The Old-Time Herald Volume 9, Number 8

Feature

The Charlie Poole Festival in Eden, North Carolina

By A.V. Shirk

. . . The North Carolina Piedmont is rich in old-time music—particularly string bands. The area has an old German/Scotch-Irish fiddle tradition combined with African-American banjo music. But it was the addition of the guitar to the fiddle and banjo in the early 20th century that created what Bob Carlin has described as, “. . . the archetypal old time North Carolina Piedmont sound . . . long bow fiddling combined with cascading banjo runs and strong guitar bass lines used in support of popular songs and dance tunes.” Carlin and other researchers have documented the names of scores of early 20th century string band musicians. Few of these were professionals who could support themselves by their music and most of them are historical footnotes, but they created one of our greatest musical traditions.


The Piedmont string band tradition is inextricably woven into the history of the Southern textile industry, in large part, because many of the musicians who created the Piedmont string bands were also mill workers. In the late 19th century textile mills began to move south from New England for reasons similar to those that would cause them to emigrate to Asia about a century later. If the word “outsourcing” had been available in the 19th century New England textile workers, watching their mills gradually close, would have found it useful. The working conditions in the southern textile industry, which often employed entire families, including men, women, and children as young as 10, resulted in labor unions and child-labor laws.

There were once three North Carolina textile mill towns huddled close together in the Piedmont county of Rockingham, just south of the Virginia border: Leaksville, Spray, and Draper. By 1967, they had grown so close that they were merged into the present city of Eden, which is now the home of the annual Charlie Poole Music Festival. The area around Eden has a long, and still-vital string band music tradition, of which Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers is the best-known representative. Born in 1892, Poole was playing banjo before he was 10. Like other members of his family he was a mill worker, butunlike most mill workers, he was able to use his distinctive three-finger style of banjo playing and his clear, strong tenor voice to escape the mills. His band, the North Carolina Ramblers, became one of the most popular and influential string bands. As Bill C. Malone has put it, “No other string band in early country music equaled the Ramblers’ controlled, clean, and well—patterned ensemble sound.”

Those attending the 10th Annual Charlie Poole Festival, which will be held this year on May 20-21, will hear a fine lineup of traditional, string-band and bluegrass musicians that includes: Tony Trischka; Norman & Nancy Blake; Tom, Brad & Alice; the Joe Thompson Band; Debby McClatchy; the Jeanette Williams Band; the Rorrer brothers’ bands: the New North Carolina Ramblers and the Hungry Hash House Ramblers; Wayne Seymour & Fred Reynolds; the Carolina Roustabouts; Beaucoup Blue; Carolina Borderline; and the Brooklyn Corn Dodgers. This year’s festival will also be the venue for the official release of Hank Sapoznik’s 3 CD Columbia/Legacy box set on the music of Charlie Poole. Entitled You Ain’t Talkin’ To Me: Charlie Poole and the Roots of Country Music, the set compares Poole’s music with the music of those who influenced him. It also examines the way in which Poole had an indelible effect both on his contemporaries and on the following generations of country and old-time musicians. Sapoznik will also be playing Poole-style banjo with his group, the Brooklyn Corn Dodgers.

 

The Tenth Annual Charlie Poole Music Festival will take place from May 20-21, 2005 at Governor Morehead Park in Eden, NC. For more information, call 336-623-3128 or 336-627-0375 or visit http://www.charlie-poole.com/index.html

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