For more then two decades from the time he moved to Dahlonega in 1983 until his death in 2004, Nick Pender was a major force in the North Georgia bluegrass scene. He and his wife Glenda were co-founders, along with several downtown merchants, of the annual Bear on the Square Mountain Festival. Nick and Glenda developed the entire music program for the event, now in its 21st year. The Pender family continues to support the festival with children and grandchildren taking part in the event in various ways and Glenda serving as president.
Nick was a musician, playing bass fiddle and singing in the old-time mountain style. (He was also known to break into some great soul singing now and then!). Nick was featured, along with Ralph Stanley and others, in "Feels Like Home," a documentary on the unaccompanied Appalachian folk song by film maker Heavenly Littleton. He recorded in Nashville in 2003, and that CD, Long Time Coming, also features Glenda and the couple’s son Neel. The recording includes an original composition by the two Pender sons, Neel and his brother Scott, and an introduction by daughter Marla Pender McGhee. Nick and Glenda dedicated the album to their grandchildren, Nick Pender, Annie McGhee, Cory Pender, and Will McGhee.
A member of IMBA, SEBA and BMI, Nick was co-founder and a member of the Shoal Creek Band, Homemade Jam, and the Gold Rush Bluegrass Band.
An ardent supporter and promoter of regional musicians, Nick was particularly supportive of teaching kids to play and sing, and he taught at Woody Gap School’s mountain music program. He was also instrumental in the musical development of his nephew, Clayton Avent, whose band, 6 Day Bender, has played at Bear on the Square.
A Certified Public Accountant by profession, he was a fixture in the Dahlonega and Lumpkin County community through his involvement in numerous civic and environmental efforts.
Bear on the Square and musicians from throughout our region lost a great friend on Aug. 28, 2016, when Neill Whitlock "Whit" Connah, 77, of Atlanta died after a valiant battle with renal cancer.
Whit, who was born at Emory University Hospital, grew up in Buckhead, where he graduated from North Fulton High School in 1957. A talented artist, he graduated first in his class at the Atlanta College of Art and received his MFA from Tulane University. He also had the opportunity to study abroad in Paris and Vienna, and he spent 30 years of his career as an art professor in the Department of Architecture at Georgia Tech.
Whit's other creative love as he grew up was music, especially old-time hillbilly and blues. He led Atlanta's Hair of the Dog, a well-known Cajun, blues and roots band formerly known as Hurt Dog. Whit was a powerful, soulful singer and legendary harmonica player, and he also played Cajun accordion and guitar. Whit's wife Barbara performed as a fiddler and a singer with Hair of the Dog.
Dahlonega audiences will particularly remember Whit as a featured singer and harmonica player during the yearly Gospel Jam at Bear on the Square. He also appeared here many times when Hair of the Dog was in the lineup for Bear on the Square or for the Mountain Music and Medicine Show at the Holly Theater. He was also a frequent guest performer with his wife's other band, The Rosin Sisters, when they played at Bear or at the Holly.
A well known figure in the Atlanta Metro area's music circles, Whit was a mentor to many talented musicians from the area; such as Barbara's son John Ferguson, who along with his wife Audrey played an important role in Hair of the Dog, Whit and Barbara's godsons and Mick Kinney and Moria Nelligan's sons Mickey and Moses Nelligan, Jeanie and Walter Daves' son Michael Daves, Leah and Chloe Smith of Rising Appalachia, daughters of Rosin Sister Jan Smith and her husband Andy. In addition to these, there are many others who benefited from Whit's knowledge and encouragement.