Missouri Summer Music, with Folk Intern Sam Kendrick
The Missouri Folk Arts Program is happy to welcome our summer intern–Sam Kendrick of Vernon County, Mo. During the academic year, Sam is a graduate student in Western Kentucky University’s Folk Studies and Anthropology program in Bowling Green, and he works as a graduate assistant for our colleagues at the Kentucky Folklife Program. As you’ll read below, though, Sam is a Missourian through and through. In addition to working for MFAP on content for the Show Me Folk blog and website, Sam is spending time at home with family. This week, he’s putting in fence, which probably makes transcribing audio for MFAP look like a picnic with air conditioning and without ants. We look forward to another post or so from Sam before he heads back to Bowling Green in August.
Missouri Summer Music, with Folk Intern Sam Kendrick
Well, even though the official start of the season was only a few days ago, we are well into the summer now. (For sure it’s been hot enough!) While I certainly hope that everyone is taking time to enjoy the summer while staying cool and relaxing, I wanted to mention a few thoughts, activities, and possibilities that I think are definitely worth braving the heat and taking a little detour from our normal routines.
With the onset of summer comes the return of our towns’ annual celebrations and festivals, and with those festivals comes music. Bluegrass, country, rock, gospel, and every genre imaginable are the soundtracks for our festivals. Sometimes the musicians have been brought in from out of the state, but far more often are they local musicians who have emerged into their town’s spotlight after establishing themselves as singers, songwriters, or just pretty good pickers. Missouri musicians play a wide array of music, ranging from modern music with electric instruments to more traditional music that takes us back to our roots.
The way I see it, there are a lot of things that bind us together as proud Missourians. It is our home, the place that we long for when we’ve been off at school or traveling for work. But what I think really binds us together is our love of music. Not just music, but our music. Our music stretches across the state, and it permeates our everyday lives. For me, that’s often the country music that pumps through the speakers of the tractors when we are cutting hay, the traditional and modern crossing-over during the festivals where we celebrate our towns’ histories, the voices raised together in praise on a Sunday morning in church, and the old-time picking that fills our houses in the evenings when we gather ‘round a table with old (and new) friends as we settle in for a jam session.
Maybe I better introduce myself a little, since I reckon you’re asking yourself, “Where’d this guy come from, talking about MY music?” I’ve been raised on a family farm just west of Nevada, in Vernon County. Though I’ve bounced around a little, going to school and such, I consider my little part of southwest Missouri my permanent home. I started playing the fiddle when I was eight years old. Wait, that’s not quite right: I started playing the violin when I was eight, but it wasn’t until I had figured out the basics that I started fiddling. You see, Johnny Kendrick, my father, plays cowboy, western, and bluegrass music, and has nearly all his life. In fact, he founded and produced a cowboy poetry gathering for twenty years, Echoes of the Trail, in Fort Scott, Kansas. I say this to make this point: my father always wanted a cowboy fiddler to play along with him at gigs, and I was it (whether I wanted to or not…some kids play football…). So I started with classical music and continued to play classical music until I graduated college, but at the same time I was learning how to fiddle. Because of my mother and father, my brother’s and my lives have been filled with music since we were born: learning music, playing music, and listening to every kind of local, regional, and world music from every which way. If we weren’t sitting around at a Johnston family gathering in rural Vernon and Barton counties (I find it really interesting that our 33rd President was born in the same county that has produced some top notch old-time fiddlers) or listening to or playing traditional music, we were listening to New Grass Revival or attending reunion concerts of the Undergrass Boys (my dad’s old band out of Springfield). Music has been central in shaping who I am and who I have become, as it has been for all of us who call this state home.
“But Sam,” you say, “I don’t have a musical bone in my body! I can’t carry a tune to save my life!” To which I respond: It doesn’t matter! Music is for, and by, everybody. Get out there, and soak it all up! So that’s what this is about. Brave the heat, and sweat a little bit for the music that binds us together and connects us. Go a little bit out of your way to find something new, something that you wouldn’t normally listen to or try in your day-to-day life.
Need some advice on where to start? Heck yeah, I have some ideas! And I’d be more than happy to help: consider the 34th annual Starvy Creek Bluegrass festival in Conway, Mo., as a last-minute destination this coming weekend (July 4-6, 2019). With headliners such as Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver and The Seldom Scene. Quality entertainment is absolutely guaranteed at this real-deal Institution of a bluegrass festival. Jam sessions last long into the early hours of the morning, so there will always be music to enjoy during the Fourth of July Weekend. And really, what’s more American than bluegrass picking in the Ozarks?
But if that’s not your style, or you just plain can’t swing a last minute trip, consider this: during the first Friday and Saturday of August (2nd – 3rd) in Warsaw, Mo., the third annual Ozark Cigar Box Guitar Festival is going on. With plenty of music to sit around and listen to, there are plenty of activities (both family friendly and a little bit more adult, like a beer and wine garden) to engage in as you sit back and relax for the weekend while listening to professionals and amateurs at what is recognized as one of the top blues festivals in Missouri. There’s even a class on making your own cigar box guitars (sign up now, preregistration is required).
There are a lot more festivals going on throughout the rest of the summer, so if you are unable to make it to the ones that I mentioned, don’t fret (sorry, couldn’t resist a little music joke), and seek out festivals near you. And, if you know of other neat little festivals, local concerts, or public jam sessions around the state, please let Missouri Folk Arts Program know via email or social media. Or, if you get the monthly Rural Missouri magazine like me, you can check it every month to find a list of the festivals and events that are going down around the state [you can even check online]. I also recently stumbled across the July/August issue of Missouri Life magazine and discovered that it, too, has a pretty comprehensive list of festivals and events.
If you are looking for those old time fiddlers, you can always track down the closest fiddle contest to you. Currently, there is no complete, statewide calendar. Lucky for you, there are a couple of websites that have at least a partial list of events, Missouri Traditional Fiddle & Dance Network. You can find information about square dances and contests there, as well as profiles of some of Missouri’s most well known fiddlers.
So this is what I ask of you: the next chance you get, seek out the local celebrations and events; linger just a moment longer as you stroll by the tent with the acoustic musicians playing Hank Williams’ timeless classic “I saw the Light;” and take a moment to recognize and revel in the fact that the music that surrounds us, modern or traditional, binds and connects us all as proud children of the state of Missouri.