The Magic of Mountain Music
Trip Start Oct 23, 2010
7Trip End Dec 06, 2010
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The 113 mile drive to Mountain View from Little Rock was awash in freshly-bursting-from-the-bud greens. Past Batesville, Hwy 14 curls upward, with the occasional crumbling barn, defunct Tyson Farms chicken hangar, and vibrant-emerald pasture dotted with well-fattened cows taking warm, lazy delight in the afternoon sun edging the forested foothills. The drive alone is worth the trip.
We catch sight of the White River through the trees about 10 miles outside of Mountain View, drive past the archetypal, sandstone town square, flanked by decidedly honest and ungentrified storefronts, before turning up Hwy 87. Making our way down the steeply angled and graveled Wilcox Rd, a tiny old and dark, quintessential Ozark cabin sits on the corner -- complete with front porch and rocking chairs, just aching to be photographed -- marking our turn to Double Bridge Loop Rd. Impressed by the power of the rushing waters of Sylamore Creek only 4 feet below us as we cross the low water bridge, I wonder how long we could get stuck on this side of the creek if it rained, while my brother David looks forward to some great crawdad fishing.
The cabin, perched 200 feet up on a nearby hillside, is nestled in a closely knit circle of low-lying Ozark mountains and offers multiple, clear views of the u-shaped bends of the creek below. The aesthetics of the cabin are far beyond anything we had hoped for....two floors of gleaming pine and cedar walls, ceilings and floors, a well-equipped kitchen, an outdoor fire-pit, and generous wooden (upper) and stone (lower) decks, with ample enough roof overhang to allow all of us to enjoy the drama of the heavy rain and thunderstorms in the forecast.
We delight to sunrises, cardinals, turkey vultures, hummingbirds, great blue herons, the occasional hawk, and bats after dark, as well as the other, unidentified birds who were constantly chittering and chorteling, hidden in the newly leafing green all around us, refusing to be drowned out by the now rain-swollen water of the creek rushing through and over the low water bridge. Distant owl calls, the occasional bat, and fireflies punctuate the nights.
On Thursday night we sat, perched safely beneath the wide, overhanging roofline of the top deck, exhilarated by the whipping wind and constant streaks of fire lighting the mountains and clouds in every direction, relishing the god-like, clashing rolls and trailing echoes of thunder.
And we reveled in the music -- oh, the music -- in town and at home when Bart, David and Corey brought out their guitars and Stephen joined in with his gutsy, blues worthy voice.
The Music and the People
This festival is truly that. A festival. An exuberant blending of textures and qualities, celebrating all the whimsical, unrestrained joy and aching sorrow of being human. Haunting and evocative histories, unfathomable heart, and life itself pours out of these fiddles, guitars, mandolins, banjos, harmonicas, dulcimers, hammered dulcimers, bases, spoons. The songs and rhythms dance from musicians' fingertips into the eyes and smiles of their knee slapping audience.
They come from Texas, Missouri, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arizona and Florida, some carrying as many as 3 or 4 (some homemade) instruments.
One man had 29 harmonicas.
All carry their own chair. Whether they are in their 90s or as young as 6, whatever their skill level, they are welcome to sit a spell in any circle and play til they drop or go on to try out another group.
Bart joins the group on Aunt Minnie's Pickin' Porch beside the dry goods store. About an hour in, a 6-year-old girl in pigtails, wearing a Little-House-on-the-Prairie calico dress, walks in tentatively to join the group between songs. Don, the bass player, gives her his full attention and plays host, asking her name, how long she has been playing (6 months), and if she has a song she would like to play. (Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.) Her parents beam from the sidelines as he gently encourages her to lead them in four additional songs before he asks her to keep time with the group as they go on. It's a beautiful exchange. We are all in love with this little girl and her tender young interest in music, and equally blown-away by Don's measured and casual, perfectly attuned and balanced grace in welcoming her into this community of musicians.
Eventually, I wander across the gravel parking lot about 30 feet away, where a 13-year-old boy is wowing a huge crowd with his virtuosity on the guitar, then a mandolin, then a banjo. The woman I am sitting next to leans over to me as he is switching instruments to tell me she has been watching him play here since he was 3 years old. Another group, all men, stands in the middle of the street to our left, and just beyond them, on the front lawn and two porches of the music store, are three more. A new music park down the block houses 3 large gazebos and several warming fire pits, All are packed. It's a wild array of robustly playful and sad mountain music, bluegrass and gospel, and god-aweful beautiful twangy voices.
A tall, skinny man in his early 60s passes me on his way to the far porch of the music store. His grey, wiry beard thins to his navel in his bib overalls and boots, and he's sporting a folksy felt-like mountain hat. This group has a hammered dulcimer, several guitars, a banjo, a couple of fiddlers. He dances to "Down in the Arkin-saw" in quintessential Ozark style and looks every exquisite inch the part.