SAVING AMERICA’S RURAL MUSIC

When American Profile Magazine did a story on Iowan’s Bob & Sheila Everhart, they started with an interesting analogy. “When Bob Everhart plays ‘Down In The Valley’ he hears the voices of pioneers. And those voices have inspired a museum, two halls of fame, and a festival to honor America’s traditional and rural music.” Everhart is quick to add to that. “The festival we do is now in its 39th year. That’s a record for Iowa, and for the kind of music we present, it’s a record for America. When I say the names of some of our presentations, like a guitar pull, or a harmonica howl, a banjo jamboree, a dulcimer-do, an autoharp gathering, a poet’s corner, a fiddler’s jubilee, even a mandolin pick-in, it fosters images, and in many cases definite memories, of what America’s music used to be like. Doing this for 39 years has created a situation where we now need seven days and ten stages to accommodate the over 600 performers. What’s even more amazing is where they come from.”
Everhart, and his wife Sheila, work on the event the entire year. According to Sheila, “This is a monumental task for us, just scheduling that many performers can be a nightmare, but Bob has been doing it for a very long time now, and he enjoys each and every performance, especially those that engender the continuation of what America’s early rural music was really like.”
“America’s rural music is the most discriminated musical genre in America,” Bob is quick to point out. “It has been under the gun so many times it’s a wonder it even still exists. When recordings and radio first came into being, the only publishing licensing agency was ASCAP, who refused to license the rural old-time mountain music for radio airplay, because they felt it was unfit for human consumption. Perhaps they weren’t listening to ‘America’ back then, and in many cases they do not listen to ‘America’ today. That’s why we work so hard keeping this particular event alive and well. We formed a 501(c)3 non-profit agricultural exposition organization way back in 1976, to help us keep the music alive. We’re kind of like a church with our own flag. Our many different Christian churches is of many stripes, but the stars of our flag are the ones that still keep the light of America’s musical heritage unextinguished.”
The Everharts are recording artists for the prestigious Smithsonian Institution. Created by Moses Asch in New York City, it is now the most respectable record label in the world that maintains America’s musical heritage. The Everharts feel the same way. “We’ve recorded six albums for the Smithsonian, and that has led us to creating a program we call the “Traveling Museum of Music.” Working on it, and researching it for two years now, this is a program of the music that was popular, especially in rural America, during all of the wars America has been in. It’s an incredible historically accurate, sometimes funny, sometimes sad, most times very meaningful entertainment suitable for all ages, especially appreciated by an older audience. That’s exactly how we continue our work saving America’s rural musical heritage.”
The festival the Everharts conduct, as volunteers, takes place August 25-31, 2014, at the Plymouth County Fairgrounds, in LeMars, Iowa. “LeMars is known as the ice cream capital of the world,” Everhart said, “so we are very pleased to be in a location that has air-conditioned buildings that can accommodate the ten stages we have, everything from a Log Cabin front porch, to a quiet little nook in front of an old wind mill in what we call a Pioneer ghost town. That’s where the Carl Sandburg Readings, poetry, autoharpists, storytelling, dulcimers, and zither playing and quiet music takes place. What a very interesting way to hear the music calling from the prairies of our ancestor’s past. It includes Native Americans too, tipi’s and all. Our main stage which accommodates right at 2,000 fans is our major air-conditioned stage.”
Add the many professional performers that come from around the world and it becomes very international in scope. In 2014 the number one country singer from Japan, Hank Sasaki, and the Queen of Country Music from Denmark, Tamra Rosanes, meet up with Lucky Susan Crowe from New Zealand, and Gretta Elkin, the Yodeling Queen of Ireland. Everhart adds with a chuckle, “We have an incredibly large international presence at this event. We have five performers coming from Canada. But ‘that’s not all,’ as the old-time rural music makers would proclaim, we have special guests like John Carter Cash, the only child of Johnny & June Carter Cash. Larry Cordle the guy who wrote ‘Murder on Music Row’ a song very dear to the hearts of our rural audience. Stephen Pride,. the younger brother of Charley Pride, and LuLu Roman, one of the stars of Hee Haw, all making the trek to the corn fields of Iowa, to re-discover what rural country music is all about. Even bluegrass music is well represented by the likes of Alabama’s David Davis and the Warrior River Boys, and Goldwing Express from Branson, and Larry Gillis and Swmapgrass from Georgia. Nashville songwriter, Terry Smith says it best of all, in the words of his song, “The Far Side Banks of Jordan,” which was a huge hit for Johnny & June Carter Cash.”
According to Smith, “That one song I wrote touches the hearts of long-time married rural people, because it says with a very powerful love, the very same thoughts they have for each other.” Smith has been coming to the festival for the last 17 years. “This is the only legitimate musical event I am aware of that keeps the music in the original rural, very heart-felt, sincere style that made it so popular from the very beginning of America, and it’s still alive today, here in Iowa.”
The Everharts feel much the same way. “When America was just a young’un in the late 1700’s, and growing fast, there wasn’t so much an opportunity to be ‘from’ somewhere so much as there was to be ‘going’ somewhere. Agriculture was, and still is, one of the most important industries in America. That’s why we even have the University of Iowa’s “Mobile Museum” containing displays relative to Iowa’s ancient agriculturists, from the far distant past right up to the present with us. We invite every school in Plymouth County, and all counties surrounding Plymouth, to send their kids to us for a field day of incredible history as revealed in the old songs. Bluegrass music legend Bill Monroe (who by the way found his wife in Iowa) labeled this musical history the ‘ancient tones.’ We even make stage time available for the very beginning performer,” Sheila noted, “all they have to do is call us at 712-762-4363 and we’ll find some spots for them.”
There’s also a huge arts and crafts vendor area at this non-profit event, the only fund-raiser the group has for the upkeep of their Pioneer Music Museum, Halls of Fame, and Oak Tree Performance Center. “We even have a huge flea market,” Bob Everhart adds. “We somehow find room for everyone. Even though we are an acoustic musical event, we utilize electricity to hook up the many RVs that come and camp during the entire seven days. We also have some of the best ‘rural’ food you’re likely to find anywhere, everything from bar-b-que ribs to delightful Native American foods.”
The Everharts have a website at http://www.ntcma.net

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About bobeverhart

A life-time devotee of America's old-time rural country music, performing, recording, preserving, promoting, and writing about it.
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