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Roots music is being revived, and the young people involved in its comeback are dedicated musicians determined to keep America’s heritage alive.
With these words fiddler, singer, and traditional music preservationist John Harrod poignantly connected with the audience at the March 8 meeting of the historical society.
John emphasized that America’s “roots music” encompasses not only the traditional fiddling and guitar playing of the mountains but includes music from the ‘20s and ‘30s. Before the advent of television and the Internet, people devoted the little spare time they had to social gatherings with family and friends.
John recalls a time here in Owen County when each night a fiddler would play in someone’s home and people would square dance.
This entertaining past time would be held in one house and the next night everyone would move on to another home.
Into the mid-1970s, square dances were held in Owen County at Old Monterey School and Long Ridge, and people from many of the communities would attend to join in the fun and fellowship.
John was accompanied by his wife, Tona, who plays guitar and banjo, and two other fine musicians, Scott Proudy, who is originally from West Virginia, and Michael Ismerio, who is from California but has traveled around the U.S. and is currently studying square dance calling.
Both Scott and Michael received fellowships at Berea College and are doing research in traditional Appalachian music.
John’s first direct contact with a traditional Kentucky musician was when he met fiddler Bill Livers. Bill came from a family of African-American musicians who lived near New Liberty. Livers was not only well known in Owen County but became a favorite in the music capital of Nashville, Tenn.
John’s musical skills were refined as he met and observed other fiddlers in Kentucky. He plays by ear as did most of the Kentuckians who opened their homes and their lives to this wiry, jean-clad, young fellow seeking to become part of our traditional American heritage. For forty years John has not only coaxed long forgotten melodies from his finely tuned fiddle strings, but has recorded and collected music from the hills of Kentucky which was performed by little known and now long gone people who made their homes there. Today these vital pieces of history recorded by John are preserved in the archives of Morehead State University and Berea College.
John related an entertaining story about his wife, Tona. It seems she did play the fiddle, but only one time. At a fiddling contest, Tona discovered that first, second, and third places were awarded money. Third place was $100 and only two fiddlers had registered to compete. Tona included her name as a contestant, then took John’s fiddle out into the alley and practiced a short time before she gave a compelling rendition of “Boil Them Cabbage Down.” As was expected Tona placed third, but was $100 richer.
The evening became one of clapping hands, flashing feet (albeit mostly older ones), some confusion, but lots of laughter and fun as society members joined in for an hour of square dancing.
Julie Donahue, a dance teacher, attended the meeting, joined the historical society, and helped lead some of us more confused members as we doe-si-doed our way through several dances. Our new secretary Peggy Tisch Rollins emphatically declared that square dancing was a better workout and much more fun than walking a track or lifting weights.
We were also honored to share the evening with a little girl and her father who live on Seminary Street.
Ashley Buffin has taken up the fiddle and when her daddy, Keith Buffin, read in the News-Herald about John’s intended visit. Ashley begged her father to bring her to the meeting. She danced every dance, and as her long, fine, blonde hair flew about her happily flushed face, one could only be encouraged by the fact that America’s music and traditions will surely be preserved by Ashley and many other young people like her upon whose capable shoulders our history rests.
Winds, hail, and tornadoes did not deter our dedicated historical society from cooking and serving a sumptuous dinner to the Gideons on March 3.
Despite the fact that there was no electricity until noon and no water until later in the afternoon, roasted pork tenderloin, scalloped potatoes, and all the trimmings were cooked to perfection and served to 91 guests. Twenty-six people, which included society members and friends, helped with the cooking, serving, and washing dishes, and washing dishes, and did I say washing dishes? Just ask Ruth Ann Hazlett, Darrel Baker and Doris Riley about washing dishes. Ruth Ann was bent over the sink so long her back took to complaining loud and clear. Our servers deserve mentioning for their efficiency and the fact that throughout the evening their ready smiles made the meal all the more enjoyable. Those dedicated people included Barbara and Jim Bob Cook, Jeannie Baker, Liz Dunavent, Doris Kistner, Stella and Bobby Gibson (who are always on hand at our fund raisers), Jarl Lee Harris ( energetic even though in his 80s), Betty Lusby, Mary Lou and Tom Morrison, Peggy Tisch Rollins and her husband, Mike Rollins, Phyllis Malcomb, Joy Arnold Morse, Glenna Clifton, Doris Riley, Pam Brock and her friend, Donna Wainscott, and of course our kitchen crew who helped head cook Jim Acton, prepare the meal and gave assistance wherever else they were needed. They included Jim Acton, Darrel Baker, Tom Morrison, Larry Dale Perry, Dean Riddle, Ruth Ann Hazlett, and Jeannie Baker. Though she had surgery four days after the dinner, president, Jeannie Baker made sure everything ran smoothly as she organized everything in her usual efficient manner.
Two young girls from the community also offered their services. Sarah Clifton accompanied her grandmother, Glenna, and Mariah Derringer was a whirlwind of activity as she traveled from kitchen to dining area offering her help. Mariah, an Owen County High School student, works at the Owen County Library, and her commitment to our community is admirable as her energy, enthusiasm, and kindness were much appreciated.
The criteria has changed a bit for inclusion in the 1812 book the historical society is publishing. We have discovered a number of 1812 veterans who may not have lived in the area that became Owen County but settled nearby. However, many of their descendants moved to Owen. If any Owen countian has an 1812 ancestor, please send us your information even if that ancestor did not live in Owen county. Mail to me at 670 Roberts Lane, Glencoe, Ky., 41046 or email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you haven’t taken a look at our website, please do so. Christina Rice has spent a great deal of time putting together a compelling site not only with information about the Owen County Historical Society, our programs, and goals, but has also has included the picturesque history of our area. So go to the web at: www.owencohistory.com and share the stories of Owen County.