was bluegrass music, not Christmas carols, that Bernie Coombs employed to attract Salvation Army kettle contributions a few years ago.

He recalled how he would ring the bell outside his local supermarket and his daughters would play bluegrass music – sometimes live, sometimes recorded.

People loved it, as confirmed by generous donations from shoppers dropped into his kettle.

It was, thus, a logical step for Coombs to use his far-reaching connections with bluegrass performers to set up a benefit concert for the Salvation Army in Lewiston.

That was early in 2003, and now the Third Annual Salvation Army Bluegrass Benefit Show is set for Saturday, April 17, in the Lewiston Middle School auditorium.

Coombs, who is president of the Bluegrass Music Association of Maine, produces the benefit show in association with Lewiston Professional Firefighters Local 785.

“It has been very successful,” Coombs said. “The show’s lineup of performers has grown by 25 to 30 percent every year.”

This year’s headliners are The Leclairs, a family group from New Hampshire that has Maine ties. Their repertoire is strong on gospel music as well as bluegrass.

The list of participating bands also includes the Katahdin Valley Boys, the Foster Sisters, Midnight Flyer, the Blinn Hill Band, Bob and Grace French, the Rainbow Valley Folks, and the Salvation Army Bluegrass All-Stars.

Coombs said he and Bob French will share the emcee duties, with assistance from Salvation Army Capt. John Bennett.

“There are probably 25 active bluegrass bands in communities throughout Maine,” Coombs said. “They’re always ready and willing to volunteer for benefits like this.”

Groups hail from larger communities, including Brunswick and Lewiston, as well as small towns like Cornville.

The Maine bluegrass scene is thriving, Coombs said, and there are talented instrumentalists and vocalists of all ages. He cited the Blinn Hill group, which consists of a mother, father and children from the Chelsea-Gardiner area, as an example.

Coombs said a recent tribute in St. Albans honored Bob and Grace French for bluegrass careers that span about 50 years.

The Third Annual Salvation Army Bluegrass Benefit Show is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. and run through 10 p.m. Doors at Lewiston Middle School will open at 5:30 p.m.

Tickets are available at Hannaford and Shaw’s supermarkets; the Bible Book Store in Auburn; the Salvation Army Thrift Store, 720 Main St., Lewiston; and the Salvation Army Community Center, 67 Park St., Lewiston.

Tickets are $5 in advance, $7 at the door.

Children under 16 will be admitted free of charge.

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