The Music of Tennessee



There’s a lot of music in Tennessee, and there’s music everywhere, but the music in Tennessee is different.  It’s not some come and go trendy stuff the kids play: it’s called Old Time, and it’s southern folk music that has a magic to it. The magic is about the fact that it’s lasted so long in the same form, and that it’s such an integral part of people’s lives in the area of Tennessee I recently visited, and  in the whole region around there. The music is so important there that it struck me that it’s like a glue that helps to hold people together in close-knit groups. Life can get hard and things can go wrong, like the coal mining and other industries that largely went away in that area years ago. Strong people banded together to find ways to make life good and beautiful despite all that.  Now the city I visited is making huge strides to revitalize parts of their downtown and make it beautiful and useful again.  And all the while the music goes on and binds people together, cos the Old Time music can still be counted on no matter what. Now they have music in their wonderful new Founder’s Park on the weekends. Sometimes it’s Old Time and other times other kinds of music.  But music is like part of their hearts.

Old Time songs are  stories about people’s everyday lives, and is played on banjos, guitars, autoharps, fiddles, bases and dulcimers, they way it has been for hundreds of years.  While I was visiting, we went a ways to Virginia to the Doc Boggs Music Festival.  Sam and Michael were playing there later with their friends from the group Thistle Dew, but before they played I got to hear some good Old Time. There was a group of young people from a nearby college on stage before them, and they were great. They were mostly 20 or so  years old, and had obviously each been playing since an early age, to get as good as they each were.

They had a special visitor playing with them that day. His name is Papa Joe Smidley and he’s 95 years old.  He had some help getting on and off the steps to the stage, but sitting on a chair with his banjo, he could have been any age at all.  It was amazing to hear him play. He has obviously been playing since a young age too, and the same music runs thru him as it does thru the 18 year old harmonica player who was part of the group and was the best I’ve ever heard.  The music runs thru the mountains and thru the people and you can see how happy they all are when they make the music:  they are the music and the music is them.

Above is a picture of Sam, Michael and Thistle Dew with Papa Joe Smidley.

Celtalachian harmony

Above is Thistle Dew, and my friends Sam and Micheal playing with them. Thistle Dew plays music that’s very different from Old Time, but is still steeped in the traditions of the Appalachian Mountains. They call their music Celtalachian: Appalachian folk music blended with Celtic influence to reflect the Scotch and Irish ancestry of many people in that area. They make beautiful harmony and each play several different instruments. Their music is available on several different CD’s. Check out their website for more information about them.

The music and the magic of Tennessee.  The memory of it will stay with me till I can go back and hear some more, and feel the happiness that it brings to those who play it and those who hear it.

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