Berea College Appalachian Music Fellowship
Day Last, June 29, 2009
Today I am finishing up my month-long residency as an Appalachian Music Fellow in the Special Collections & Archives, Hutchins Library, Berea College. I am homesick, but I don’t want to leave Berea either. I could tell I was homesick (and tired) when I watched an old television show this afternoon that featured Lily May Ledford. The show was called Fire on the Mountain, and it used to be a weekly 30-minute show on The Nashville Network (back when cable was just expanding a little and no one had ever heard of reality TV. Does anyone remember this show? I loved it, and so did my father, who would say, “Hit’s time for Far on the Mountain!”). Fire on the Mountain was hosted by David Holt, a traditional musician, storyteller, and historian who has devoted his talents to uncovering and celebrating the roots of Southern Appalachian music.
In 1984, Holt featured women old-time musicians on his show: The Reel World String Band, Cathy Fink, and a short excerpt with Lily May Ledford (decked out in her red calico dress) and Cathy Fink at the Renfro Valley Barn Dance. But this video tape also contained the out-takes of Fink and Ledford’s conversation that never aired on Fire on the Mountain.
Lily May told how her brothers made a banjo once, and she gave detailed instructions on how to dry a ground-hog hide for the banjo head. But what got me all choked up was when she told the story about being called to the stage at the WLS National Barn Dance one night after a young boy had hitchhiked from Indiana to Chicago to play the fiddle on the Barn Dance. They let him play and then they called Lily May out to comment on the young man. She said he was “poor like I was,” in a coat that was too big for him, and she began to see herself in him and got so homesick that it overwhelmed her. She said she cried right there on the stage (and over the air), and that the “tears splashed down on my clothes.”
I felt like that today too. My official work in the archives is over, and I feel like I’m going to cry.