The Old-Time Music, Ozarks Heritage Festival in downtown West Plains, Mo., will celebrate its 23rd year Friday and Saturday, June 2 and 3, with two powerful acts as headliners on the main stage. The two-day annual event in downtown West Plains, Mo., celebrates Ozarks music and culture. Admission to all festival events is free.
Junior Brown will take the stage Friday night, and A Tribute to The Rhodes Family by current Rhodes family members will close the Festival Saturday night. Both performances are scheduled for 8 p.m.
“The overall mission of the Old-Time Music, Ozark Heritage Festival is about preserving traditions, and there are few traditions as close to people’s hearts as music,” said WPCA president and festival organizer Paula Speraneo. “Our headliner selections this year were chosen for their long-standing artistic excellence, career milestones and legacies that span ages and tradition. It is a combination that will be special for audiences of all ages. These performers truly exhibit that great music rooted in storied traditions transcends generations. We are thrilled to have two outstanding headliners this year at the festival.”
Known as “The American Original, Junior Brown showed an affinity for music at an early age. Discovering a guitar in his grandparent’s attic at age seven, he spent the next several years woodshedding with records and the radio. Junior was also able to tap into music he couldn’t hear at home which older, college aged kids were listening to. This was possible as a result of his father’s employment at a nearby campus in 1958. Armed with this broad spectrum of source material, he had developed some formidable chops by the end of his teen years.
Brown’s passion for Country and Western music had intensified by the late 1960’s. With many prominent figures as his inspiration, he spent his nights further sharpening his musical skills in small clubs across the southwest. “I played more nights in honkytonks during the 70’s and 80’s than most musicians will see in a lifetime. I did so many years of that, night after night, four sets a night, 15 minute breaks; I mean after that, you gotta get good or get out.” Brown still prefers to refer to his favorite music as “Country and Western” as it was called when he began his career. More recently, however, with the exception of Classical, Modern Jazz and Rap, he has shown himself to be equally adept at virtually all styles of American music, leading many to dub him America’s most versatile musician. A listen to his catalog of recordings reveals a virtuosity in Country, Western Swing, Hawaiian, Rock and Roll, (Hard Rock, Surf, etc.), Blues, Trad. Jazz, (Swing), Pop, Bluegrass, and even Mariachi.
Junior knew he could play and sing almost anything, but he had yet to explore his potential as a songwriter. “I realized no one was going to walk into a club and discover me, so I started hanging out with some songwriters who I’d played some gigs with, and they showed me how to support myself by writing and publishing.” With his songwriting coming together by the mid 80’s, Brown upgraded his gear in a way that no artist had ever done. Struggling through each show with the back and forth switch between the six-string guitar and its steel counterpart, he had a dream one night about the two instruments mysteriously melting into one. The result was Brown’s unique invention, the “Guit-Steel”, a double-necked guitar combining standard guitar with steel guitar, allowing him to switch instruments quickly in mid-song while singing. There are other Guit-Steel players now, but Junior was the first, and for many years the one and only. For this and other reasons, he is truly an American original.
In the early 90’s Brown and his band (including wife, Tanya Rae) relocated to the fertile Austin, Texas music scene and landed a weekly gig at the Continental Club. His unique and entertaining combination of singing, songwriting, instrumental skills and producing led to a seven-record deal with Curb Records that began with “Twelve Shades of Brown” in 1993. He later released two albums on the Telarc label.
The Rhodes Show got its start in the 1930’s with Slim, Speck, Dusty and Bea Rhodes. Fast forward 80 years and the musical legacy continues with Sandra and Donna Rhodes, Brenda “Bear” Barnett, Craig Morris, and Donna and Craig’s kids, Savannah and Sam. The current family will present a tribute performance to the Rhodes Family.
During The Great Depression, James K. Polk Rhodes began the task of crafting musical instruments for his children. He made an acoustic guitar, 2 upright basses, a banjo and a handful of fiddles. He called his young children in and led them to the back room where he had carefully laid all the instruments on the bed. Once assembled, he simply told them to choose an instrument and that if they learned to play it, it was theirs.
Slim chose the guitar, Dusty and Beatrice, the fiddles, and Speck grabbed the banjo, and The Rhodes Show was born.
During the 1930’s and 1940’s, they traveled the country playing for tips on street corners and anywhere else that would have them. Over the years, they made regular guest appearances on The Louisiana Hayride, The WLS Barn Dance and The Grand Ol’ Opry. For 25 years, they had a weekly television show on Memphis station, WMCT-TV. Speck went on to co-star as the comedian on the Porter Wagoner Show.
THE RHODES SHOW today consists of Sandra Rhodes on guitars and vocals, Donna Rhodes on vocals and percussion, (both, daughters of Dot and Dusty Rhodes), Brenda “Bear” Barnett, on bass guitar and vocals and Craig Morris on keyboards and vocals.
“We’ve performed with, recorded with or written songs for Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, The Little Rascals, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Harry Chapin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Al Green, Roy Rogers, The Bee Gees, Reba McEntire, Ray Charles, The Oak Ridge Boys, Andy Williams, James Taylor, Neil Diamond, The Commodores, The Monkeys, Garth Brooks, Loretta Lynn, Brenda Lee, Isaac Hayes, Sam and Dave, Dolly Parton, John “Cougar” Mellencamp, Kenny Rogers, Tim McGraw, Martina McBride, KC and the Sunshine Band, Conway Twitty, Chet Atkins, Craig Morgan, Clint Black, Donny and Marie Osmond and many, many more?”
OTHER MAIN STAGE PERFORMERS
Old-time music has been a family tradition for generations for Colbert Brothers Leon, Van, Vernon and John, all of whom hail from Willow Springs, Mo. “Mom and Dad instilled in us the love of their music, and to this day we play, sing and remember,” said Van, who is known for his unique “two-finger” roll style on banjo.
The Colbert’s grandfather, Hall Colbert, moved the family from the Buffalo River region of Arkansas during the Depression years. He and his wife, Ethel, their four boys, Leon, Bob, Truett and John, and their four daughters, Geneva, Gladys, Jewell and Marge, traveled by horse and wagon to the Howell County community of Amy where they established new roots and Hall preached as a Baptist minister and sang.
The Colbert’s father, Joseph Truett, who was named for a famous turn-of-the-century minister, taught himself to play a banjo he built by stretching a groundhog skin over the hoop for a head. He taught Van’s older brothers to chord the guitar and enjoyed playing along once they could carry a tune. Mother Vernieca May (Easley) Colbert also was a beautiful singer and lady, Van said, and before she passed away, they could always encourage her to sing “Beautiful Brown Eyes,” “Red River Valley,” “Maple on the Hill” and “Wildwood Flower” to their accompaniment.
Roger Matthews and Dan O’Day make up FIDDDLE AND BANJO. Over 15 years ago, they first played together in the group OLD MISSOURI. In 2013 Roger and Dan were again together in the band, WIRES ON WOOD. That five-piece band performed as far away as the Fingers Lake Area of New York to Bass Pro Shops’ Oklahoma City grand opening. Other venues included Silver Dollar City, Apple Butter Making Days, Crane Broiler Festival, HOBA in West Plains, and The Star Theater in Willow Springs to name a few.
Roger Matthews – Roger has played banjo since the 1970s. In his native California, he won the Malibu Mountain Bluegrass Festival Banjo Championship. He has performed with CREAM OF KENTUCKY and EVERGREEN, a featured band at Silver Dollar City. He was a founding member of two bands that toured extensively: RADIO FLYER won the KFC emerging bluegrass band of the year in the early 1980s, and went on to record a number of successful projects. In 1991, Roger was a founding member of MIDNIGHT FLIGHT, along with his friends Andy Dye, Jimmy Allison, and the late Ernie Bishop. That group toured for 20 years, released a number of CD projects and won the coveted Silver Dollar City Single Mic Contest. In August 2016 Roger retired after 25 years with the Missouri Department of Transportation.
Dan O’Day – Dan’s career was in radio. He started as an intern at KWPM, West Plains, Missouri in 1960. He moved to Willow Springs, then on to Springfield, Missouri, where except for three years in the Army during the Viet Nam War era, and four years in Omaha, Nebraska in the early 1990s, he has remained. He did manage to play fiddle and announce during the Farmarama Show in Fantastic Caverns in the 1960s. 1n 1973, he played for a short while with the Dave Drennon Show in Nixa. Returning to Springfield in 1995, Dan played with SOUTHWYNNS for over eight years. In 2001 he helped form OLD MISSOURI that later became WIRES ON WOOD. Dan retired at the end of 2010 and went on to become the first president of The Greater Ozarks Bluegrass Society.
In the summer of 2016, Roger and Dan decided to go out on their own as a duo. “We’ve always done a ‘fiddle and banjo only’ tune in our sets as sort of a tribute to Paul Warren and Earl Scruggs. It seemed to be very well received.” With Roger’s retirement in 2016, FIDDLE AND BANJO was born.
The link to the Facebook page is www.facebook.com/fiddleandbanjo/
FOLK ARTS PROGRAM ARTISTS – 5 p.m. Saturday
Funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Missouri Arts Council, Missouri’s Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program (TAAP) pairs master folk artists with apprentices to pass traditions on to the next generation. Master/apprentice teams meet regularly for lessons over a period of approximately nine months, with site visits to document the team on audiotape and with photographs. These materials are archived as part of the program mission to conserve the state’s cultural legacy.
Performing as TAAP artists on our stage are John Williams (master) and Jessie Perrigo (apprentice) on fiddle, with Kenny Appleby (master) and Brad Roby (apprentice) on back-up guitar.
John P. Williams, Jr. – Little Dixie Old Time Fiddle
One of the foremost Missouri old-time fiddlers playing today, John Williams has played the fiddle for over 20 years. He first caught the “fiddle bug” at age seven inspired by the “fiddling I heard growing up at the local fiddle contests my family would take me to.” He grew up and still lives in northeast Missouri on his family’s farm located in rural Monroe County. Central and northeast Missouri is home to the distinctive regional old time fiddle style known as Little Dixie; generally characterized by long bow strokes, an emphasis on clear notes and melodies, frequent double stops, and accenting all of which produce a driving quality to the tunes.
From ages 9-17, John attended Bethel Fiddle Camp held annually in Bethel, MO and learned from “some of the finest Missouri fiddlers to ever draw a bow;” Pete McMahan, Taylor McBaine, Johnny Bruce, Vesta Johnson, Dwight Lamb, Charlie Walden and Bob Holt to name only a few. In 1998, then sixteen, he had “a once in lifetime opportunity” to apprentice with the legendary Little Dixie and contest fiddler Pete McMahan in Missouri’s Traditional Apprenticeship Program. Pete was and is a significant influence on John. John learned Pete’s amazing bowing technique and many of his rare and unique tunes. Since then, like all great fiddlers, John has developed his own style and picked up many more tunes through the years.
While still a teenager, John started to seriously compete and win fiddle contests in Missouri and beyond. In 2001, at age 20, he won the National Invitational Fiddle Championship held in Yankton, South Dakota. Now in his 30’s, John plays Missouri fiddle contests occasionally for fun and a chance to jam with old friends. Like other old time musicians, he worries that the popularity of national Texas contest style of fiddling is overtaking Missouri’s historically rooted regional styles. Today, you just as likely to find John playing at jam, house music gatherings, or at a dance often with his good friend and frequent back-up guitarist, Kenny Applebee.
John teaches regularly as a master fiddler at the same Bethel Fiddle Camp he once attended. He has been selected twice as a master artist in Missouri’s Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, one of the youngest masters chosen in the programs 32-year old history.
As John simply and directly puts it, “I want to play and pass on the traditional tunes that have been played in our state for generations.”
His current apprentice is Jessie Perrigo of Mexico, MO. Jessie is the granddaughter Norma and backup guitarist Kenny Applebee. Growing up she traveled with her grandparents “far and wide to fiddle contests, jams, dances and music gatherings at my grandparents’ home. My grandfather taught me my first two tunes on the fiddle at age 5.” Jessie also attended Bethel Fiddle Camp. After high school, she played only occasionally. Instead she worked and attended college fulltime, got married, and landed her first full time teaching position in the Williamsburg school district. Nowadays, Jessie has returned to playing the music she loves. As a teacher, she brings her grandfather to her 4th grade class, because she wants her students to know “that right here in mid-Missouri we have music that is homegrown and unique to this area.”
Kenny Applebee has lived all his life in rural Audrain County near Mexico, MO. For over 50 years, he has played old-time rhythm guitar at festivals, contests, dances fiddler conventions, and jams in Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Arkansas. When coming up, he heard the older backup musicians of the day. Over time, he developed his own style of playing. During the hay day of Missouri old-time fiddle contests; he emerged as one of the most sought after back up players around. Kenny is known for his “walking chords,” impeccable rhythm, clear notes and distinctive bass runs that make him the guitarist of choice for fiddlers, past and present. For years, he was late fiddler Pete McMahan’s preferred and highly treasured guitarist. Pete was a man extremely particular about his backup musicians. The two developed a partnership and close bond, memories Kenny treasures.
Kenny still enjoys playing backup and fiddle contests but like John is selective, playing at contests whose organizers still operate under old time contest regulations. He picked up playing the fiddle over 20 years ago and these days he enjoys competing in the senior fiddle division.
Talk to Kenny about back up guitar playing today, he has a saying: “There are many guitar players out there, but only a few who can really play.” He has clear opinions about what constitutes good backup playing. It also reflects his concern, also echoed by fiddlers, about the current lack of skilled backup musicians. When asked who plays for him at contests he stated, “I look for the best guitar player I can find that day” adding wryly “and sometimes the best ain’t very good.”
Kenny has taught and played at Bethel Fiddle Camp since its inception and watched John Williams grow up and develop as a fiddler. This year, Kenny is a first-time master artist in TAAP, teaching back-up guitar to apprentice Brad Roby of Columbia, MO. Brad is an experienced guitarist, long active in mid-Missouri old time jams. Years ago, Brad learned a very different style of backup, known as “sock style” from the late mid-Missouri swing guitarist Ivan Crane. Two years ago, Brad, after attending a performance of Little Dixie fiddle music by John and Kenny at the University of Missouri, was inspired to ask Kenny to teach him. Brad explained, “I don’t play in a straight old time style and I want to learn Kenny’s particular style of playing in detail and teach others in the future.”
The Missouri Folk Arts Program website is http://mofolkarts.missouri.edu/programs.shtml
James River Drifters is a Blue Grass/New Grass band from Springfield, MO. Members are Woody Nicely, Curtis Miller, and Jeremy York.
OZARK HELLBENDERS – 4 p.m. Friday
The band called the Ozark Hellbenders was conceived in 2009 and consists currently of members Gordon Johnston, Dr. Mark Johnson, and CD Scott. Their name comes from a rare salamander that only inhabits the Ozark region of Missouri and Arkansas. The band has gone through many transitions and different names since 2002 but always adhered to making good, listenable, fun music. Gordon and CD have played together for 15 years and Mark joined the band 6 years ago. Mark was a definite boon to the band with proficient guitar work and a fine voice. Gordon plays keyboards, sings and is a profound lyricist with many songs being written about his home region, the Ozarks. CD plays guitar, mandolin, and also sings. Together with three part harmonies and sweet melodies, they are a dynamic force. Their tastes in music are very eclectic, playing bluegrass, Celtic, country, folk, rock n’ roll, and their own originals. Get ready to have a foot-stompin’ good time and sing-along.
Pinecastle Records recording artists the Roe Family Singers are a Good-Time, Old-Time Hillbilly band from the tiny community of Kirkwood Hollow, MN. Led by wife & husband Kim Roe (Best Female Vocalist, City Pages/Village Voice) and Quillan Roe (Accident Clearinghouse), the band marries old-time sounds from barn-dances, fiddle pulls, and county fairs with the rock & roll passion of youth.
Featuring banjo, Autoharp, guitar, and Appalachian clogging, the band and family of fans have been regularly filling Minneapolis’ 331 Club every Monday night since 2005. They’ve shared the stage with Doc Watson, Ralph Stanley, Mike Seeger, Del McCoury, the Grascals, and Jim Kweskin & Geoff Muldaur. In 2011 the band was awarded the prestigious McKnight Fellowship for Performing Musicians; they won the title of “World’s Best Jug Band” twice, in 2010 & 2012 at the annual Battle of the Jug Bands; in 2012, won the Minnesota Duet Contest at the MN State Fair; and in 2016 won the title of Entertainers of the Year from BMAI.
The Roe Family Singers mix original music and contemporary takes on old-time, traditional, and gospel tunes into one roiling & rollicking river of fresh yet familiar American music. Every performance raises a ruckus.