Bluegrass Nights

The Beauty of Ozarks Music

by Joshua Heston

The rich musical heritage of the Ozarks is obvious.

It is important, however, to look deeper, celebrating and understanding what defines Ozark music, how it came to be, and what it will become.

It is also important to know that Ozark music is not purely acoustic. The early television show, The Ozark Jubilee (based in Springfield, Missouri), was a pioneer in popularizing what would become commercial country music.

And many do not realize that Ben Moody and Amy Lee (of Evanescence) developed their skills and style in the southern Ozarks region near Little Rock.

Thus, State of the Ozarks is dedicated to celebrating the Ozarks' music heritage, past, present and future.

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

Ozarks Music

by Louis Darby

There's actually not a whole lot of difference between the musical styles of the Ozarks and that of Cajun Louisiana. Being part of the Louisiana Purchase, there was a lot of French influences, especially with the trappers going up and down from New Orleans to St. Louis.

Missouri has an interesting diversity of music. Even to this day, you will find French-speaking people up around St. Louis. They play French-culture music and Cajun music. The funny thing is it has more of the Old World flavor than the Louisiana Cajun music. I've met some colorful guys since coming up here — Ozark natives like Fred Stoneking of Springfield. He's a wonderful fiddle player and his daughter is extremely talented. We got together one day and played for three hours, non-stop.

We found we knew a lot of the same tunes and while there were differences in flair and style, there were just as many similarities.

Everybody says music transcends all cultures and territories and it's really true. But Ozark music is very interesting

plate 1. A bass fiddle glows in the half-darkness of a bluegrass festival night. Starvy Creek Festival, Conway, Missouri. September 18, 2011.

Rhonda Vincent, Queen of Bluegrass

plate 2. All-American Bluegrass Girl Rhonda Vincent works tirelessly to popularize bluegrass and acoustic music. Sally Mountain Festival, Greentop, Missouri. July 02, 2005.

Rhonda Vincent, Queen of Bluegrass

plate 3. Sassafras grove, Baker Creek Farm, Mansfield, MO. Photo credit, J. Heston. October 24, 2007.

“So the days slipped over the wood-fringed ridges. The soft green of tree, and of bush and grassy slope changed to brilliant gold, and crimson, and russet brown, while the gray blue haze that hangs always over the hollows took on a purple tone. Then in turn this purple changed to a deeper, colder blue, when the leaves had fallen, and the trees shows naked against the winter sky.” — Harold Bell Wright, 1907

Music Memories

by John Tilden

Music is a big part of our family, just as it has been for a lot of families in the Ozarks. It was a good way to get away and have some fun for a change instead of just thinking about hard work. Lots of my relatives — grandpas, uncles — played the guitar, the fiddle.

My dad played on a radio program in Branson when he was younger. It's been a huge part of our life. My grandpa was on an album recorded years ago. There was a individual in the '20s who would travel around and record people's music, getting the flavor of that area.

Now several years back, a gentleman on the East Coast wanted to compile the music that had been recorded. So a song my grandpa was playing on in the 1920s is on that CD that they made. Music really goes back a long ways, both in my family and in the Ozarks. I do play guitar and I like to write. Gospel songs, Christian songs, is really my love right now. I don't want to write anymore if it's not for the Lord.

dogwood petal

Joshua Gilbert, Fire House Bluegrass

(Springfield, MO) Joshua Gilbert, who grew up in northwest Missouri near Maryville, notes, “I’ve adopted Springfield as my home. The music scene here is great. There are great musicians everywhere you go. Bluegrass jams, old-time jams, traditional country jams, blues jams. My dad played music, my granddad played music. My grandma taught me three chords on a guitar and I branched off from there.”

Gilbert, who works at Wilson Tire in Springfield, is now in his third year of organizing the Fire House Bluegrass Jams (2350 N. Clifton) on the first Saturday night of each month (6:30-8PM) and is multi-instrumentalist and vocalist with the Sac River Band.

Gilbert is also working hard organizing the Third Annual Firehouse Fiddle Contest (July 12). “The amount of talent that shows up for that is amazing. We have had several world champions and many national champions. Registration starts at 8AM and we start the contest by 11AM. Each contestant gets three songs (traditional dance tune, a waltz and a song of their choice). After we hand out the prize money, we go into a jam session until everyone is too wore out to play.”

For more information, contact Joshua Gilbert at (417) 849-9521 or email him at Gilbert

Roland Wade Carson & Ozark Mountain Grass

(West Plains, MO) Ozark Mountain Grass’ self-titled album featuring James, Leah and Braden VanKirk of Licking, Missouri, along with Roland Wade Carson of West Plains (formerly of Oneida, TN), is doing well, says Carson.

The album includes tracks I’ve Seen the Rock of Ages (written by John Preston), Shepherd of My Valley (Betty Jean Robinson), and Me & Jesus (Tom T. Hall), as well as West Plains Tragedy (Roland Carson, Karlene Carson Leah VanKirk). West Plains Tragedy memorializes the 1928 dance hall explosion which took place in downtown West Plains. Roland Wade Carson was approached by a New York moviemaker to write the song (casting has recently taken place for the planned short film).

Carson, a songwriter, trucker and vice president of the West Plains-based George D. Hay Society, heralds from a long line of Tennessee musicians. Fiddlin’ John Carson was his great uncle, making “Moonshine Kate” Rosa Lee Carson (John Carson’s daughter) a cousin. Both were some of the earliest musicians to record identifiably country music. Roland's stepfather was L. C. Angel who made his mark with the 1969 honky tonk hit Don’t Judge Me Guilty. Carson remembers, “I grew up under L.C. He opened for people like Johnny Cash and Mel Street and he put me to work as a rhythm guitar player when I was a kid.

Ozark Mountain Grass albums may be purchased at the West Plains Music Store, the Oneida Book & Gift Shop of Oneida, TN, and from the group’s Facebook page. The band will perform on Saturday, June 7 at the Heart of the Ozarks Bluegrass Association’s Summer Festival in West Plains.

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