By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
I’ve played music for most of my life. Starting with the school band program, moving on to playing bars and festivals with friends through my college and early adult years, and eventually plucking out nursery rhymes on guitar for my toddler (my toughest gig by far), music has been a constant source of expression, connection, and community since I picked up my first clarinet 36 years ago.
And if you had asked me ten years ago what the greatest city for music in America was, I’d have said Austin, TX – hands down.
Before I moved to Austin, I’d only played music with people who were already friends, or friends of friends. In Austin, I made new friends because I met and played music with them first. It wasn’t hard to do, either. Answer an ad posted on a bulletin board, or show up to an open mic with a set of congas, and people would welcome you right in. Or at least most would. I’d never seen a city more dedicated to supporting their local artists, and providing opportunities for them to perform.
That is, until I moved back home to eastern Kentucky and discovered what was going on in Carter County.
While we may not boast the sheer number of venues, or have live shows every night of the week, we also aren’t the major metropolitan area that Austin and Travis County are. But for a community of its size, Carter County has more than its share of musical events and venues – Rattlesnake Ridge, Rudy Fest, Cole’s Bluegrass Barn, the Trail Town Stage, Grayson Gallery, and the annual Christmas on the Hill and On with the Show events, to name just a few, in addition to performers at various other community events, means there are plenty of opportunities to see live music. And plenty of opportunities for local musicians to play a show and still get home into their own bed at a decent hour if they like.
It’s something I’ve written about before, when we’d come across old newspaper reports on the formation of a new community band or hayride sing-alongs. But, as any musician can tell you, most of those musical relationships don’t last long. Someone gets too busy with work to practice regularly. Family commitments win out over scheduling shows. Before long the entire thing falls by the wayside.
It was a pattern the editor of the Herald noticed too. So, when a new community brass band was formed in 1924, the paper didn’t report on it until the group had practiced, solidified, and made their first public outing – parading about the downtown and residential areas to serenade the mayor, the editor, and other townsfolk.
Then, he asked for folks to step up and help support the band – which had “at least $2,000” invested in instruments (more than $30,000 in 2021 dollars) – with financial contributions to “help them along with their small expenses.”
We’re not sure how the community responded in 1924, but if the modern Olive Hill and Carter County are any indication, we’re sure the support was there.
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