Bill Wells Photos | Digital Traditions

In December of 1985, Bill Wells – a retired Navy man and musician raised in the coal-mining region of southwestern Virginia – opened Bill’s Pickin’ Parlor and Music Shop in West Columbia. He immediately posted newspaper ads for bluegrass music jam sessions that were the start of what has become a tradition at 710 Meeting Street.

On Friday evenings, anywhere from 50 to 150 women and men, young and old, carpenters and teachers, machinists and dentists, travel from all across the state and neighboring Georgia and North Carolina to jam with other musicians or simply listen to music at Bill’s. Devoted to a family-friendly music-making atmosphere - no drinkin' and no smokin' and absolutely no amplification. Wells was a staunch advocate of the acoustic sound and virtuosity of bluegrass music. Wells and his band, The Blue Ridge Mountain Grass, often could be found at jam sessions rehearsing and playing.

Asked to explain what distinguishes bluegrass from other forms of country music, Wells said it is the “emphasis you give to a word to give it feeling – that and a devotion to your audience. You can watch a band and tell whether they’re working for the people or working for themselves.” Wells was always committed to working for the people. On September 9, 2011, Wells received The Order of the Palmetto. The highest civilian honor awarded by the Governor of South Carolina, it is a testament to the influence and contributions Wells made to the traditional music community and the state as a whole. Wells passed away two months later. Wells' legacy lives on as his son, Willy, continues to manage the Pickin' Parlor. Wells received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 1998.