Berea College Appalachian Music Fellowship
Day 10, June 12, 2009
This is the end of week two in my four-week-long Appalachian Music Fellowship in the Special Collections and Archives at Berea College.
Today, just a short entry on an interesting letter I found in the John Lair papers, written by Patsy Montana in 1967. Lair worked with Patsy Montana at the WLS National Barn Dance in Chicago in the 1930s. In 1967 Montana lived in West Covina, California, and John Lair was still running things at the Renfro Valley Barn Dance. The letter is typewritten, probably on an IBM Selectric using the “cursive script” golf ball.
Here’s the part of the letter I find interesting:
“I am still in the recording racket, it’s not fun like it use to be, too commercial but I do have out an album and a single. My single hit # one on several stations.
I especially enjoyed your editorial in the [Renfro Valley] Bugle. Personally, I am growing tired of the ‘Nashville sound’ and am trying in my own small way to help bring back some of the good old tunes. The results of your program must prove that the people are wanting this type of music. We are living in such a hectic world, it is so nice to remember the times that were less hectic therefore the need for this type of music.
Several weeks ago, I worked a show that for our audience we had all young fellows on the way to Viet Nam. The band before me played all of the current Nashville songs. There was nothing left for me but ‘Cowboy’s Sweet heart.’ Ha! So I thought I’d try something new. I sang ‘I’ll remember you love in my prayers’ and ‘Wild and Reckless Cowboy.’ I was the only one that stopped the show and this was from the younger generation!!!!!”
Country Music was always built on the “Myth of the Eternal Return,” the idea that the good ole days were “less hectic,” more pure, simple, traditional, respectful, moral, down-home, whatever. The religious historian Mircea Eliade theorized that we continually desire to return to this mythical time because we long to escape the linear march of time and change. This philosophy was certainly what John Lair hoped to achieve in Mt. Vernon, Kentucky when he finally established the physical Renfro Valley Barn Dance in 1939. Billed as the place “Where Time Stands Still” Renfro Valley audiences were treated to pretty girl singers wearing calico dresses and hair bows who sang decent “home and hearth” songs, men who sang close family-style harmony in checkered work shirts and dungarees, and funny old characters who dressed up like grandparents from the 19th century and told corny jokes—you know, just like they did way back when on the farm.