Monday, October 10, 2011

Tennessee Fall Homecoming - Norris, TN

 The Tennessee Fall Homecoming, held annually on the second weekend in October at the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, TN is the first festival we've attended celebrating regional culture. While music at the Homecoming is delightfully inescapable, its possible to attend without having the music as a major interest, and many people do.  This means that visitors chat and socialize while sitting in their seats, allowing the music to serve as background noise rather than their primary focus. This is only a small quibble, however, in an event that has a unique feel, sound, and vibe all its own. Encouraged by Phil Leadbetter, who was originally scheduled to play there with The Whites, we happily took part in four days of celebrating the lifestyle, food, dance, and music of the Appalachian region, one of the crucial areas from which bluegrass music and many other forms of country music originated.

John Rice Irwin - Founder
Museum of Appalachia

The region known as Appalachia extends, roughly, along the Appalachian chain of mountains from southern New York through Pennsyvlvania, West Virgninia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, to where the mountains peter out in Georgia.  Much of the regions history shares subsistence farming, mining, rural living, and periods of dire poverty through its history. It has been the birthplace of presidents and the battleground of our westward movement during our early history.  The Museum of Appalachia, founded by John Rice Irwin in the 1960's, celebrates this history with a particular emphasis on East Tennessee through its collection of paraphernalia and memorabilia from the region. Irwin has taken what I gather to have been the family farm and located a marvelous collection of buildings, farm equipment, implements, and other cultural artifacts, including a large selection of musical instruments, into a refreshing and interesting museum, now chartered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation and associated with the Smithsonian. 

Elaine Myers - Executive Director 
Museum of Appalachia

Ron Wall
Autoharp Master

Each morning, as we arrived on the Museum grounds, we were greeted by the sweet sounds of the auto-hard being played by Ron Wall, certainly the finest practitioner of this mountain instrument we've ever heard as he accompanied the rising mists and emerging sun in the slightly chill fall morning air.  Crafts people and mountain arts interpreters clustered about warm fires underneath bubbling iron cauldrons with soap or sorghum bubbling in them. We could imagine the hard life in the remote hills and hollers of Appalachia populated by largely Scots-Irish small farmers in the early eighteenth century. Dressed in clothes that would have been worn during America's formative years, through the civil war, and, indeed, up until the time when the Tennessee Valley Authority brought electricity to this region in the mid-twentieth century, they captured the essence of a life that is now quickly disappearing as life quickens and chair stores provide the necessities that once could only be had if they were made at home.  The Museum of Appalachia captures and recreates this environment year round and the Tennessee Fall Homecoming captures it for the thousands who come annual from all over the country to celebrate a portion of the roots of the American story.

Appalachian Heritage Day - Thursday
Elementary School Children from Around the Region Attend 
The Campus is Full of Young Enthusiastic Visitors
The Blacksmith Shop
A Teacher Explains Broom Making
American Bald Eagle
Raptor Exhibition from Dollywood

Musical Saw Demonstration
Like the Museum itself, the music presented here has, in the best sense of the word, an amateur quality to it. Not inexpert, but rather compiled and presented for the love of the culture and a respect for the roots from which it comes.  While we ourselves tend to prefer the musical offerings of professional bluegrass musicians, the music here is played daily in the homes and churches or on the porches of the places where real people live, worship, shop, and eat.  While performers spoke to me of their music being "old-timey" in a slightly self-deprecating fashion, I found it, rather, to be charming and reflective of their real world and attachment to the farms and rural niches of their history and childhood.  Sometimes, as in the shaped note singing and primitive harmonies heard from around the grounds, one could hear clear echoes of an earlier time. At others, the sounds of early country and bluegrass music that must have first been heard by many on radios where folks had "Bill Monroe for breakfast every day," as Tom T. Hall, famed singer and song writerfrom eastern Kentucky, wrote.  Other music we heard reflected the early country music that came into peoples homes from WSM and the Grand Old Opry or through Flatt & Scruggs or Ralph Stanley as they performed live on the radio from small 5000 watt local stations in Bristol, Wheeling, and Roanoke along the mountain chain to publicize their upcoming performances.  Still others represent the early and much loved contributions coming from Hee Haw and The Andy Griffith Show on television, as broadcast media improved and electricity found its way into Appalachia.  The appearance of Ramona Jones (the wife of the late Grandpa Jones of Hee Haw fame) and friends brought back to life the music of those days as did Daniel Rothwell's remembrances of Uncle Dave Macon and the Carter Family's recreation of the music of A.P and Mother Maybelle Carter.  Country fiddler Charlie Acuff, confined to a wheel chair, can still cut a lick and remind us of the days this fine event seeks to preserve.  Museum founder John Rice Irwin, still courtly and thoughtful well into his eighties, is a living presence at the Museum he created and his daughter Elaine now presides over. The music of the Tennessee Fall Homecoming not only captures the distant sounds echoing from the hills, but continues to feature more contemporary interpretations of it as the music continues to develop and change.

Early Morning at the Museum of Appalachia
Tennessee Fall Homecoming

Appalachian Harmonizers - Primtive Hymn Singers
Squeezing and Boiling Sorghum Syrup
Tom Brantley & Missionary Ridge
Around the Fire - Backstage
Rhonda & Sparkey Rucker
Music, Storytelling, History

Hammered Dulcimer
Lillies of the West

Stage 4 - The Dance Wagon

From Friday morning until late Sunday afternoon the grounds bustled with activity as craft and food vendors offered local crafts reflecting the life of Appalachia brought, in many cases, to high art.  I was particularly intrigued by the stack of cast iron pots with charcoal briquettes between the layers used to cook multiple and delicious fruit cobblers.

Cooking Cobblers

Basket Weaving
Windsor Chair Crafter
without a lathe
Bowl Crafter

Old Time & Bluegrass
A Pleasing Mix

Chris West - Blue Moon Rising
Ramona Jones & Friends

Ramona Jones
at 88 Still Representing the Music Well

Wailin' Wood
a Master of the Harmonica 
Raymond Fairchild
Legendary Banjo Player from Maggie Valley
built and played by Glenn Greene

Charley Acuff
 Old Time Country Fiddler

Chilly in the Morning

Bill Foster
Old Time Sound - Contemporary Lyrics

Uncle Doc Wilhite
Singing and Playing the Music of
Uncle Dave Macon 

The John Hartford String Band
Keeping the Music of John Hartford Alive
Bob Carlin, Matt Combs, Chris Stuart 

Matt Combs

Bob Carlin

Chris Sharp
The Quebe Sisters
Texas Swing in a New Package

Old Motor Display

 ...And New Ones

The Main Stage
Santa was there...
Relaxing Before the Work Really Starts
More Auto Harp

Jimbo Whaley & Greenbrier

Darrell Webb subbing for Cody Shuler
Pine Mountain Railroad

 Terry Baucom - The Duke of Drive
Subbing with Pine Mountain Railroad

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
Doyle Lawson

Cory Hensley
Carl White

Jason Barrie
Jesse Baker

Mike Rogers

Melvin Goins
Emcee Freddy Smith
Steep Canyon Rangers
Graham Sharp

Woody Platt

 Mike Guggino
Nicky Sanders
Charles Humphrey

Freddy Smith & Paul Williams
Irene Working Merch for the Steeps

Paul Williams & the Victory Trio

 Paul Williams

The Tennessee Fall Homecoming at the Museum of Appalachia offers a rich mixture of music and mountain  culture.  The weather was beautiful, the colors in the midsdt of the autumn change. This is an event people who love old time and bluegrass music shouldn't miss.