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Old Time Music

In this installment of These Ozarks Hills, long-time journalist Marideth Sisco reflects on old time music and invites you to enjoy it at an upcoming festival in West Plains.

This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills. Whenever you mention Old Time Music in this part of the hills, you can stir up some memories that go back a long way. For some, it recalls the folklorists and song collectors like Max Hunter and May Kennedy McCord. For others, it's the sweet fiddle tunes of Art Galbraith, Saturday nights at Souder's Store or wandering down the back roads of Arkansas, trying to find Jimmy Driftwood's barn. For us wandering souls, it brings back all those old times we gathered round to warm our hearts before the television in places far away from here, watching the Ozarks Jubilee. Of course, it has its roots in the long ago and faraway lands but my first memory of old time music is personal, from when I was just a little child and the Carter Family came to Butterfield, my hometown. My Aunt Juanita said she found out they were just as poor as the rest of us when they stopped by her little store on their way out of town to buy food for the road because all they bought was cheese and crackers. I was about 3 or 4 years old when they played the Butterfield gym, which would've made it about 1947 or so. And there was all three of the girls there: June, Helen and Anita, and their Aunt Sara and Mama Maybelle. I remember they'd built a big square box for a stage out there in the middle of the basketball court. The gym was packed full of people, more than I'd ever seen and we were down at the end under the basketball goal. And I couldn't see a thing because I was so little. So my dad put his hand on my back and kind of pushed me up between people so I was out in front and there they were: all dressed up in party dresses with wide skirts and ribbons on them and singing like angels. Being a kid, I don't remember a single word to a single song. What I do remember is that as they were getting ready to begin one of their songs, Maybelle who was playing guitar tried to get more comfortable in her chair and she sort of hitched herself forward a little bit and as she did, the chair made kind of a rude noise, on that hollow wooden box of a stage. Well, it was the Carter Family. Nobody was going to laugh. But instead it got very quiet. And then June, who was already the family cut-up, leaned up into the microphone and said, "Mama just wanted you to know that was just that chair that scooted." And that brought the house down. We laughed til we cried. We may have liked them before but we loved them after that. And the music they sang has held a special place for me ever since. It's probably one of the reasons I sing old time music. Speaking of that, I'll be singing a June Carter song just a few weeks from now at the 14th annual Old Time Music and Ozarks Heritage Festival June 20th and 21st down here in West Plains. I'll be singing along with a bunch of others including Big Smith and the Whites, those wonderful singers who played the Carters in the movie O Brother Where Art Thou? You remember them riding around in that pick-up truck singing. Well, they're riding down to West Plains next month...probably not in a pick-up truck. Anyway, I wanted to be sure you knew about this and put it on your perpetual calendar because every year down here from Friday morning til Saturday night on the third weekend of June, we throw a party in celebration of the good old days. Old time music, old time foods and old time hand work. Why, we even have a mule jump...and the Bob Holt National Jig Dance Competition, and then there's storytelling, basket making, woodcarving, turkey calling, ice cream making, old time square making, quilting, gunsmith-ing, and black power rendez-vous, and man, you name it and it's in there. It all amounts to a pretty good old time. And it's all free except for the gas to get here.