Posted on Wed, Mar. 15, 2006
Musician Hughes dies at 57
The Wichita Eagle

Gary Hughes' smile was infectious; his fiddle, red hot; and his ability to bring Midwestern musicians together, legendary.

Mr. Hughes, a contra/barn dance organizer and musician of traditional American, bluegrass and Irish music for nine musical groups in Kansas, died March 8 from cancer. He was 57.

"He was known throughout the Midwest, especially in traditional Irish music circles," said Troy Pulver, a friend and fellow musician in the group Lafferty.

A celebration of Mr. Hughes' life and a memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at Metropolitan Baptist Church, 525 W. Douglas. More than eight acoustic Kansas bands are expected to play during the service as a tribute.

Afterwards, friends and musicians are invited to the Calvary Presbyterian Church, 106 E. 17th St., to tell stories and continue playing music.

Mr. Hughes was born Jan. 12, 1949, in Independence. He was a 1967 graduate of Elk City High School. He served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and was stationed on the U.S.S. Towers. Following his military service, Mr. Hughes attended Independence Community Junior College and received his bachelors degree in technology from Kansas State College in Pittsburg.

Beginning in 1974, Mr. Hughes worked as an electrical engineer for Beech Aircraft, which later became Raytheon.

Since his childhood, Mr. Hughes played musical instruments, becoming adept at drums, keyboard, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, accordion and guitar.

"He didn't read music," said his sister, Francee Westmacott of Denver. "He could just listen to a song and play it. He had a great gift."

At the annual Walnut Valley Festival, Mr. Hughes helped set up musicians, served as a judge in the fiddle contest and was a primary contact person throughout Kansas and Oklahoma for contra dancing.

The contra dances originated in England and France in the 1600s and have survived in pockets of American communities ever since.

Mr. Hughes was a charter member of the Wichita Contra Dance group.

"When you think of the Virginia Reel, that's contra dancing," said Francene Sharp, a friend and musician.

Mr. Hughes belonged to the band Three-Bean Salad from Lawrence, the Fabulous GTs from his Elk City High School days, the Flatland String Band, Two Old Dogs, Lafferty, Wichita Banjo Band, Tallgrass Express, the Walnut Valley String Band, and Hughes, Harris and Sharp.

Mr. Hughes especially loved music that's in danger of being lost, said Princess Harris, a friend and hammered dulcimer musician.

"He loved music where the beat didn't always work or music you couldn't tap your foot to," Harris said. "He loved the history behind it, its continuity through time and the idea he was passing it on. Any kid that came into the circle, he was there saying, 'You got to do this, this is important.' "

Besides his sister, Mr. Hughes is survived by his father, Billie Hughes, Mohave Valley, Ariz.; a niece; and a nephew.

Reach Beccy Tanner at (316) 268-6336 or

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