May 2024 - The Birthplace of Country Music
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Country Music Comes to the Magic Kingdom…Again?

If there are two things you might think would never go together, they would be Country Music and Disney Theme Parks. Well, since 1971, Country Music has been present in both The Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, and, since 1972, at Disneyland California, though the one in California closed in 2001. And now, for a short time, there will be an absence of Country Music at the Magic Kingdom as Grizzly Hall, home of the Country Bear Jamboree and the place to go to hear Country Music at the most magical place in the world, has closed its doors as it goes under a refurbishment. When Grizzly Hall opens back, the much enjoyed songs from the past 53 years will no longer be heard, and instead, guests will hear their favorite bears singing their favorite Disney songs in a Countryfied way.

Now, by this point, you are probably wondering why this strange attraction of singing bears at a Disney theme park is even remotely relative or how it even has ties to the 1927 Bristol Sessions. Well, when you have a show full of singing animatronic bears, you’ve got to have someone as the voice behind the machine. The show was originally developed not long before Walt Disney passed away. It was in the early days of his “Florida Project,” and Walt also wanted to build a Ski Resort in Northern California. At this resort, he wanted a show with animatronics made up of wildlife animals as the main cast, such as you see in The Enchanted Tiki Room. Walt recruited Imagineer Marc Davis to help with this project and put him in charge. Davis brought in Al Bertino to help, and together, they created the idea of a Mariachi Band of Bears, a Marching Band of Bears, Dixieland Bears, and more. Davis and Bertino eventually decided that the bears needed to have a “Country Twang” about them. Sadly, Walt passed away before he could see the Ski Resort, the bears, and the Florida Project come to fruition. Out of the three, only two made it past the drawing boards.

(Right image) Woman in a yellow dress and chefs hat wearing an apron. She is posing with one hand on her hip. (Left image) Young woman with red-brown hair standing next to an older woman with yellow tinted sunglasses and a floral shirt.
(Right) Myrissa at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom before a shift at the Confectionary on Main Street USA during her second Disney College Program in 2018. (Left) Myrissa with Roni Stoneman in 2022 who sang on the original show’s soundtrack.

Davis and Bertino found a way for the bears and their show to live on. They decided that with the Florida Project still going strong, the bears would find a home there, and they did. All twenty-one of the wildlife critters found their way home to Grizzly Hall, where they would croon and serenade guests daily. But Davis and Bertino still needed someone to bring these bears to life, and they found the perfect group of people. A good majority of the bears and critters are voiced by The Stoneman Family. And while it has neither been confirmed nor denied, the bear named Ernest may or may not have been named after Pop Stoneman himself (I’ll just let myself keep believing that it is until someone tells me otherwise). Unfortunately, the Stonemans never received proper accreditation to lend their voices to the bears, but, Roni Stoneman herself once told me about the experience of recording the original songs with her sister Patsy and their father. She even sang my favorite song from the show to me! I also learned that the Stoneman family were not the only Country Music artists involved with the show. Many other country music artists also lent their voices to these loveable bears, such as Tex Ritter and Cheryl Poole. In 2002, the bears hit the silver screen, and though none of the songs from the show at the Magic Kingdom made their way into the film, other famous musicians such as Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Elton John, and Wyclef Jean made cameos in the film. 

(Top) Young woman with a pink t-shirt, sunglasses and backpack with a costumed cowgirl wearing a mask with a large red hat.
(Top) Myrissa with everyone’s favorite yodeling cowgirl during her first Disney College Program in 2014. The band Riders in the Sky wrote many songs for the Toy Story films including “Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl.” (Bottom) Myrissa with Riders in the Sky after a 1927 Society Concert where she got a shout out from the singing cowboys.

Grizzly Hall is now temporarily under refurbishment as the bears are planning a new show for their fans. At Disney’s D23 Expo in September 2023, they announced that when Grizzly Hall re-opens, the new show will include all the sounds of Nashville as the bears bring on their interpretation of classic Disney songs such as The Bare Necessities. Guests will see these classics played in many different country sub-genres, including bluegrass and Americana. And though there will be plenty of references to the original show, the songs will be gone, though there may be room for a beloved song from the original show (my bets on Big Al coming in singing Blood on the Saddle). And while I will miss the original show, I am excited to see how Disney reincorporates Country Music into their shows once again. Maybe we’ll hear a bit of my favorite yodeling cowboys, Riders in the Sky, singing some of my favorite songs from Toy Story and other PIXAR tunes. If you find yourself at the Magic Kingdom after Grizzly Hall reopens, be sure to find your way there and watch the show, and then maybe grab you something good to eat next door at Pecos Bills. I can guarantee you will have a good time and a good laugh. Y’all come back now, ya hear?

About the author: Myrissa Pierce is the Assistant Museum Manager and Volunteer Coordinator at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. She’s also a full time Graduate Student at The University of Oklahoma (Boomer Sooner!), and loves all things Disney, Marvel, Anime, Taylor Swift, music, her dog, and her four cats.

The Transformative Power of Traditional Music: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dulcimer. Part II

My time at ETSU taught me a lot of things. I think the most important lesson it taught me was that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. It started changing my worldview as well. I learned a lot about what it means to be Appalachian and the cultural inheritances that come with it. I grew as a musician, but I also began to think differently about my identity and the kind of person I wanted to be.

My work study was as a literacy tutor at a local elementary school, where I was assigned to a first-grade class led by a teacher named Claudette Decker. She became a friend and advisor to me. It was at her insistence that I began incorporating instruments in my work. Initially, I played a tune or two at the end of class before I left, but it became a way to connect with some of the more withdrawn children. It made learning more fun and helped some of them feel more comfortable opening up. It made me remember how powerful music was for me as a child.

I was becoming more serious as a dulcimer player now and had a better instrument. I met my first dulcimer teacher that spring: Jim Miller. He noticed my case one day and asked about it. We had a conversation and soon I was taking lessons with him. He took my understanding of the dulcimer to a new level. Our sessions felt like a break from the daily grind. Dulcimer became my joy.

Three people play instruments together in chairs in front of mics. The woman on the left is playing a guitar. The man in the middle is playing a mandolin. The woman on the right is playing a dulcimer.
Roxanne playing dulcimer with Jim and Cheri Miller.

After graduation, I worked as a preschool teacher. I continued using music in my work as much as I could, and the dulcimer was especially well-liked. I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve had to play a rendition of “Baby Shark” on it. I worked in childcare right up until the start of the pandemic.

The pandemic was a watershed moment for me. I was out of work and gigs had dried up, but it was during this time that I met my second dulcimer mentor: a man named Don Burger. Don and his wife Deborah became sort of like surrogate grandparents to me during the pandemic. He led a dulcimer group in Jonesborough, but I only got to have a couple of in-person meetings with the group before everything shut down, and the group moved to meeting online using video call software like Zoom. It was something to look forward to each week; there weren’t many things going on, and this provided us with the opportunity to come together safely.

Two people in chairs playing dulcimer together outside.
Roxanne and Don Burger

Don taught me taught me a lot about dealing with life and other people. He was more like a guru who happened to play dulcimer. He operated a small, now-defunct festival called Jonesborough Dulcimer Days and recruited me to help him keep it going during the pandemic. We would bring musicians into town and host them where we’d had our dulcimer meetings. Artists would perform for the small number of people in attendance, as well as viewers at home, via social media streams. He and I also set up around Jonesborough on different days and played our dulcimers publicly, often recording videos to share on social media. This gave me an opportunity to meet a number of dulcimer players, reunite with my old teacher Jim, and also play semi-regular gigs. In many ways, the pandemic was like a reset button for my life. It was a scary time, but on the other hand, I got to work on my craft and spend time doing things I enjoyed with people I cared about.

Don and Deborah moved back to New York towards the end of the pandemic, and I was deeply saddened to see them leave. However, Don left me with a couple of things. He recommended me as his replacement for teaching ukulele at the Memorial Park Community Center. I would also inherit a dulcimer class there from a man named Willis Jones after he became too ill to continue teaching. Being able to work with older adult students was a good experience because I could teach them about music, and they would often share stories or give me advice based on their life experiences. There’s a lot of valuable learning to be done in an environment like that.

Don also made an important connection for me. He introduced me to a man named Brian Mills, who runs a nonprofit called Art Transforms. It’s an organization that provides supplemental music and art education for students in the Johnson City School System. Don wanted to offer a two-week summer school class where students could learn about the dulcimer and build their own from cardboard using a kit. Since he was leaving, I was brought in to conduct the class. It ended up being very well-received, and we have continued it every year since.

When I heard about the Tradition Bearer’s fellowship, I didn’t initially think much about it, but some friends encouraged me to apply. I reluctantly did so, but didn’t want to get my hopes up. When I received word that I had been approved, I was overjoyed. It was a chance to expand on the work I was already doing with the dulcimer. It was also an opportunity to get more people involved with making music and keeping an Appalachian tradition alive. I used the funds to purchase as many cardboard dulcimer kits as I could and partnered with local schools, nonprofits, and the Birthplace of Country Music Museum to provide dulcimer-building workshops for as many people as possible, many of them children from lower-income backgrounds.

three images of a woman teaching. One with children sitting in a circle playing dulcimer. One with children learning to build cardboard dulcimers. One with a woman teaching adults to build cardboard dulcimers.
Roxanne in various dulcimer teaching roles.

The last few years of my life have been especially healing. I’ve been able to let go of a lot of the pain and bitterness of the past. I’ve also come to have a new level of appreciation for not only the dulcimer, but for teaching and community building. I’ve been able to connect with more people and introduce the dulcimer to a wider demographic. It feels like I am finding my place, and I’m very grateful for what feels like a second chance at life.

When I think about how music has changed things for me, it makes me want to share that possibility with others. Music makes the good days better and the bad days bearable. Music has helped me embrace my Appalachian roots and gain a greater appreciation for them. It’s also given me strength in the face of persecution. Our identities, our communities, our traditions, and our stories matter. Music can not only keep all of these alive but strengthen them. It is my hope that music can be a source of strength and refuge for all who need it.

The Transformative Power of Traditional Music: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dulcimer. Part I

Trigger Warning: This post contains content about suicide. If you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Hotline.

I didn’t come from a particularly musical family. My father sang in the church choir and I had a half-sister who played piano. Other than that, there weren’t any musicians in my family. In fact, there wasn’t a great deal of music in my community in general. My only real exposure to live music was the choir at our church. Attending church wasn’t something I enjoyed as a child, but those hymns were always a highlight of my Sunday mornings. It was simple accompaniment: usually just a piano and one or two acoustic guitars. The guitar fascinated me. I asked my parents for one many times, but we couldn’t afford one. I was also very young and my parents were concerned that I might not stick with it.

Woman with short brown hair and glasses wearing a pink cardigan and jean skirt sits in a floral chair with crossed legs and holding a dulcimer upright in her lap.
Image provided by Roxanne McDaniel

I was a quiet child and a bit of a loner. It was difficult to make friends, but music was the thing I always found refuge in. My mother was a big classic rock fan, and she probably influenced my musical tastes more than anyone. I began listening to music obsessively at an early age, but the music that I listened to put me a little out of step with the other kids at school. They all had CD players and were listening to what was current. I was carrying around a walkman, listening to my mom’s old Aerosmith cassettes.

My mom also bought me my first instrument when I was about four years old. It was a Hohner harmonica in the key of C. I never learned to play it well, but I carried it with me almost everywhere I went all the way through middle school. When I was 11, after years of asking, my parents bought me an acoustic guitar. There wasn’t anyone to teach me, so I had to learn a lot from books, as well as lots of trial and error. Once I started getting comfortable with the guitar, I began trying to write songs of my own. It was very therapeutic for a young person as lonely and unhappy as I was.

In my late teens and early adult years, I became increasingly withdrawn. I’d always felt different but was afraid to say why. It made me the subject of a lot of rumors and bullying. It reached a point where I had to make a decision. I could continue keeping my secret and being miserable or try to be happy. I took my chance and revealed to everyone that I was transgender. The reaction I received was hostile. People were threatening to hurt me, I had my tires flattened at work, and I was removed from the church I had belonged to since birth. Things reached such a low point that I even tried to take my own life by crashing my car. Thankfully, I failed, but I will never forget the ambulance ride. A paramedic asked me, “Can I give you some advice? You need to get out of this town”. I knew he was right.

I don’t tell this part of the story to be sensational or to make a political statement. I just feel that it’s necessary to provide this information for context and to give a framework for what follows.

Roxanne McDaniel photographed in Bristol on 8/2/23. Pat Jarrett/Virginia Humanities

Life became dangerous for me; I had to keep my head down and be careful for a while. I needed to leave, but I needed a place to run to. Music was the only thing I was passionate about, and I wanted to go back to school. A friend told me about the bluegrass program at ETSU, and I applied. I wasn’t particularly interested in bluegrass or old-time music, but I figured I would be fine with it if it meant I had somewhere to go. It was ironic: the treatment I had been receiving back home, combined with the negative stereotypes of the region I’d begun believing, had made me want to distance myself from all things Appalachian. Yet, here I was running towards one of the most stereotypically Appalachian things I knew of. When my acceptance letter arrived, I was overjoyed. I didn’t know what to expect, but at least life was going to be different.

During this time, I had become interested in dulcimers by happening across a video online. It was of a dulcimer player named Wendy Songe playing a tune called “King of the Faeries.” The instrument had an almost ethereal sound I found captivating. I bought a cheap dulcimer and practiced for hours on end. I began listening to artists who played the dulcimer, such as Jean Ritchie, Joni Mitchell, David Schnaufer, Stephen Seifert, and Sam Edelston. Edelston was particularly interesting to me because his playing of classic rock songs on dulcimer brought together the two musical worlds I found myself in.

A Conversation with CALT Fellow Pierceton Hobbs

Pierceton Hobbs is a SWVA musician and recipient of the Greater Bristol Folk Arts & Culture Team’s Central Appalachia Living Traditions (CALT) Tradition Bearer Fellowship in 2022-23. This fellowship provides financial support, professional development, and public presentation opportunities for people working in traditional or folk arts and culture.

Tell us all about your CALT Tradition Bearer project

I was very honored to be rewarded the CALT Tradition Bearer Fellowship Grant to support my work as a teaching and recording artist.  I used my funds to acquire necessary equipment to practice my art as well as finish a recording project of original music.  

How has the grant impacted your craft and your ability to do this work?

Without this grant, I wouldn’t have been able to complete my album.  It has been a work in progress since 2022 because of funding issues. I started with an expansive vision and beautiful friends who own a basement studio. They graciously lent their knowledge and expertise in laying down the bones with me.  With help from the CALT Tradition Bearer Fellowship Grant, I have finally completed all production and the project is in post-production with a release date set for August 31! 

White man with backwards ballcap, glasses, and overalls sitting in front of a mic stand. A guitar sits on his lap and he is smiling and resting his head on one arm propped on the guitar.
Image courtesy of Pierceton Hobbs.

Who are your biggest inspirations for your artistic and creative work and music making? 

This is a loaded question, aha! There are so many beautiful people who have either mentored me in some way or helped me come into my own. Apologies in advance if I miss anybody:  


Tyler Hughes, Sam Gleaves, Thomas Cassell, Will Cassell, Kenny Miles, Hayden Miles, Linda Jean Stokely, Montana Hobbs, Larah Helayne, Don Rogers, Jesse Wells, Matthew Carter, Don Rogers, Mitchella Phipps, John Haywood, Rich Kirby, Senora May, Corbin Hayslett, Chris Rose, Anna Mullins, Ron Short, W.V. Hill, A.K. Mullins, Jimmy Mullins, Ron Kennedy…


Circus No. 9, Wayne Graham, The Local Honeys, Foddershock, Sparklehorse, 49 Winchester, Geonovah, The Empty Bottle String Band, The Foodstamps, Kaleb N.F.I., Amythyst Kiah, The Stanley Brothers, Jim & Jesse, The Carter Family… 


Why do you think your work is important to preserving and sharing Appalachian Folkways?

I consider myself a community-based artist.  Every faucet of the work I partake in contributes to capacity building in a resource-deprived area. We have to build the supportive artist community we want to see together! 

As a tradition-bearer, I also pass along tunes I have learned (and continue to learn) to students in the local Junior Appalachian Musicians program.  

A white man sits playing a guitar in front of a mic on a stage with a quilted backdrop.
Image courtesy of Pierceton Hobbs.

You are an Appalachian artist, a musician, songwriter and storyteller. Tell us what these roles mean to you.

The most astounding thing for me is the tendency of Appalachian artists to stick together like burrs in the wilderness fighting to land somewhere fertile to grow…no matter the genre or level of experience there is support to be had out there. 

Songwriting has always proved important in highlighting disparities everywhere, especially here. For me, it’s about comfort. I spill words to get things off my chest, hairy or otherwise. I write and arrange in the context as if I were a spectator or fan looking for something comforting to listen to whether that be happy, mad, melancholy, sad, or silly – it’s all related to human emotion. I try to make music that I want to listen to.  

Stories from Appalachia are fluid and ever-changing.  I love folktales and carry a few with me but emerging stories are my favorite. I think we’re putting away trauma and collectively lifting each other up…not “by the bootstraps” but with open arms.   

Your music tells the honest and true stories of life in Appalachia, be it an original composition or your rendition of a traditional song. What do you want people to take away from hearing these stories and experiences?

I tend to hope listeners have an open mind.  

Interpretations of meanings are just as diverse as the experiences we have in life.  

A white man in a baseball cap and overalls playing a guitar while singing.
Image courtesy of Pierceton Hobbs.

You also teach students music, tell us about the rewards of this experience

My students are a blessing! I feel as though they teach me more about the world around me than all of the world’s wisdom combined.  

It feels especially rewarding when I show them the basics on any number of instruments and they take flight on their own! When I see that creative spark flare, I think I’ve done what I’m supposed to do. 

What is the most difficult thing about being a musician in the Appalachian region? What is the easiest? What do you like most about it?

It’s hard for me to share anything easy about being an artist here. As we talked about earlier, Appalachian artists are very supportive of each other and it’s a beautiful thing. With that being said, there are still so many limiting factors for artists in the region including but not limited to a lack of creative spaces, funding, healthcare, resources, services, transportation, and venues. This subdues our ability to thrive!  

A white man with glasses and a jean jacket is singing into a mic and holding a guitar.
Image courtesy of Pierceton Hobbs.

Pierceton, is a hotdog a sandwich?


What projects are you currently working on/ and or what’s next for Pierceton Hobbs You could mention any upcoming craft shows this summer, workshops etc.

2024 is a busy and exciting year for me! This summer, I’ll be assisting teachers instructing traditional music at Cowan Creek Mountain Music School the last week in June.  This summer, I’ll be performing and releasing singles in anticipation for an album release on August 31! My first show after the release will be at Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion on September 15th!  

Folks can keep up with my artistic endeavors by visiting or on social media (links are accessible on my website).