Preserving AMERICA’S RURAL MUSIC

When American Profile Magazine did a story on Iowan’s Bob and Sheila Everhart, they started with an interesting analogy. “When Bob Everhart plays ‘Down In the Valley’ he hears the voices of pioneers. And those voices have inspired a museum, two halls of fame, and a festival to honor America’s traditional and rural music.” Everhart is quick to add to that. “The festival we do is now is in its 39th year. That’s a record for Iowa, and for the kind of music we present, it’s a record for America. When I say the names of some of our presentations, like a guitar pull, or a harmonica howl, a banjo jamboree, a dulcimer do, an autoharp gathering, a poets corner, a fiddler’s jubilee, even a mandolin pick-in, it fosters images, and in many cases definite memories, of what America’s music used to be like. Doing this for 39 years has created a situation where we now need seven days and ten stages to accommodate the over 600 performers. What’s even more amazing is where they come from.”
Everhart, and his wife Sheila, work on the event the entire year. According to Sheila, “This is a monumental task for us, just scheduling that many performers can be a nightmare, but Bob has been doing it for a very long time now, and he enjoys each and every performance, especially those that engender the continuation of what America’s early rural music was like.”
“America’s rural music is the most discriminated musical genre in America,” Bob is quick to point out. “It has been under the gun so many times it’s a wonder it even still exists. When radio and recordings first came into being, the only licensing agency was A.S.C.A.P. who refused to license the old-time mountain music for radio airplay, because they felt it was unfit for human consumption. Perhaps they weren’t listening to ‘America’ then, and in many cases they do not listen to ‘America’ today. That’s why we work so hard keeping this particular event alive and well. We formed a 501(c)3 non profit agricultural exposition organization way back in 1976, to help us keep it alive. We’re kind of like a church. Our religion is of many stripes, but the stars of our flag are the ones that still keep the light of America’s musical heritage unextinguished.”
The Everharts are recording artists for the prestigious Smithsonian Institution. Created by Moses Asch in New York City, it is now the most respectable record label maintaining America’s musical heritage in the country. The Everharts feel the same way. “We’ve recorded six albums for the Smithsonian, and that has led us to creating a program we call the “Traveling Museum of Music.” Working on it, and researching it for two years now, this is a program of the music that was popular, especially in rural America, during all of the wars America has been in. It’s an incredible historically accurate, sometimes funny, sometimes sad, most times very meaningful entertainment suitable for all ages, especially appreciated by an older audience. That’s exactly how we continue our work saving America’s rural musical heritage.”
The festival the Everhart’s conduct, as volunteers, takes place August 25-31, at the Plymouth County Fairgrounds, in LeMars, Iowa. “LeMars is the ice cream capital of the world,” Everhart said, “so we are very pleased to be in a location that has air conditioned buildings that can accommodate the ten stages we have, everything from a Log Cabin front porch, to a quiet little nook in front of an old wind mill in what we call a pioneer ghost town. That’s where the Carl Sandburg readings, poetry, autoharpists, storytelling, dulcimers, and zither playing and quiet music takes place. What a very interesting way to hear the music calling from the prairies of our ancestor’s past. It includes Native American’s too, tipi’s and all. Our main stage which accommodates nearly 2,000 fans is also air conditioned.”
Add the many professional performers that come from around the world and it becomes very international in scope. This year the number one country singer from Japan, Hank Sasaki, and the queen of country music from Denmark, Tamra Rosanes, meet up with Lucky Susan Crowe (Russell Crowe’s stepmother) from New Zealand, and Greta Elkin, the Yodeling Queen of Ireland. Everhart adds with a chuckle, “We have an incredibly large international presence at this event. We have five performers coming from Canada. But that’s not all, as the old-time rural music makers would proclaim, we have special guests like John Carter Cash, the only child of Johnny & June Carter Cash. Larry Cordle the guy who wrote ‘Murder on Music Row’ a song very dear to the hearts of our rural audience. Stephen Pride, the younger brother of Charley Pride, and LuLu Roman, one of the stars of Hee Haw, all making the trek to the corn fields of Iowa, to re-discover what rural country music is all about. Even bluegrass music is represented by the likes of Alabama’s David Davis and the Warrior River Boys, and Goldwing Express from Branson, and Larry Gillis and Swampgrass from Georgia. Nashville songwriter, Terry Smith says it best of all in the words of his song “The Far Side Banks of Jordan” which was a huge hit for Johnny & June Carter Cash.”
According to Smith, “That one song I wrote touches the hearts of married rural people, because it says with powerful love, the very same thoughts they have for each other.” Smith has been coming to the festival for the last 17 years. “This is the only legitimate musical event I am aware of that keeps the music in the original rural, very heart felt, style that made it so popular from the very beginning of America, and it’s still alive today, here in Iowa.”
The Everharts feel much the same way. “When America was just a young’un in the late 1700’s, and growing fast, there wasn’t so much an opportunity to be ‘from’ somewhere so much as there was to be ‘going’ somewhere. Agriculture was, and still is, one of the most important industries in America. That’s why we even have the “Mobile Musem” containing displays relative to Iowa’s ancient agriculturists, right up to the present, with us. We invite every school in Plymouth County, and all counties surrounding Plymouth, to send their kids to us for a field day of incredible history as revealed in the old songs that Bluegrass legend Bill Monroe (who by the way, found his wife in Iowa) labeled this musical history the ‘ancient tones.’ “We make stage time available for even the very beginning performer,” Sheila noted, all they have to do is call us at 712-762-4363 and we’ll find a stage for them.”
There’s also a huge arts and crafts vendor area at this non-profit event, even a large flea market. According to the Everhart’s, ‘We find room for everyone. We even have RV camping on the grounds with electricity, and some of the best ‘rural’ food you’re likely to find anywhere, including Native American food.”

Prepared by Bob Phillips, Correspondent for NTCMA www.ntcma.net
P O Box 492, Anita, Iowa, 50020

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