...the influence of the South

by Joshua Heston

The Arkansas Ozarks are different from the Missouri Ozarks and I’m racking that difference up to “social and directional influences.”

That’s a fancy way of saying something really simple: The Arkansas Ozarks are in the Deep South. Up here in Missouri, there's some ambiguity about where our mountains even lie. The Midwest? The South? The gateway to the West? For the Missouri Ozarks, nobody seems to be all that sure.

But down in Arkansas?

The answer is easy to come by. The Boston Mountains, Springfield Plateau, and the Ouachita Mountains are the Deep South's westernmost mountain ranges, a rugged land of beauty and hardship, a last remnant of Native American culture, a place of deep hollers and longstanding hillbilly families, where the Santa Fe Trail from Fort Smith points the way of the setting sun.

It’s a Deep South culture with Antebellum, Cajun, Spanish and Native American influences... and a deep sense of identity. Gracious old cities like Fayetteville and Little Rock serve as counterpoints to the folk music valley of Mountain View (land of Jimmy Driftwood and the Ozark Folk Center) and the uniquely southern gothic city of Eureka Springs.

It’s a land of a proud people, extraordinary mountains and unique Ozarks culture. It's also home to some of the best food you're going to find anywhere; a menu heavy with okra gumbo, crawfish, rice, tomatoes with zucchini, fried chicken... and some of the best fruit pies around.

I’m getting hungry.

— from January 2, 2011, State of the Ozarks Weekly Issue 164

Ozark Culture

by Louis Darby

In one word, I’d call the culture interesting.

There's a lot more French influence here than many would realize. Being from south Louisiana, I was intrigued at the similarities and came to the conclusion that the only difference between a Cajun (which is what I am) and a hillbilly is that we speak French and they don’t!

Our thought process, our cultures, our utilization and appreciation of the land? Our use of all resources?

We have a lot of similarities. People here — the natives — are very conscious of using natural materials and making the most of those materials. There was very little waste. People used to ask, “Do you miss Louisiana?”

I'd have to laugh and tell them, “No, not really. If you think about it, Missouri was part of the Louisiana Purchase. So I feel right at home!”

Originally, even the name was a French derivative, though it would have been spelled Aux Arcs. In the French language, you can translate or interpret a lot of different things, so it's hard to know exactly what it meant. But the Ozarks have been very interesting. I’ve met some wonderful luthiers here. One, Charley Wells, was both a luthier and a local bee charmer. So he'd fix my fiddle and I’d get a quart of honey while I was there!

I think it’s just the love of life and everything that comes with Cajun culture that really bled into the Ozarks. People here have a really good comfort level with that.

I've been here 20 years and wouldn’t call any other place home. But I can tell you that the local people worked hard and they worked for what they had. They love life and they don't waste anything. It's a nice atmosphere.

Louis Darby, originally of Opelousas, Louisiana, has lived in White River Country since 1987.

plate 1. Sunset Ozark Trail. Photo by Joshua Heston, October 29, 2011.

Ozark Collage

plate 2. An Ozark Fall. Artwork by Joshua Heston, August 20, 2009.

...Fourth of July

And dime stores. I think for at least a couple of generations, holiday seasons were marked by the merchandise displays of the local Ben Franklin dime store. That was back when a dime store was the hub of the business community and not just a craft shop.

For younger folks unfamiliar with the whole dime store concept, imagine a Wal-Mart small enough you didn't need a cellphone to find other family members.

I remember it would start with Memorial Day as flags populated the front windows. Next came the red, white and blue buntings, packages of red, white and blue streamers, and packages of red, white and blue balloons.

Next came the boxes of sparklers and fire crackers on the front counter, right next to the baseball bubblegum and the (candy) boston baked beans.

It was enough to make a kid forget about the comic book counter and the fish tanks.

It all seemed to tie together (in my mind anyway) with the big statue of Benjamin Franklin out front and the patriotic-themed 1776-to-1976-Bicentennial plastic bucket at home in the yard (where it usually served as a rabbit waterer).

I didn't really understand a lot about what I was feeling back then (hey, I was five years old). But I knew a few things.

I knew the United States was a good, special nation. I knew we were celebrating that. And I knew there was a history to it all. A long story of exceptional people who had given everything they had to make something equally exceptional.

I also knew I liked sparklers.

American exceptionalism. I don't think that's such a bad term. I still think America is a pretty special place.

A place of unique freedom.

A place of extraordinary opportunity.

Is it perfect? Heck no. But I love this nation. It has always been a nation worth fighting for. I hope it always will be.

— from July 4, 2010, State of the Ozarks Weekly Issue 138

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Bright Glowed My Hills:

“All life was not dull work for James Columbus Booth. He was a musician. He had no musical training, but somewhere in his Irish and Scotch ancestry there must have been a harp or bagpipe player because Lum could truly make his old fiddle sing. He kept the instrument in a bleached, white muslin flour sack carefully laid in the bureau drawer. Inside the fiddle, he kept a set of rattles from a rattlesnake, ‘to help the tone,’ he explained.”

— Doug Mahnkey, Bright Glowed My Hills, School of the Ozarks Press, Point Lookout, Missouri 1968

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Link Union

(Lebanon, MO) When the Link family embarks on an endeavor, they are not afraid to work hard. “We used to run the bluegrass circuit,” recalls Lance Link. “And I remember playing 36 different festivals in one year. We have played 280 concerts a year (though it is hard to progress when you are busy playing that much).”

Signed with Allied Concert Series, this Missouri family made up of daughter Rachel and sons Kyle, Ben, Aaron and John, mom Becky, dad Lance, and now Ashley (Kyle’s wife), is serving as a positive example to other bluegrass families. Navigating the difficulties and successes of the music industry as a family is challenging.

“The bluegrass festival environment is great but as the kids grew older, the bills started piling up,” notes Lance. “It has gone from myself and Becky as the managers to the point where the kids have taken over and we just help them. They have a longterm vision. Just the other day my son told me, ‘Dad, I sure hope we’re doing this together 20 years from now.’”

The family tours heavily but schedules in regular trips to Nashville for networking and business advice. “You can be the greatest musician in the world and the audience can be done with you in three minutes if you don’t know how to move, how to talk between songs, when not to talk! It’s a whole different skill set.

“You have to take people on a journey, giving them moments they want to experience again and again. We came out of bluegrass, with some of the greatest songs and greatest musicians, but the bluegrass world doesn’t understand how to put on a show. It’s just five guys behind five mics.

“After a show we want to hear, That one song took me back to... We want to stir a memory or emotion. Although my kids are very talented, the last thing we want to hear is What a talented family you have! We kind of cringe when we hear that.”

The family also chose to move away from the Southern Gospel world, despite invitations from the National Quartet Convention following a main stage win several years ago. “We want to make a difference in the world,” furthers Lance. “We don’t want to spend our lives singing to the choir and if that means working in the ‘secular’ industry, we are not opposed to that.”

“Nobody knows the work these kids do day in and day out,” he says proudly. “They spend five to eight hours a day working on music, on the show, on their transitions. And when they’re not practicing they are still preparing in business. They are willing to do whatever it takes to make our audiences have a fantastic time.”

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