Rural Roots Music Festival to Come to Fremont, Nebraska, 10/4-6
"It's an amazing world we live in today," says Bob Everhart, President of the National Traditional Country Music Assn. "It's thrilling to see some prehistoric creatures return to planet earth," Everhart said in a recent radio interview, "but more importantly to me is the struggle to keep our old-time rural music alive. Nebraska is one of the last states in America that makes an attempt at keeping their cultural heritage a part of the present. Early 'country' music was directly from the soil, from the real 'country' if you will. Country music we hear today is not really 'country' music, it's just a pale imitation of the real thing. Originally from 'rural' America, so-called country music today has fallen into the hands of whoever has the most money. Still, the roots from whence it came is very important, especially to Nebraskans. The 'rural' music of the Great Plains tells the tales of early life on the prairie, it tells stories of homesteading and pioneering. So, where are the stories about the groundbreaking activities of our ancestors? What happened to the songs of our early rural music makers?"
According to Everhart's wife, Sheila, "Bob is the curator of the Pioneer Music Museum, and a recording artist for the Smithsonian Institution. Many people take him for granted, but his entire life has been dedicated to 'saving' some of the music that was a soothing medicine to the ears of our early settlers. He is also a prominent historian of country music in general, especially the way it was originally written, and what it was written about, and why."
The Everharts have developed a concert program for the Smithsonian they call 'A Traveling Museum of Music,' and will be performing parts of their research at the annual "Old Time Rural Music Gathering," a festival of early country music styles from the past. The event takes place at the Christensen Field House in Fremont, Nebraska, October 4-5-6, and features a number of celebrities that also perform an older form of country music. On the program with the Everharts is Jim Reeves nephew, John Rex Reeves. According to Reeves, "I am keeping my uncles music alive, just like he did it. I was very close to my uncle Jim Reeves, and spent a large part of my life learning how to sing like him." Also performing at this years gathering, is Terry Smith, the composer of "Far Side Banks of Jordan" for Johnny and June Carter Cash. According to Smith, "I am a retired schoolteacher, which is how I made my living, and I am a strong supporter of what the Everharts are doing, attempting to 'save' what country music sounded like from its earliest development up to and past the Hank Williams, Sr., stage. Today's country music has incorporated a great deal of modern technology and electronic wizardry which of course was not in early rural music."
"We try very hard to keep the instrumentation of early country music alive too," Everhart said. "We keep the old-time fiddle in the music, using the talents of Wilbur Foss from South Dakota. But we also have the steel guitar present which was so important to that early 50's country music. Curt Shoemaker from Kansas is the steel player for Martina McBride. Add to that the flamboyant country singer from Minnesota, Betty Rydell, and you begin to see the incredibly broad appeal early country music was all about. There will be about 60 performers of those early styles singing and picking in the climate controlled Christensen Field House that first weekend in October."
To make the event more 'family' oriented, the Everharts host several old-time music contests so that any and every one can take part. An over-50 singers contest, both junior and adult performer contests, an open fiddle contest, an original music contest, and a band scramble that puts players together for the first time. Modest prizes and ribbons to the winners are a way to memorialize the championships.
"We'll keep doing this as long as we can," Everhart said, "we just received an 1898 Chicago Cottage pump reed organ for the Pioneer Music Museum, so even though the music itself is teetering on extinction in today's fast moving world, we are still making it possible to not only hear it, but to play it as well. The music our settlers brought to Nebraska is very distinctive. The first settlers in the eastern part of Nebraska came in covered wagons and brought their Irish, English, and Scottish music with them from the Appalachians. Those who settled in the northern part brought accordions, concertinas, and fiddles. Those who came up from the south brought blues and old time gospel, and those who 'returned' from a failed gold rush brought cowboy and western music. All of it is on display to be heard and enjoyed, not only at the Pioneer Music Museum, but also at the Fremont, Nebraska, "Old Time Rural Music Gathering" at the Christensen Field House, October 4-5-6. More information is available at 712-249-5989.