We’ve all heard the story of the trio of Poor Valley musicians known as the Carter Family making the long, hot drive to Bristol in early August 1927 to audition for the Victor Talking Machine Company, only to make it big as the first country music superstars. Of course, the real story is not nearly as simple.
While we romanticize the idea of a dusty road trip to make a record, we forget that A.P., Sara and Maybelle Carter left Bristol without any idea that they would ever be asked to record again. At first, Victor didn’t even release the songs recorded by the Carters despite the fact that they recorded more material than any other artists who took part in the sessions. A.P. and his family undoubtedly thought their musical talents went unnoticed.
Of course, the Carter Family did have their first record issued on November 4, 1927 – “Poor Orphan Child.” The record was a small local hit (akin to having one’s picture in the local newspaper), but certainly nothing to sustain any kind of musical career. It wouldn’t be until the following year when the release of “Single Girl, Married Girl” changed American music and along with it the lives of the Carter Family forever. But despite the massive success of “Single Girl,” there is something unique about that very first record. While other records would go on to sell more copies, “Poor Orphan Child” marked the beginning of a new and unexpected chapter in the lives of the Carters, their community, and the rest of the nation – a leap into previously uncharted territory, a wide open future rooted in the traditions of the past.
The Carter Family invites you to its’ 43rd Annual Memorial Music Festival the first weekend in November. This year’s festival weekend marks the 90th anniversary of the release of that very first Carter Family record. Doors open Friday, November 3rd, at 3:00 pm, and the music kicks off at 6:00 pm. On Saturday, November 4th, the doors open at noon, and the music will begin at 3:00 pm. Friday’s show features the Mountain Park Old Time Band. Saturday’s performers are Larry Sigmon and Martha Spencer – the Unique Sound of the Mountains, Carson Peters and Iron Mountain, and the Whitetop Mountain Band. Carter Family music will be featured both days with Maybelle’s granddaughter, Lorrie Carter Bennett, and long time Carter Family friends Ronnie Williams and Eugene Wolf. A special guest, Ms. Charly Markwart, will be featured on the Carter Family sets showcasing songs she wrote about the Carters. Raised in rural Michigan, she came to the mountains of Appalachia to trace the roots of America’s music. An emerging Americana artist, Charly has ingrained those roots into her musical foundation.
Now known as the Carter Family Fold, music shows actually began in the one-room grocery A.P. Carter built and ran as a country store in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Presenting weekly concerts was Janette Carter’s way of honoring not only her family’s legacy and our Appalachian culture, but a promise she made to her father just prior to his death in 1960 that she would see that his music lived on. Starting to present music shows in 1974, as her father had in what he called the A.P. Carter Park, the early days of the Fold’s weekly concerts were much like the first Carter Family 78. Janette had no idea what would happen; she just did the best she could with what she had. In the process, she created something that went further than anyone could have imagined. On this 90th anniversary of that first Carter Family record, we invite you to come celebrate this special anniversary with us. Sing, dance, jam, shop for some unique homemade mountain crafts, help yourself to some good home cooked food, and take time to stroll through the cabin birthplace of A.P. Carter and the Carter Family Museum (both historic landmarks and located on site).Each note you will hear, and each dance step you take, is a new like stepping back in time while embracing the future of Appalachian mountain music. Rooted in the traditions of the past, mountain music is here to stay. Come be a part of living history and join us for this very special anniversary year and annual festival.
This year’s festival is dedicated to Mark Wolfe, great grandson of A.P. and Sara Carter; Papa Joe Smiddy, a much-loved regional treasure and proponent of mountain music; Walt Salyer, husband of Fern Carter Salyer (daughter of A.P.’s brother Ermine and his wife Ora Carter); and Juanita McConnell, wife of Burdette McConnell who served as a volunteer at the Fold from the time music shows began. The loss of each of these people is felt deeply as each of them represented a special part of our Carter Fold family. Tickets are available at the gate only; all seats are festival seating. Tickets are $10 for adults on Friday, $20 for adults on Saturday, or both days $25 for adults. Children’s tickets (ages 6 to 11) are $5 a day; under age 6 free. Gates open at 3:00 pm Friday and at noon on Saturday. Music on the stage gets underway at 6:00 pm on Friday night and at 3:00 pm on Saturday afternoon.
Carter Family music will open each set – Friday night, Saturday afternoon, and Saturday night. Friday’s performance by the Mountain Park Old Time Band will feature their group on two sets. Saturday’s performers will be featured on afternoon and evening sets. Music begins at 6:00 pm Friday and lasts until 10:00 pm. On Saturday, it begins at 3:00 pm and runs until 6:30 pm., with a supper break from 6:30 to 7:15 pm. Saturday evening’s performance starts at 7:15 pm and lasts until 10:45 pm.
Ticket gates, craft and outside food booths open at 3:00 pm on Friday and at noon on Saturday. Visitors may take chances to win a homemade quilt. The A.P. Carter Cabin Birthplace and the Carter Family Museum will be open from the time the gates open each day until 8:00 pm. There will be lots of music and jamming on the grounds in addition to the scheduled performers inside the Carter Fold. A special area for jamming will be set up adjacent to the museum. Limited rough camping is available.
For information, visit carterfamilyfold.org.