Full house at New Harmonies kick-off

Published 5:47 pm Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Part of the crowd at the opening reception for the New Harmonies traveling Smithsonian exhibit celebrating American roots music. The event took place Sunday, Aug. 4 at the Landrum Library. (photo by Barbara Tilly)

Those arriving at the last minute for the kick-off event of the New Harmonies series at the Landrum Library had to park on the grass and along the driveways, because all the regular spots were taken. Inside was equally crowded, as the standing-room-only crowd filled the main library room and spilled over into adjacent areas.
Lee Morgan, director of the Landrum Library, welcomed the crowd to the opening reception and first presentation for “New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music,” a traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibit that will be at the Landrum Library through Sept. 16. She acknowledged the Friends of the Landrum Library volunteers for their help in organizing the series in general and the opening event in particular.
She also introduced Judy Bynum of the S. C. Humanities Council, the organization that selected the library as one of the sites for New Harmonies. The selection was made as part of the Museum on Main Street (MOMS) project, a national/state/local partnership to bring exhibitions and programs to rural cultural organizations in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.
John Fowler, a master harmonica player, storyteller and ballad singer, was the featured performer and speaker at the event. He told stories about his Appalachian and upstate South Carolina heritage and sang and played old-time songs on the harmonica, banjo, jaws harp, guitar and fiddle.
Fowler, who co-hosts “This Old Porch,” a weekly old-time radio show on WNCW-FM, was born and raised in upstate South Carolina, with family ties to the western North Carolina mountains. He said his grandmother, of Scots-Irish roots, was born in 1898 in western North Carolina. She met her first husband, Oliver, at church, Fowler said.

John Fowler

“He saw Granny at church,” Fowler said, “and then he moved up a pew each Sunday until he was sitting next to her.”
They were sparking and courting, Fowler said, and pretty soon they got married. Unfortunately, Oliver died young, Fowler said, and Granny was left alone to raise their one child when she was in her mid-20s.
She eventually remarried, saying her “I dos” in Asheville, N.C. with Hugh Zachary Taylor, a 70-year-old man from Spartanburg, S.C. She joined him at his home in Spartanburg, which had electricity and running water, luxuries previously unknown to her, Fowler said. To get there, she rode the train, an all-day trip.
“When people asked Granny why she married a 70-year-old man,” Fowler said, “she just said, ‘I ain’t never rode on a train before in my whole life.’”
Fowler’s musical selections included an audience-participation rendition of “Come on Boys, Let’s Go Hunting,” complete with dog howls; “Cripple Creek” on both banjo and fiddle; “old Gray Mare” on jaw’s harp (sometimes called Jew’s harp), “Cabbage Head Song,” also known as “Four Nights’ Drunk”; “Going Down That Road Feeling Bad” and “My Buffalo Boy.”
After Fowler’s presentation, many audience members stayed to view the New Harmonies exhibit, which explores the distinct cultural identities of American roots music through a selection of photographs, recordings, instruments, lyrics and artist profiles. The exhibit is open during regular library hours.
The next event in the New Harmonies schedule will be an outdoor concert Saturday, Aug. 11 at 7 p.m. It will feature David Holt, who will present music and stories from the southern mountains. Four-time Grammy Award winner Holt is host of public television’s “Folkways” and PRI’s “Riverwalk: Classic Jazz from the Landing.”
Then, on Sunday, Aug. 12 at 3:30 p.m., Dr. Tracey Laird will present a lecture on “Cultural Preservation: A Southern Louisiana Case Study.” Dr. Laird, Charles Loridans Associate Professor of Music and Chair at Agnes Scott College, focuses this program on Cajun and zydeco music.
All New Harmonies events are free. For outdoor library concerts bring your lawn chair or blanket. No alcohol is allowed on library property. Check for updates or schedule changes prior to any event: infodepot.org or 864-457-2218.

Lee Morgan (left) welcomes people to the opening reception for the New Harmonies exhibit and event series on Sunday, Aug. 4 at the Landrum Library. (photo by Barbara Tilly)

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