The Old-Time Herald Volume 10, Number 8

Feature

 

Old 78s and Shiitakes:
Carole Anne Rose and Curly Miller

By Steve Green

Dancers across northern Arkansas are familiar with a driving, rhythmic fiddle and banjo sound that reaches out and says, “Dance!” in no uncertain terms. This is the music of Curly Miller and Carole Anne Rose. Playing dances while on tour or in concert, they have allowed thousands more listeners and dancers to experience what the home crowd has come to rely on. When Curly and Carole Anne are playing, dancers don’t have to bring their own energy—it is there waiting for them. Their music can vanquish the deepest of workday funks and replace it with a connection to the innermost joy of dance. Moreover, when they tour as the Old 78s, they give more than an invitation to listen, or even an inspiration to move your feet. When Curly leans into the fiddle for a hot tune and Carole Anne frails that big banjo, the message comes straight out of the origins of old-time dance music, and goes straight to the musical brainstem.

Photo by Michael Hartsock
Listen to Carole Anne & Curly's
"Salty River Reel"

Talking about what old-time music used to be may seem like semantic confusion, but for Curly and Carole Anne it has real meaning. This husband and wife are full-time farmers, so they feel a connection to a way of life that was prevalent when old-time music was acquiring its character. Music may be how we meet them, but Sweden Creek Farm is the daily passion in their lives. They live “way back in on the dirt,” growing organic shiitake mushrooms, herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers on a beautiful farm tucked in the rugged Ozark mountains of Madison County, Arkansas. A visitor is in for a surprise when, after traveling five miles on dirt roads along free-flowing Sweden Creek, to come upon a very organized organic farming operation. Each week, Curly and Carole Anne’s farm produces 800 to 1000 pounds of Shiitake mushrooms from tens of thousands of logs, nourished by cold spring water from the wooded mountainside. The same creek irrigates several garden plots. Make no mistake, though; this is not typical agri-business farming from inside the air-conditioned cab of a giant farm tractor. This is hands-on farming, in which every log that produces a mushroom is picked up and moved by muscle power many times in its production cycle. This is also farming in which stoop labor is shared as much by the owners as by one of the five or so employees who also live and make their livings on the farm. Curly and Carole Anne market their produce in northwest Arkansas every week and, with the help of two of their children, Sara and Silas, make deliveries to restaurants and markets, and to the airport for shipping to organic distributors around the country.

They explain that this very physical life of daily outdoor work has inevitably shaped the way they play music. It is no stretch to appreciate that the way a person experiences the playing of an instrument is strongly influenced by their physicality and way of life. Bodies that have routinely lifted tens of thousands of pounds of shiitake logs, and picked thousands upon thousands of mushrooms, bring different capacities and sensibilities to an evening music session or the monthly dance. The music of the Old 78s harkens back to the recordings of rural America made in the late 1920s and ’30s with strong rhythms, driving fiddle bowing, and the call to the dancer.

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