others is the inspiration behind fullhouse, an Aledo bluegrass band that has produced one CD and will release another, an all gospel album entitled, “He Carried Me,” March 15.The band members, who met while playing together at Parker County Cowboy Church on FM 5, include Spence, who sings and plays mandolin, fiddle and guitar; Spence’s wife DeAnn, lead vocalist and rhythm guitar player; Jim Penson, who sings and plays banjo and dobro; Jennie Suchoki, who sings and plays stand-up bass; and Jared Kennedy, who sings and plays guitar.
“The band came together because a friend asked me to put one together to fill in for him at a bluegrass festival,” Spence said. “We had only played together two or three times. The sweet people there asked us if we had a CD for sale and said we could probably sell a lot of them if we did, so I said, ‘maybe we should do that.’”
From the start, Spence said, the purpose of fullhouse has not been to become famous, but to use the talents God has given them to help others.
“Music can do some amazing things,” he said. “It’s very rewarding, and the more we do, the more the doors open. The more we give, the more we get back.”
Fullhouse is very involved with Music is Medicine Foundation and the hospitals the organization serves, Spence said. The band not only plays to entertain children who are hospitalized and bedridden, but also donates instruments and even gives lessons.
“The whole purpose of the foundation is to put instruments in the hands of those kids,” DeAnn said. “Many of them have never seen a banjo or an upright bass. They’re unusual for popular music.”
The band also plays in a lot of festivals and churches across Texas.
A year ago, the band was featured in the launch documentary and event for the LiveWright Society to “Pay It Forward” at the House of Blues in Dallas, Spence said, startling patrons with their unplugged, unfiltered sound.
Hope is the main thing they have to offer, Spence said, often assuring others that they can make it through the grieving process, too. An original song on their new album, with lyrics penned by DeAnn and music by Spence, is especially easy for others to relate to.
“When we get asked to go play somewhere, we’ll play, “In My Dreams,” and there’s always somebody there that needs us,” Spence said. “My son is still impacting the lives of other people. It’s not fun, but there is hope.”
Writing the song, which conveys the message that death doesn’t separate families, was therapeutic for her, DeAnn said.
“I carried this piece of paper around for three months,” she said. “The chorus came first and then the verses.”
Although a Nashville record label did approach the band with a recording package for their new eight-song album, Spence said, band members opted to produce it themselves. They wanted to control the rights to their music and have it pay for itself.
In fact, fullhouse formed its own record label, Assurance Records, and hopes to become the record label for other independent artists.
“We’ve relied a lot on [Mountain Heart fiddler] Jim VanCleve,” Spence said. “The neat thing about bluegrass is that even the top names are very accessible.”
Spence estimates the band has sold 1,000 copies of their 2011 debut album, fullhouse, which he also produced.
“That’s a big number for an independent,” he said. “The hard thing about bluegrass is that it’s a genre that’s not very common here. It’s popular anywhere through the Blue Ridge Mountains, with Nashville being the center point.
The sound is big is Europe, though, he said, and fullhouse made the top 10 play list in Austria last summer.
“The main thing I want to convey,” DeAnn said, “is what a blessing our music has been to us and how it’s brought hope to other people. It’s amazing how many broken people there are looking for a glimmer of light.”
Gospel Music Matinee
Fullhouse will play for Parker County Live at the Texas Opry Theater in Weatherford at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 23. The theater is located at 315 York Avenue.
General admission tickets are $15, with $10 for seniors. Tickets may be purchased at the door unless the theater is sold out, or online at www.parkercountylive.org with an additional $1 added per ticket to cover service and convenience fees.