Aug 18, 2011 01:25 PM WV Sound
Keeping a beat in the Mountain State
Memories of Music
As a child growing up in Clay County, I was surrounded by music. If you follow Appalachian music, you’ve probably have heard of John and David Morris—The Morris Brothers. John was my uncle. In the late ’60s and ’70s he was married to my father’s sister, Dee Braley. There wasn’t an instrument they couldn’t play. I remember sitting at Uncle John’s knees or climbing up on Uncle David’s lap (true to Appalachian form, he was my uncle, too…) and thinking they were as famous as Elvis.
From 1969 to 1973, John and David hosted the Morris Family Old Tyme Music Festival on their family farm in Clay County. Hundreds and hundreds of folks from around the country would descend on this tiny hamlet to listen to the country’s best folk musicians. One year, the creek was so high they had to build a bridge so people could cross. This festival would later morph into the Vandalia Gathering, which John and David helped create. My Aunt Dee recently shared with me a video from those early days. She said, “To watch this video, one might think we were a bunch of ignorant hippies, but that wasn’t the case. Most of these folks were highly educated and had their doctorates.”
Aunt Dee recalls an unexpected visit from two New Yorkers. “John and David were in California performing on college campuses and I was at home. Two women showed up on our doorstep. They had come all the way from New York. I invited them in and fixed them something to eat and drink, and we sat around the table and talked for a long time.” As a result of that visit, the Rockefeller Foundation gave John and David a grant that allowed them to bring Appalachian music into the schools to teach students about their heritage.
Those school concerts and discussions left an indelible mark on me. The music told the story of my ancestry. To this day when I hear a fiddle course through the evening air, I’m reminded of how fortunate we are to have such a rich musical heritage.