Overmountain Band: Listening to the old time music
Published 10:00 pm Monday, June 26, 2017
Come with me this morning. It’s Monday morning and I’m headed to Southern Manners Coffee Shop in Columbus to listen to Overmountain practice their old time traditional music of the Southern Appalachians. It’s a multi-age group of musicians, many retirees, who enjoy the camaraderie, humor and friendship created by their love of playing music.
About nine years ago, Susan Grimley and Patty Collins took a six-week course at Isothermal Community College hoping to learn to play the banjo. After six weeks, they realized they would need to keep practicing if they were going to be banjo players. Soon Jane Gurley joined the group and the band had its beginning. Today it boasts about 14 players and features a variety of instruments including guitar, banjo, fiddle, autoharp, dulcimer, flute and a washboard bass.
You might have heard the group a few years ago known by the name “Olde Tyme Jammers.” Apparently another band already played under that name so a new name, Overmountain, was chosen. Members come from around Landrum, Campobello, Saluda, Tryon, Columbus and Hendersonville so Overmountain seemed to fit. It also conjured up the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, which traces the route used by patriot militia during the pivotal Kings Mountain campaign of 1780.
When I arrive the discussion is centered on dogs. In honor of a recently deceased pet, the group decides to start the warm-up with “I’ll Fly Away.” As the morning progresses, the players take turns choosing songs such as “Elk River Blues,” “Old Chattanooga,” “Westphalia,” “Cherokee Shuffle,” and finishing with a rousing rendition of “Sandy Boys.” Most members end the morning with lunch at Southern Manners. It gives me the opportunity to meet everyone and discover the history of the various musicians.
Jane Gurley, one of the earliest members, began playing piano at age 6. She learned the autoharp about ten years ago and specializes in a style called finger picking melody. Susan Grimley, one of the founders, learned to play the banjo and the fiddle since retirement.
Ellen Douglas purchased an Irish Flute while traveling in Ireland. She also plays a tin whistle, called a penny whistle, which provides a unique sound to many of the songs played by the band. Ellen’s husband, Bob Weider, is part of the morning’s audience enjoying the music.
When Jean Foster retired about four years ago she decided to master the autoharp. Her technique varies from that played by Jane. Sandra Roberts began to play guitar in her church back in the 1970s.
“Remember when everyone was taking up the guitar and learning folk songs? That was me,” she smiles.
Gary Harris’ brothers all played the trumpet, but he decided on the banjo. Donna Roper has played the banjo for four years.
She laughs as she tells me her story. “I wanted to play the banjo since I was a kid watching ‘Beverly Hillbillies.’ Remember the Earl Scruggs theme song, ‘Come and listen to a story ’bout a man named Jed’? It captivated me and now I’ve finally learned to play the banjo.”
Becky Kraai, the newest member, recently relocated from Rochester, N.Y., and plays guitar. Derek Harrison, also a Rochester transplant, plays banjo. Derek initially spent winters in the Carolinas escaping Rochester’s snowy weather. Eventually he decided this was his year round home.
Annie Ewing has been a musician since she was a child. She grew up in the Greenville area but spent much of her adult life in California teaching music. She plays guitar in the group but also plays piano. Annie was an early member. “But you left us at one point, deciding to pursue nature, hiking and wildflowers,” Susan reminds her. Although still an avid hiker, Annie’s love of music plus the friendships formed in the group brought her back.
Patty Collins performs with the dulcimer and the fiddle. Her husband, Mel Collins, adds a special touch with the harmonica and an unusual washtub bass, painted with mountain scenes. Patty and Mel live on the Green River. Every Memorial day they host a picnic on the river and play for kayakers and tubers floating down the river. See Gary and Hazel Harris’ recipe below for Charleston Symphony League Broccoli Salad that was a favorite at this year’s picnic.
Not present this morning is Doug Hurlbert. He often plays his concertina with the band. A concertina looks like a small accordion but it has buttons instead of keys.
Also absent is ukulele player, Nell Long. Nell has been with the band for about a year, relocating to Landrum from Memphis.
The band has entertained at many local venues including the Saluda Fine Arts Festival, Tryon Arts and Crafts Festival, Landrum Farmers Market, and Franks Music Hall in Gramling. Their music is often heard at church luncheons and special events. In 2016 they enjoyed performing at the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival held at the Diane Wortham Theater in Asheville. And each year many of the members attend the Swannanoa Gathering, “Old Time Week.”
Overmountain practices from 10-11:30 a.m., the second and fourth Monday at Southern Manners in Columbus. Musicians are welcome to visit and play with the band. If you just enjoy listening, stop by the retaurant, find your way to the second floor, and sit a spell, enjoying some toe tapping, hand clapping, Appalachian mountain music. As the Overmountain motto declares, “Old time is a good time”!
Charleston Symphony League Broccoli Salad
(From “Music, Menus, and Magnolias,” an offering of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra League, 1996)
8 cups fresh broccoli flowerets (about 3 lbs.)
½ cup sweet onion, diced
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped pecan pieces, toasted
2 11 ounce cans mandarin oranges (drain well and refrigerate to get cold)
1½ cups mayonnaise
½ cup sugar
3 tbs. red Wine vinegar
Combine vegetable ingredients in bowl omitting oranges, set aside. Combine mayonnaise, sugar, vinegar. Add to the broccoli mixture. Stir gently to coat. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Gently stir in oranges just before serving.