In the November-December, 2014, issue of the Iowa History Journal, you will find a most amazing story about the work, dedication, and passion for Iowa’s (and America’s) old-time rural music ever written about the genre in the upper Midwest. It’s called “Preserving A Musical Heritage, Roots Music Thrives at Pioneer Music Museum and Oak Tree Opry.”
According to Bob Everhart, president of the National Traditional Music Association, “I was very surprised that the publisher of the Iowa History Journal, Michael Swanger, came personally to our Pioneer Music Museum in Anita, Iowa, to see what we were all about. The museum of course is completely filled with instruments, photos, Hall of Fame inductees, just about anything and everything that has anything at all to do with rural roots music. Quoting from the story, “Upon entering the Pioneer Music Museum, it feels as though you are being transported back in time at first glance of the massive displays of old instruments and music memorabilia housed within America’s Old Time Music Hall of Fame and America’s Old Time Fiddler’s Hall of Fame (which includes more than 150 fiddles). Every inch of the walls of the adjoining museums are covered with rare, donated instruments, posters, photos, records, autographs, celebrity-worn clothing and plaques, all of which are cherished reminders of the rich history of bluegrass, country, gospel, blues, ragtime, hillbilly, folk, Cajun, cowboy and western swing music that has cumulatively shaped Iowa’s sound. The focal point of Everhart’s museum collection is an early Martin guitar that served as the pattern used for a famous Martin guitar named after Jimmie Rodgers, who is known as “The Father of Country Music.” Everhart bought it at an auction in 1975 featuring items from the former Ogden Hotel in Council Bluffs, Iowa. “That guitar,” Everhart said, “was the seed for the museum.” Other items of note housed there include a Bob Wills fiddle, the suit that Bill Monroe wore on his last performance at the Grand Ole Opry, Jimmy Martin’s boyhood guitar, Roy Acuff’s stage jacket, Charlie Louvin’s Harmony guitar, Johnny Western’s guitar and suit from “Have Gun Will Travel” and Rhonda Vincent’s early mandolin. Everhart also displays one of Woody Guthrie’s guitars that was given to him by Guthrie’s widow in 1981.”
Swanger also focused on the Oak Tree Opry, a small performance center just across the street from the Pioneer Music Museum in Anita. Everhart, and his wife Sheila, purchased the old movie house some 18 years ago, and after much hard work, toil and tears, managed to get it into a kind of usable place to host some old-time music concerts. “It was hard work,” Everhart said, “and it took us a long time to get it into usable shape. It took years for us to get enough people coming to start paying our special guests a decent amount of money to perform. We still don’t do shows on a regular basis, mostly it’s every other Friday, but we manage to make enough in ticket sales to pay our regulars a small fee, and a higher fee to special guests. Sheila has a small concession stand that sells hot dogs and polish sausages among other things that also brings in a few dollars to help us pay for promotional costs, advertising, and mailings that we do. At any rate it certainly has attracted some very interesting people. Marvin Rainwater (Gonna Find Me A Bluebird) came down from his home in Minnesota on a regular basis, Claude Gray (Family Bible), Terry Smith (Far Side Banks of Jordan), the Roys (incredible nationally known bluegrass band), Kevin Black (Clint Black’s brother), have found the Oak Tree a good stopping place if they are driving down Interstate-80, even if it’s a week-day night, they can still pick up enough money to fill the diesel tank of their bus.”
Reverting back to another quote from the story, it is very revealing about who Bob Everhart is. ‘I wrote a song called “Dear Grand Ole Opry” that talks about how country music has changed predominately to a pop commercial sound that lacks sincerity and soul. The people who make it are determined to destroy the music of the past,” Everhart said. Offstage, Everhart also increased his efforts to promote traditional country music. He created, hosted and produced the successful PBS television show “Old Time Country Music,” which aired in 22 markets (including Iowa) and the syndicated radio program, “Old Time Music Hour” both of which aired for seven years.”
Everhart’s most ambitious project is his annual “National Old Time Bluegrass, Country, & Folk Music Festival, and Pioneer Exposition of Rural Lifestyle” Now in it’s 40th year, it has been a gravitating geographical point for those who like old-time acoustic music. According to Everhart, “We’ve had some amazing experiences inducting deserving individuals into America’s Old Time Music Hall of Fame. Patti Page came out of retirement to do exactly that. She was a very very famous pop singer but she definitely had that charisma necessary to sing a good country song. Her last words to us as she left the festival, was “Keep it country Bob & Sheila, there isn’t much of it left anymore.” She passed away two months after that happened. We wept. Others have made the trek to Iowa’s cornfield to be part of the preservation efforts. Bill Anderson came all by himself, without a band, sat on a stool all by himself, and captivated a huge crowd of well over 2,000 people. He was magnificent, and we consider him not only our friend, but a friend of traditional and classic country music. The festival is now in it’s 40th year, a record for being a successful event running for such a long time under the auspices of just one person. Dates for 2015, are August 31 through September 6. According to Everhart, “It runs from 9am to midnight every day on ten stages and hosts well over 600 musicians through the week. We even have three jamming stages that run much later than midnight, however we do not allow illicit drugs or liquor to spoil the fun. We’re ‘real’ and intend to stay ‘real’ and that’s the secret behind why America’s traditional and classic country music will never die.” More information about Everhart and the NTCMA at http://www.ntcma.net
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