October 2018 - The Birthplace of Country Music
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Pick 5: The Witching 17 Minutes, 12 Seconds

For our “Pick 5” blog series, we ask members of the Radio Bristol team to pick five songs within a given theme – from heartsongs to murder ballads and everything in between! Once they pick their “5,” they get the chance to tell us more about why they chose those songs. With a diverse staff of knowledgeable DJs, we’re sure to get some interesting song choices, which might introduce you to some new music, all easily accessible by tuning into Radio Bristol!

Hello BCM blog readers! That creepiest, kookiest, and most enchanting holiday of All Hallows’ Eve is almost upon us so I have seized the opportunity to contribute my first “Pick 5” blog post!

If you had known me as a kid and inquired about my favorite season and/or holiday you would have gotten the same answer then as you will now: fall and Halloween. I find the combination of contrasting colors, spicy scents, and the brisk chill of autumn to be a wonderful atmosphere, but then you go and add the fun and mischief associated with Halloween and you have a formula that has always created good times and lasting memories for me. Include the concept of my ever-constant passion for music, and what do you get? The subject of this blog!

So, on focusing on my “Pick 5” choices, my first thoughts were of the multitudes of spooky songs I have listened to and enjoyed over the years. I then, almost instantly, realized that it would be way too tough to narrow these down to only five songs…BUT WAIT! When contemplating this, it occurred to me that several of the first tunes that came to mind had a running theme: WITCHES! And so I was able to access the disorderly yet bountiful section of my mind dedicated to music and summon my favorite peculiar compositions on the topic within minutes. Thus I present to you, Scotty’s Top 5 Witchy Records:

“The Witch,” The Sonics (1965)

This track could very well be the epitome of what is (and should be) considered garage rock and has definitely served as a blueprint for many architects of the primal rock-and-roll and punk that followed. “The Witch” is just one of a handful of The Sonics’ songs that are unmistakable when heard, and it is one of the first that I think of when the subject of garage or Halloween comes up. Though originally released as a single in 1965, the video below shows the band performing the song live in Iceland for KEXP in 2016. Sounds like they’ve still got it!

“Season of the Witch,” Donovan (1966)

This track from the Scottish musician’s 1966 Sunshine Superman record is a psychedelic pop gem. It is likely the most recognizable of my picks as it has been covered by other artists such as Vanilla Fudge and Joan Jett, as well as having been used in several television shows and movies throughout the years. The song’s popularity in soundtracks is not a mystery – it definitely sets a distinct tone and eerie atmosphere. “Season of the Witch”: a truly cool piece of music!

“You Must Be a Witch,” The Lollipop Shoppe (1968)

My last blog post was about rock-and-roll singer and guitar player Fred Cole, a musician who made an incredible impact in the world of garage rock. He formed the band Dead Moon in 1987, his most notable endeavor, but The Lollipop Shoppe, formed in the late 1960s, is close to where it all began for him. “You Must Be a Witch” is arguably my favorite witchy song of all time but, as with most things, I guess mood dictates that. The musicianship and dynamic loud/quiet/loud formula gives the song its own je ne sais quoi. Fred even took to wearing a witchy hat in his Dead Moon days!

“The Witch,” The Rattles (1970)

I can’t remember where I first encountered this track, but it has been a Halloween staple in my song repertoire over the past ten years or so. Though the song is not just a Halloween song for me: it gets stuck in my head randomly as well. I don’t know a whole lot about The Rattles, but they were a German band active from the early 1960s through the mid-1970s and must have been at least mildly successful because I have seen footage of them playing on Top of the Pops. This video for The Rattles’ performing “The Witch” is definitely worth your time. Dig the drummer playing the downed branch of that tree!

“Witch,” The Bird and the Bee (2008)       

The Bird and the Bee are an indie pop duo that first attracted my attention with their 2010 release of Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates, which I highly recommend. As music nerds do when they find something they love, I backtracked through the group’s discography and found two previous releases that I also really liked. This cut of “Witch” is from their sophomore release Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future and sounds like it was retro-recorded for 1960s espionage cinema – it has a REALLY cool vibe. “P.S. I’m a witch…”

Sweet Harmonies and Foot-Tapping Tunes at October’s Farm and Fun Time

Farm and Fun Time was back at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum’s Performance Theater on October 18th with another exciting installment. We had a blast at the Paramount Center for the Arts during Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion in September, but there’s no place like home! Thanks to our sponsor Eastman Credit Union, Radio Bristol was able to bring Farm and Fun Time to not only those in the audience or tuned in to WBCM-LP, but to viewers far and wide via Facebook Live. Be sure to like WBCM – Radio Bristol on Facebook to tune in every month!

Host band Bill and the Belles kicked the show off with their unique blend of harmonies, which have become a staple on the Farm and Fun Time stage. The “Heirloom Recipe” segment was presented by Radio Bristol’s own Bailey George, host of “The Honky Tonk Hit Parade,” who informed the audience of the one food that has always been there for him: Armour Potted Meat. Bailey was introduced to potted meat at an early age by his grandfather, who was always willing to share a can or some good advice. A recipe does not have to be difficult to prepare or contain several (labeled) ingredients to be culturally significant. Instead, what matters is the ones with whom we share the food and the bonds that are created over a shared meal. After delivering this heartfelt story, Bailey picked up his guitar and sang “The Potted Meat Boogie” with Bill and The Belles.

Left pic: Bill and the Belles on the Performance Theater stage in front of the live broadcast crowd; middle pic: Bailey George gesticulates to the audience as he tells his story of potted meat; right pic: Bailey George playing guitar with Bill and the Belles accompanying him in the background.
Host band Bill and the Belles entertained a sold-out crowd at October’s Farm and Fun Time, while Bailey George brought some homespun tales and tunes of potted meat. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

Our first featured musical guest was The Barefoot Movement. Though the band is based in Nashville, Tennessee, The Barefoot Movement has roots right here in East Tennessee, where fiddler and singer Noah Wall attended East Tennessee State University’s Bluegrass, Old Time and Country Music Studies program. Performing their brand of laidback, down-home, traditional music, The Barefoot Movement kicked off their shoes and stayed a while. From rip-roaring barn burners to powerful ballads, the band put on a dynamic show that blended soulful singing and incredible musicianship.

The four band members of The Barefoot Movement playing the bass, mandolin, fiddle and guitar.
The Barefoot Movement gave a crowd-pleasing performance on stage. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

For this month’s “ASD Farm Report,” we visited Ridge and Valley Farms in Lebanon, Virginia. Andrew Gilmer works tirelessly to conserve land that has been in his family since the 1700s, and the farm produces some of the finest beef in the region. Here’s a video from our visit:

Wrapping up the evening’s show was a riveting performance by the Quebe Sisters. Hailing from the great fiddling state of Texas, these ladies are no strangers to Bristol, having played Bristol Rhythm twice. From Kenny Baker’s “Bluegrass in the Backwoods” to Western swing and jazz standards such as “Yearning” and “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie,” they fiddled their way across the full spectrum of roots music in a style all their own. With an incomparable rhythm section and their dazzling three-part harmonies, both vocal and fiddle, the Quebe Sisters put on a show that won’t soon be forgotten by the Farm and Fun Time audience – they really must be seen to be believed!

Left pic: The Quebe Sisters singing together on the Farm and Fun Time stage; middle pic: Hulda Quebe holds her fiddle while singing; right pic: All three Quebe Sisters fiddling together.
No sibling rivalry here! The Quebe Sisters were wonderfully in sync for the October show, delivering a mesmerizing performance that’s still being talked about by the Farm and Fun Time crowd. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

Thanks to everyone who came out and made this a wonderful evening of fun and music! There are still a few tickets left for November’s Farm and Fun Time. Be a part of our live audience and experience high energy old-time and bluegrass music from Five Mile Mountain Road and Blue Highway.

The Devil Has All the Best Tunes

You may have heard that A. P. Carter could play the fiddle, but refused to do so on record because it was “the devil’s box.” And just about everyone knows Charlie Daniel’s 1979 hit song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” about a demonic fiddling contest. But here’s the question: Out of all the instruments, why is the devil so taken with the fiddle? Why not the accordion? The saxophone? I mean, surely the kazoo was born from hellfire, right?

Close up of fiddle in its case.
This fiddle from our collection looks pretty free of fire and brimstone… © Birthplace of Country Music; Photographer: Haley Hensley. Gift of Ruth Roe

Where there is fiddle music, though, there is often dancing, and where there is dancing, the devil is surely at play. I have stories of this in my own family – my grandmother’s Uncle Willard was very musical, but Grandma and her sisters would only dance to his music when their very religious Aunt Eugie wasn’t around to see them. The link between dancing and the devil is an old one in fact. Way back in the 4th century, St. John Chrysotom said that “where dance is, there is the devil.” Countless preachers over the centuries have espoused the same.

While the fiddle and its link to dancing was seen by many as the devil at play, the devil’s prowess with a fiddle and bow also brought inspiration. In the early 18th century, the Italian composer and violinist Giuseppe Tartini claimed that his most famous work, the “Devil’s Trill Sonata,” was delivered to him by the devil in a dream. This, of course, led to some imaginative depictions of what that might have looked like…

Illustration shows a man asleep in bed with the devil seated at the foot of the bed playing the fiddle.

Illustration of the legend behind Guiseppe Tartini’s “Devil’s Trill Sonata.” Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

Scotland’s favorite poet, Robert Burns, wrote “The Deil’s Awa Wi’ The Excise Man” a few decades later, in which the devil fiddles into town and dances off with the tax collector. The townsfolk react thusly:

We’ll mak our maut, and we’ll brew our drink,

We’ll laugh, sing, and rejoice, man,

And mony braw thanks to the meikle black deil,

That danc’d awa wi’ th’ Exciseman.

In case your Scots dialect is a bit rusty…basically everyone extends their grateful thanks to the devil, for with the tax man gone, they can booze it up all they want and have a big time!

With that rollicking party in mind, here are a handful of the most devilish tunes I know:

“The Devil’s Dream”

“The Devil’s Dream” is a standard Appalachian fiddle tune. Laura Ingalls Wilder remembers hearing this tune as a child in the 1870s, so it’s probably safe to assume that it was also a familiar one to fiddlers in our region at the time of the Bristol Sessions. It originated in Scotland as “The De’l Among the Tailors,” and it was also noted in an English folk tale from the early 1800s. It is played here by the Whitetop Mountain Band (featuring Radio Bristol DJ Martha Spencer and family).

 

Detail of text describing Laura hearing her Pa play "The Devil's Dream" and other tunes on the fiddle.
Laura Ingalls Wilder remembers her Pa playing “The Devil’s Dream” in Little House in the Big Woods. Photograph courtesy of Emily Robinson

“Did You Ever See the Devil, Uncle Joe?”

“Did You Ever See the Devil, Uncle Joe?” is another good fiddle tune. Fiddlin’ Cowan Powers and his family, who play it here, were the first family string band to record commercially…three years before the 1927 Bristol Sessions! I learned this tune as “Hop High Ladies,” and some may know it as “Miss MacLeod’s reel” – another import from the British Isles. Click on this link for an extra treat: Pipe Major Willie Ross playing both of these tunes in the early 20th century!

“Never Let the Devil Get the Upper Hand”

Speaking of the 1927 Bristol Sessions, here’s another devil-fueled tune recorded a decade later by Bristol Sessions artists The Carter Family: “Never Let the Devil Get the Upper Hand” – which just seems like good all-round advice! Spoiler alert, however: the devil DOES get the upper hand of the young man in this song and convinces him to murder his lover. This story might sound familiar if you’ve ever heard the old murder ballad “Knoxville Girl.” It’s basically the same tale, though the latter adds a lot more gruesome detail.

“The Old Lady & the Devil”

In contrast, a woman gets the upper hand of Old Scratch – and her husband! – in “The Old Lady & the Devil,” recorded by Johnson City Sessions artists Bill & Bell Reed. In this tune, a farmer happily lets the devil carry off his wife, but she raises so much hell in Hell that the devil brings her back home again. Dave Rawlings included a fantastic version of this song on his 2017 album Poor David’s Almanackthough he shortens the chorus and leaves out the bit where the woman whacks her husband with the dasher from the butter churn.

That gives you just a few of the devilish tunes out there, but I hope the music and the links between the devil and the much-loved fiddle get you in the mood for a very Happy Halloween!

Appalachian Ghost Tales and Stories to Help You Get Your Halloween On!

The Appalachian Mountains are some of the oldest mountains on Earth – and if these mountains and valleys could talk, one can only imagine what stories they could tell!

The rich history and culture of the region is also home to many supernatural tales and folklore that stem from a culture that for many years was geographically isolated from the outside world. Long before settlers found their way into the Appalachian region, only dense, uncharted and rugged mountain wilderness was found. Being located in such an isolated and difficult-to-reach area resulted in the formation of a unique style of people, culture, and heritage – including storytelling.

A story’s origin is often taken from one’s own experiences, and for mountain folk, daily life had its own hardships that played into the creation of their tales. They often lived a self-sustaining lifestyle, which is represented in symbols and archetypes – like the mountaineer, who represents individualism and self-reliance. This way of life is featured in countless songs and stories to this day. At the same time, the isolation in the Appalachian Mountains also inspired its residents to carry on and create stories focused on the strange and the supernatural.

Let’s take a step back in time: Imagine you are living in rural Appalachia over 100 years ago, and one of your main forms of entertainment was storytelling – you might hear stories of a ghostly experience or something spooky that might not be able to be fully explained! Over time tales are passed down from generation to generation, and the subject matter in these early ghost stories was often said to have been inspired by personal experiences with the unexplained. After all, it’s human nature to relate something you can’t fully explain to something you understand, even if it is supernatural!

And so, with Halloween approaching, what better time to dive into some of these strange tales of Appalachian ghost stories? Today I’m featuring a few tales and mysteries that are sure to leave you in spooky spirits. Once your appetite has been whetted, check out this link for more on Appalachian history and culture.

The hills of the Appalachians are seen in this image, full of green trees and layers of fog.
Fog on the mountains is beautiful — but it’s also spooky! Courtesy of Toni Doman

The Brown Mountain Lights

“In the days of the old covered wagon
When they camped on the flats for the night
With the moon shinin’ dim o’er the old canyon rim
They watched for that brown mountain light.

High on the mountain
And down in the valley below
It shines like the crown of an angel
And fades as the mists come and go”

(Partial lyrics to “Brown Mountain Light,” courtesy of BluegrassLyrics.com)

Our first tale is one of mystery. The odd and alluring “Brown Mountain Lights” are known as a supernatural phenomenon and have been the inspiration for many songs in folk music. The mysterious lights can be found in Burke County, North Carolina, in the Pisgah National Forest. For centuries tales of these lights have been recorded, but no one has yet to uncover what is causing the puzzling event.

There have been multiple versions of the lights’ origin story throughout the years. For instance, one legend stems from the native Cherokee people where it’s told that the lights are actually the souls of women who are searching for the men they had lost in a war on Brown Mountain. In the 19th century, another version of the story claims that the lights were the spirt of a young woman who was murdered by her husband. And in a country music song of the early 1950s, a version of the story tell us of a man who went hunting on the mountain and never returned home. In this legend, a slave was sent to search for the missing man, but neither were ever seen again, and the lights are said to be the light of the lantern used to continue the search beyond the grave (today this version in song is problematic with its romanticization of slavery).

Even the U.S. Geological Survey investigated the myths surrounding the lights, and in 1922 they published an extensive report concluding that the lights were a combination of automobile and locomotive lights, light from natural brush fires, or light emitted from other explainable sources. While the study might be correct for the time, the legend does date back much further than the time of automobiles, and the lyrics in the song state “In the days of the old covered wagon,” leading one to believe the mystery may have been around much longer.

Even though sightings of the lights are now a rarity, many people still flock to the mountain to try to catch a glimpse of the strange occurrence. Check out the Country Gentlemen’s version of “Brown Mountain Light” below. I’ll leave it up to you to decide the true origins of this mystery!

The Bell Witch

What’s October without tales of witches? Arguably the most famous witch to come out of the state of Tennessee is the Bell Witch, now a familiar tale in American folklore. The story takes place in the early 1800s when John Bell and his family moved from North Carolina to Tennessee. Bell was a very successful farmer, but his family was burdened with strange and unexplainable occurrences that ended up haunting and terrorizing the family and children for several years. The first notable events began in 1817 when Bell saw a strange creature in the fields. During this time unfamiliar noises in the house occurred and the family began to experience terrifying hauntings, including voices, various afflictions, being pinched or hit by an invisible entity, and more. All of these activities were blamed on what became known as the Bell Witch, who seemed particularly focused on father John Bell and daughter Betsy – eventually Bell died from what was claimed to be a poisoning by the witch and Betsy broke her engagement to a young man based on the witch’s entreaties and actions. Check out this link for more details of this well-known Tennessee tale.

Three image: Rough sketch of a girl in a white gown with long black hair; a square metal historical marker with the Bell Witch story; and signage for the Bell Witch cave and Bell Witch canoe trips!
From left to right: A circa 1894 drawing of the Bell Witch, also known as Kate, for Martin Van Buren Ingram’s book on the case; a Tennessee historical marker relates the story of the Bell Witch; and local attractions capitalize on the Bell Witch tale’s popularity. Images are public domain via Wikimedia Commons; courtesy of Brian Stansberry; and courtesy of BRad06

 The First Ghost of Bristol

Bristol, Tennessee-Virginia, like many southern and Appalachian towns, has a fair share of unique and strange tales. The town exists primarily because of railroads, bringing people and trade to the region for decades. The book Ghosts of Bristol: Haunting Tales from the Twin Cities by V. N. Bud Phillips features ghost stories and lore of the local region and relates an intriguing tale of an early ghost in Bristol.

The story is set in 1854 and features a man by the name of John H. Moore who owned a store and a small smokehouse located near Lee and Moore Streets in Bristol. While in preparation for opening the new store, the family made arrangements to dig a new well. One morning Mrs. Moore went to the smokehouse with a butcher knife and was alarmed to see the apparition of what appeared to be a Native American spirit who was advancing towards her as if to attack her. The spirit disappeared and was never seen again, and the knife also disappeared after the incident. Mrs. Moore then protested the digging of the new well, saying that the spirit she saw was a warning not to disturb this area. Chalking this all up to simple superstitions, John Moore proceeded with the digging, and sure enough, after the well was dug a Native American grave was found on the site.

While this might seem like a simple ghost tale, according to Phillips, it’s the first recorded one in Bristol, making it worthy of our October Appalachian ghost tales featured list! I hope you enjoyed a few of these spooky Appalachian ghost tales – and I encourage you to go out and read more of the ghostly tales that can be found in this area – just in time for the Halloween season!

Layers of mountains and mist creating an atmospheric and spooky image.
Fog and mist descend on the Devil’s Courthouse in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Public domain image from the Blue Ridge Parkway Archives

 

Girls Rock at Bristol Rhythm ‘18

Though I choose to protect the identities of the severely misguided, I have been told – on more than one occasion – that female headliners don’t sell tickets (imagine me rolling my eyes so hard they nearly fall out of their sockets). Really?! I don’t think Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood or Queen Dolly would agree. Adele, Madonna, J-Lo, and Beyoncé may also have something to say about that.

People Magazine online article about Jennifer Lopez's Las Vegas ticket sales of $100 million showing headline and photo of J Lo on stage
BOOM! No need to ask J-Lo why she’s smiling.  From People Magazine. 

The gender gap in the music industry is widely known and bitterly criticized, and music festivals are now facing the same scrutiny. I recently ran across Book More Women on Twitter and Instagram. Book More Women takes lineup posters of big music festivals, digitally edits out all the bands that don’t have women in them, and re-posts the results to show what festivals look like without men. The results are pretty shocking. It’s so bad that some major festivals wouldn’t have a lineup at all if male acts were left out of the equation. According to Book More Women: “In 2017, only 26% of acts playing US music festivals featured at least 1 woman or non-binary musician.” Wow. Just. Wow.

I am proud to report that out of the 144 acts that performed at Bristol Rhythm 2018, 60% of them were bands led by women or acts that included female musicians. We’ve seen great success with headliners like Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, and The Indigo Girls in the past, and I personally hope to see more females of that stature in the upper tier of our lineup every year.

The Bristol Rhythm 2018 rack card showing all the female artists or bands with female members.
We gave ourselves the “Book More Women” treatment with Bristol Rhythm’s 2018 lineup, only including acts led by women or bands that included female musicians. © Birthplace of Country Music

In addition, Bristol Rhythm offered more diversity in the lineup this year than we have likely ever seen before – something I think our music committee should, and will, continue to work on. After all, there are scores of incredible artists out there – and we have 20 stages just waiting to be filled.

Five photographs of female artists on stage performing at Bristol Rhythm 2018.
Just a few of the amazing ladies who rocked Bristol Rhythm 2018! Seen here are Kia Warren of Revel in Dimes, Sierra Hull, Lilly Hiatt, Alison Russell of Birds of Chicago, and Tanya Trotter of The War & Treaty. First four photographs © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Earl Neikirk; last photograph courtesy of Charlene Baker

It’s sad to me that we live in a world where categories and labels seem to divide and define us. Good music is good music, no matter who’s making it. I often wonder, why do we feel the need to classify our music, ourselves and others? Music generally brings people together, right?

Philosophy aside, I’ve created a Spotify playlist of some of the amazing ladies who graced our stages at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2018. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!