Family, friends and members of the community are mourning the tragic loss of 18-year-old Evan Twitty, a nationally-acclaimed guitarist and fixture on the local music scene.
The young musician died late Friday night when the car he was driving crossed U.S. 41 at Essex Road and was struck by a northbound semi.
Twitty, who has played with the likes of Vince Gill and Jerry Reed, is being remembered not just for his musical skills but for his heart of gold.
“He was so good at his craft, but he was also a gentleman,” said Nash Dunn, organizer of the First City Music Festival, which celebrated its inaugural year last year with Twitty taking the stage on its first night.
Dunn remembers, with a smile, the first time he heard Twitty fingerpicking the guitar. Just a young boy then, playing for passers-by at the Farmers Market of Historic Vincennes. Twitty, even then, was already so talented that Dunn and his wife, Debbie, thought the music surely coming from nearby radio.
“Then we realized it was just this kid, and we couldn’t believe it,” he said.
Dave Parman, a retired VU guitar instructor, first met Twitty when he started coming to monthly bluegrass jam sessions at the Blue Jeans Center in Monroe City.
“We had so many bluegrass pickers and people in the community, surrounding counties, towns, and they would all come, play. Each person would take turns playing, singing a song, and the other musicians would accompany. Evan started coming to that when he was 7, maybe 8 years old. He was just a kid, wet behind the ears still.”
But that kid, Parman said, blew them all away.
“He was amazing even then,” Parman said. “And he just got better and better. He was blowing away us older guys who had been playing for decades. He was a prodigy.
“That’s what I call him, a prodigy.”
Parman credited Twitty’s parents for taking him to fingerpicking contests all over the country. As a result, his talent grew, as did his love for guitar greats like Chet Atkins, Parman said.
At 9 years old, Twitty even began playing in VU’s annual “Guitars in the Night” concert, a practice he kept up for years.
“He’d get this little grin on his face and start showing off, playing all these licks — ones it would take me decades to learn to play,” Parman said with a chuckle. “He’d play leads, riffs, licks, flourishes.
“He could have done session work in Nashville yet he wasn’t even out of high school yet.”
Parman taught Twitty, who was studying audio recording at Vincennes University, classical guitar while he was still in high school to expand his talent. And most everything, Parman said, he picked up by ear.
His potential, Parman said, was extraordinary.
“They knew him down in Nashville,” Parman said. “He’d do these Chet Atkins tributes, all kinds of things. People just loved him.”
And if he wasn’t playing on some stage in some big city somewhere, Parman said he was right here at home, often playing in area nursing homes.
“He’d play for the elderly, the ones that didn’t get much entertainment anywhere else,” Parman said. “That’s just who he was. He never had an unkind word to say about anybody. He made you feel so comfortable to talk with, share stuff with.
“And he was humble.”
Inside of Alvis Music, 2820 Washington Ave., memories of Twitty floated around the room on Monday afternoon, with Bobbi Alvis echoing the genuine goodness of a young man gone too soon.
“He wasn’t typical of an 18-year-old kid, he was respectful and humble,” said Alvis, adding that Twitty had “played with some big names, but he wasn’t one to name-drop.”
Alvis, proudly clutching a copy of Twitty’s most recent CD, a blues album, and music instructor Robert Trail on Monday thought back on a 6-year-old Twitty who came in for his first music lesson — and just how far he’d come in the years since.
“He would play for nursing homes, benefits, anything anyone wanted,” she said. “It didn’t matter if he didn’t get paid. He just wanted to play.”
And it’s that kind heart and soul his parents want people to remember about their son.
Evan’s father, Rick Twitty, fought back tears as he described his son during a press conference held at VU’s Red Skelton Performing Arts Center Monday afternoon.
“The Lord couldn’t give me a better son or person to raise on this Earth,” he said. “He was like a magnet. He could just draw people to him.”
Area musicians have spent recent days reminiscing about many fond memories of Twitty. They recalled images of a little boy who deeply loved and appreciated the old country music of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, amongst so many other artists and genres.
Rick Patterson, owner of Record Cellar, 427 Main St., spoke of Twitty’s love of older music.
“That’s where his roots were, as far as learning to play music,” he said. 'And I feel like that transcended into what he was and why he was playing the way he played.”
“He loved everybody,” Evan’s mother, Jamie Twitty, said. “He couldn’t stand to see anyone troubled.
“If he saw a need, he was there,” she said.
And Twitty’s longtime girlfriend and high school sweetheart, Jennie Davis, echoed the sentiment.
“No matter their background, Evan loved everybody,” she said.
Rick Twitty says his son “was a great musician, but more importantly, I was proud of him for being a great young man.”
“He was just a wonderful person, and if you ever met him you know,” he said. “His generosity was far beyond measure. He was a great musician, but more importantly I was proud of him for being a great young man.”
A 2019 graduate of South Knox High School, Twitty’s Celebration of Life service will be held at 11 a.m. on Friday in the South Knox High School gymnasium. Burial will be in the St. Vincent Cemetery. Visitation will be from 4-8 p.m. Thursday in the South Knox High School auditorium.
Memorial contributions may be directed to the Evan Twitty Scholarship Fund, Bunker Hill General Baptist Church, or the Vincennes Animal Shelter.
The Indiana Fingerstyle Guitar Festival, the Indiana State Guitar Festival and fellow musician Kara Barnard of Brown County have established a GoFundMe page for the Evan Twitty Memorial, with the proceeds to go toward helping Twitty's family with funeral expenses.