My parents loved music. Their taste ran toward country and I remember being awakened most mornings by the sounds of Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Merle Haggard and Kentucky’s own Loretta Lynn and Tom T. Hall coming from the massive console stereo in the living room. The well-loved, well-scratched albums often played long into the evening unless someone dropped by with guitar in hand. My parents squirreled away money to buy musical instruments so that anyone who visited had little excuse for not performing. An upright Baldwin piano, over which my older brother and I labored in futile attempts to master the musical arts, was the first purchase. Sometimes, mom would play as she and dad sang from an old hymnal picked up for a nickel at the Methodist Mission.
On one of our regular trips to Nashville to listen to the performers on stage from the back door of the Ryman when it was still the Grand Ol’ Opry (who could afford tickets?) Dad bought a little Gibson guitar, rumored to have been specially made for the small hands of Dolly Parton, though it turned out to be just a student version. Later they added a beautiful Gibson Dove with mother-of-pearl inlay along the frets and in the shape of a dove on the instrument’s body. Over the years the musical menagerie grew to include a couple of mandolins, a fiddle, a banjo and a doghouse bass. When my younger brother, the only one of the kids with any musical talent, and his friends formed a Southern rock band, electric guitars, an electric bass and a full drum kit moved into a room over the garage so as not to corrupt the country, bluegrass and traditional mountain music in the house.
Friday and Saturday nights became house parties with people coming from miles, sometimes states, away. No invitations were issued, yet somehow there were always performers, often strangers to each other, and a well-pleased audience crammed into the living room, spilling out onto the porch and the front yard and into the kitchen where contributions of homemade food—fried chicken, biscuits, apple stack cakes and gallons of sweet tea and coffee sustained us into the early morning hours. The high, lonesome sounds emanating from the living room contrasted with the driving beat of the drums and screaming guitars coming from the garage, but it all worked and no one ever complained, not even the neighbors who must surely have wondered why, up our dark, winding, eastern Kentucky holler, it all had to be so loud.
Sometimes on Sunday mornings, overnight guests from Cincinnati, Middletown or Dayton (thank heavens for Route 23) performed bluegrass gospel that wondrously passed through a microphone into the phone cooperative’s party lines to become part of a live radio program on WLKS, an AM station from town.
Music was then, and is now, an essential part of my life. I still believe that live performance is the best way to experience it—a house party in the living room or an impromptu jam under some trees at an outdoor festival, a community get together at the fire station or a staged performance in a theater. Live music is an excellent addition to a family reunion, a birthday or anniversary party. What wedding would be complete without it? Some of the Commonwealth’s most outstanding artists have juried into the Kentucky Arts Council’s Performing Arts Directory. Enjoy a day of live performances by 15 of these artists at Kentucky on Stage, Thursday, August 25, at the Ursuline Arts Center in Louisville. For more information and to register online, go to http://artscouncil.ky.gov/KentuckyArt/KOS11.htm.
Tamara Coffey, individual artist program director