This weekend brought the end of the Philharmonic season, and what a season it was. It seemed that with each concert, we performed better and were received by the audience better than the concert before. And beyond programming, we branched out with new promotional initiatives that put our name in the public square more than it has been in recent years.
This past Saturday, we capped it all off with a country concert. What does an orchestra peopled with classically trained musicians know about country music? Not much, maybe, but we put together a program that blended Nashville and Americana and John Williams and did it justice. Four Nashville performers joined us, so that we would play a song or two, and they would perform a brief set, then we would play, and they would return to the stage and so on. On occasion, we were all playing together, with a local country band seated between the strings and the wind section as if they belonged there. Very fun.
I heard mandolin and steel guitar and just enough twang to remind me of my father and string-pickin' uncles and the music I grew up hearing on the radio. Early on cold winter mornings near Lake Michigan, with drifting lake effect snow piling up so high, even the plows couldn’t get through, my father would turn the dial to the country station, and we’d listen to Grand Ole’ Opry musicians—Roy Acuff, Patsy Cline, Flatt and Scruggs. “Rocky Top, you’ll always be home sweet home to me. Good ole’ Rocky Top. Rocky Top Tennessee.”
And when the fiddle would be just right and the banjo would pick to high heaven, my father would pound the kitchen linoleum in a mock clog dancing and talk about how his father used to dance that way, rattling the floor boards of the old front porch. "Make 'em stop, Momma. Make 'em stop!" he'd shout as his sons would play in a way that made his legs and big boots move of their own accord.
I am, in general, not a country music fan, but this concert always takes me back to some of my fondest memories, and for as long as the performance lasts, I am committed to the experience one hundred percent. And the tiny bit of me that is a southern country girl, the smidgen that stays well hidden, steps out just enough so that I can't keep from doing a little toe tapping myself, a hat-tip to my ancestors whose feet moved with minds of their own.
Yesterday, Husband and I hosted a lunch for the Nashville people and some others—Conductor Eric and members of the board—and I discovered that one of the singers, Red Marlow, is from a town very near where I was born. He was raised in Rogersville, Alabama not far from Trinity where I spent the first two years of my life and where I visited every summer until I was 20 or so. In fact, we were familiar with some of the same places I recalled from my childhood, and it did my heart good to be reminisce with someone who knows Trinity—as I recall, it wasn't much more than some cock fighting rooster tents, a Piggly Wiggly, cotton fields and the best catfish along the Mighty Tennessee.
So, it has been a Philharmonic season for the books, not one we’ll look back to as our peak but one we can reference as a turning point, I think. And how sweet that it ended with nostalgia for me personally, blended with hope for an even greater year to follow.
Here is a video of Red singing one of his own songs—it was filmed in Rogersville, so the scenery is everything I remember about the summer visits to see family.