The Old-Time Herald Volume 7, Number 8

Festival Profiles- 2000

Uncle Dave Macon Days

Strains of fiddle, banjo, and guitar music drift up through the abundant shade trees, and the old log cabins and outbuildings make the musicians appear to be from a scene 100 years ago. In the distance you can hear a blacksmith hammering on an anvil, or shape-note singing from a log church a little way away.

But this happens only once a year on the second weekend in July. It's Uncle Dave Macon Days in Murfreesboro, TN. This year will be the 23rd annual event, to be held July 7-9th, 2000. Although Murfreesboro is a fairly large town located about 40 miles east of Nashville, the event takes place at Cannonsburgh Village, a collection of log structures in town that were relocated from other parts of the county and restored to working condition. So in addition to many fine places to jam under the trees and on cabin porches, there is also a fully functional blacksmith shop and a church where shape-note singing is taught. Come and join us for the weekend, and help us enjoy and promote old-time music in Tennessee.

The festival was established to honor the memory of Uncle Dave Macon, who lived near Murfreesboro. Uncle Dave was one of the first performers on the Grand Ole Opry and traveled widely in the South with his unique combination of masterful showmanship and musicianship. His clawhammer banjo playing and singing abilities were legendary, as were his antics with the banjo. His ability to twirl and spin the instrument without losing a beat fascinated young and old alike. He died in 1952 and was elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1966. His family has been active in participating in the festival since its inception in 1977, and in 1986 the United States House of Representatives proclaimed the competitions at this festival in old-time banjo, old-time clogging, and old-time buckdancing to be the national championships.

The event starts on Friday night with several competitions, including the Uncle Dave Macon Free Wheelin' Style. This is an Uncle Dave look-alike and act-alike contest and can be most entertaining. On Saturday the old-time categories of banjo, fiddle, and band are held along with the dance and bluegrass competitions. The organizers take special care to provide judges who are knowledgeable in their areas of music, so there are separate judges for the old-time, bluegrass, and dance categories. As of last year, prize money awarded in all categories was $5,400. Admission to the festival is free, but there is a registration charge of $5 to $7 for entering a competition. Registration is accepted at the event, advance registration is not necessary.

Each year the festival designates a Heritage Award winner, someone who is dedicated to the preservation and advancement of old-time music and dance. In the past these have included Smoky Mountain Glenn who played with Uncle Dave, Uncle Jake Box, Cordell Kemp, and in more recent years John Hartford and Leroy Troy. Part of the event is broadcast on WSM, the Nashville country music station which has broadcast the Grand Ole Opry shows live on Saturday nights for many, many years. Last year was the first year for providing the Macon-Doubler scholarship. This is an apprenticeship program in music and dance for those who are interested in learning old-time music or dance.

Additional activities include a juried craft show, historic photo exhibit, children's activities, Sunday morning gospel singing, and a motorless parade. The Web site (to be updated for 2000) is www.digitalvantage.com/uncledave. For more information, call the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-716-7560. 

--Pat Gill

Birmingham Old-Time Music & Dance Weekend

On the third weekend in August each year the Birmingham Country Dance Society puts on its annual Old-Time Music and Dance Weekend at Camp Riverview in the resort town of Mentone, Alabama. Riverview has a beautiful open-sided, wooden-floored dance hall and a waterfront on the Little River, whose chilly waters feel great in August.

For the past 18 years the weekend has featured great old-time bands and musicians such as James Bryan and Norman Blake, Lotus Dickey, Ralph Blizard and the New Southern Ramblers, the Freight Hoppers, the Red Hots, Big Hoedown, Red Mountain White Trash, the Volo Bogtrotters, the Monks, and many more. The core activity of the weekend is dancing, but also on the schedule are jams (slow and regular), a concert by the featured band, a late-night swing or Cajun dance, Sunday morning gospel singing, a clogging workshop, swimming, and a wacky waterfront drama or pageant. Of course, informal jam sessions go on all over the camp day and night.

Small children attend, as well as a surprising number of teenagers who become avid dancers during the weekend. It is likely that BCDS will establish an activities program for children ages 5-12 this year. Campers stay in cabins or bring their own tents. Some also stay in bed-and-breakfasts and or rent chalets in the area. BCDS furnishes two breakfasts and campers are asked to bring a contribution to the Saturday night potluck and any other food or beverages they need. Everyone at the camp is expected to volunteer for a congenial bit of cooking or cleaning during the weekend, which helps BCDS keep costs low.

The Old-Time Music and Dance Weekend is extremely popular and usually fills up within a week after the fliers go out early in June. Registration is limited to 280 persons on a first-come-first served basis, with gender-balance taken into consideration. Those who would like to attend should request to be placed on the mailing list by writing BCDS, 1452 Milner Crescent, Birmingham, AL 35205 or send email to: pfoster@uab.edu. The cost of the weekend is $55 per person 12 and older and $30 for children between 3 and 12 (both prices subject to change). BCDS sends confirmation letters to those whose registrations arrive in time and returns the checks of those that come in too late. No drop-ins for portions of the weekend or unregistered guests are admitted.

Once past the hurdle of registration, you'll find the Old-Time Music and Dance Weekend an incredibly fun and friendly affair--maybe because all the folks who don't like old-time music stay away. If you request a flier, be warned that it may come as a brochure for a bird-watching retreat, a Y2K seminar, a religious tract, a publishers-clearing-house-type drawing or an advertisement for a miracle dance diet. Don't throw it in the recycling bin if it says BCDS on the return address.

--Joyce Cauthen

24th Annual Cranberry Dulcimer Gathering, July 28-30, 2000

The Cranberry Dulcimer Gathering, scheduled for the last weekend in July, offers a variety of events for hammered dulcimer, fretted dulcimer, and autoharp players from beginning to advanced levels. It was started as a gathering of friends to share their talents and knowledge, and has expanded over the years to include over 50 hands-on workshops, a hymn sing, two concerts, an old-time dance, an open stage, and lots of informal jamming.

Held at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Binghamton, New York, the Gathering has room for as many as 200 workshop participants. Workshop leaders come from all over, teaching practical topics ranging from repertoire classes to specific playing skills. Beginners are especially welcome, and a substantial number of the workshops are aimed at that level. Other workshops cover novice, intermediate, and advanced levels.

The concerts on Friday and Saturday nights feature artists who also teach workshops during the weekend. Featured artists this year include No Strings Attached, Lucy Joan Sollogub, and Bob Lewis.

Information on accommodations and places in the surrounding area can be found on the web site: http://people.ne.medianone.net/jonw1/cranberry. To request information or ask for a registration form, readers may also

contact: Ed Ware, 1259 Fowler Place, Binghamton, NY 13903; (607) 669-4653; e.ware@ieee.org.

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