LeMars, Iowa…..”Thirty-six years is one long piece of time,” Bob Everhart says of the festival in Iowa that he has been doing for 36 years.  “We started this in 1976, and we are still in the corn field of Iowa, presenting the ‘root’ music of America’s rural population.  We’ve been in several locations, Council Bluffs and Missouri Valley, but we are now located at the Plymouth County Fairgrounds in LeMars, Iowa.  This just happens to be the ice cream capital of the world.  The largest ice cream manufacturer is Blue Bunny, located here in LeMars.  We even give away Blue Bunny ice cream at the festival.”
     “It’s all about the music” Everhart stresses, “America’s ‘rural and mountain’ music eventually became known as country music.  Not much ‘country’ in today’s music anymore, that’s why we call it ‘rural’ music.  We want people to know that we are the ones doing ‘America’s Roots Music,’ and we also want America to know that some of the very finest ‘roots music’ entertainers, known around the world, will be present at our event this year.  It all starts on Monday, August 29th, and goes for seven days, finishing up on the evening of September 4th.  There are ten stages functioning from 9am to midnight every day.  That consumes the talent of well over 650 performers, including celebrities, or as they would rather be called….”country folks that have done well in music.” 
     One of the best known participants at the 36-year old festival, is 84-year old Dr. Ralph Stanley.  According to Stanley, a star of the movie ‘O Brother Where Art Thou,’ and recording artist of ‘Man of Constant Sorrow,’ “I’m just an old hillbilly, and proud of it, too. Plain as an old shoe, same as a lot of us mountain folks.  People ask me where the Stanley Brothers music came from.  How come it sounds so dark and deep and soulful, so different from all the rest.  Well, I can’t hardly explain it real good, but I can tell you where you can find out for yourself; right here on top of Smith Ridge.  Rough mountains, that’s what I call ’em.” 
     Dr. Ralph Stanley is making the trek to the cornfields of Iowa, to be inducted into America’s Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame, along with his deceased brother Carter Stanley.  According to Everhart, “The Stanley Brothers often referred to their music as ‘old timey country,’ and I guess that would be pretty close to right.  It’s interesting to see how the music survives.  Dr. Stanley is bringing his grandson, Nathan, to the festival with him.  Nathan just won the Rural Roots Music Commission’s “Best Classic Country CD of the Year” award, and that puts him on the same road as his two famous predecessors.  Both of these present day Stanley’s sing and play Christian Gospel music too.  It’s also one of our pursuits,”  Everhart added, “We have ‘Gospel in the Gloaming’ at our Church stage all seven days, not just on Sunday.” 
     Everhart is also quick to point out, “There are over 650 performers at this festival.  It’s amazing!  It takes me three weeks just to ‘schedule’ that many entertainers on ten stages from 9am to midnight every day for seven days.  Unbelievable!  What’s even more amazing is the fact that this is an ‘acoustic’ music event.  No electric guitars altering the sound of a good picker and his instrument.  No electronic synthesizers or drums or technological sound-altering devices to ‘change’ the real sound of a real un-plugged musical instrument. We call our music old-timey country to specifically identify it.  For us, it’s all about the music, that’s why so many performers show up.  For instance the most prominent bluegrasser we have this year is Little Roy Lewis from Georgia.  His family have been Southern Gospel performers all of their lives, and Little Roy is one of the best bluegrass banjo players alive today.”
     Also showing up at the festival this year, are three Grand Ole Opry stars.  Jim Ed Brown, Helen Cornelius, and Jeannie Seely.  According to Jim Ed Brown, “We are coming to be inducted into America’s Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame.  We might be in a situation where we can’t sing because of a contract at another location at the same time, but we’ll be there with bells on to recognize the importance of old-timey country music, and the work Bob & Sheila Everhart are doing to ‘save’ this very American musical art form.”  Also on tap is one of America’s most gifted recording artists, Bonnie Guitar who makes her home in Washington.  According to Ms. Guitar, “I’m 84 years old, and it’s been many years since I’ve performed my hit song “Dark Moon” for a large group of people, but I’m sure going to give it a try in LeMars, Iowa.”
     According to Everhart, “We don’t have celebrities at our event specifically to perform, they are there to be inducted into America’s Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame.  Jim Ed has an incredible background in country music, from very early when he and his sister Maxine wrote ‘Looking Back To See”  all the way to their delightful recordings of “The Old Lamplighter” and “Scarlet Ribbons.”  They went on to become members of the Louisiana Hayride, then the Ozark Jubilee, and for Jim Ed, finally the Grand Ole Opry.  I understand completely, I believe I’m the only Iowan who was ever a regular on the Louisiana Hayride, and no matter how you look at it, it’s still all about the music.”
     “And the music” Everhart says, “found itself far far away from those rough mountains Ralph Stanley referred to.  This year we have a dozen performers coming from Australia to do an incredible old-timey out-back country music show.  The niece of Slim Dusty, and daughter of Reg Lindsay (himself a Grand Ole Opry star) will head that particular show up.  Expect to see Ireland, England, Holland, Germany, Czech Republic, Canada, Newfoundland, and Tasmania represented on our ten stages, as well as Australia.”
     Bob Everhart’s wife Sheila, is also very outspoken about the music.  “What we do at this 36-year old festival is really a celebration of America’s musical heritage and rural lifestyle.  We have a lot of various kinds of music promoters in America trying to ‘change’ the sound of country music, and they have a lot of money and a lot of ‘nothing to do’ but they can’t really alter rural music.  Rural music comes from the country, from the ‘heart of America’ if you will, and rural-country in Iowa is still pretty much like it’s always been.  We’re very much like Dr. Ralph Stanley.  We’re hillbilly and proud of it.  When times get hard, which is where we are as a nation right now, it’s the rural folks who know how to deal with down-to-earth problems.  When gasoline and food and the price of gold or an acre of land in Iowa skyrockets, we’ll still be here, surviving.  We’ll still be hillbillies, and we’ll still be proud to help our neighbors, just like we always have.  For us, it’s really all about the music.  And, as devout Christians, even though there are those who would deny our Lord Jesus, we are still with Him, and He is a major part of what we do in saving America’s old-timey country music.  We don’t allow liquor or illicit drugs on the grounds, but on the other hand, anyone under the age of 18 can get in for free.”
     The music is a generational thing the Everhart’s point out.  “Can you believe it, Daniel Boone’s great-great-great grandson will be with us this year.  Matt Boone is not wealthy, but he is one of those young guys who likes his music old-timey country, and he does it well.  On the other hand, we have a multi-millionaire with us, not to sing and play, but to help us raise money for our Pioneer Music Museum here in Iowa, which is what the ‘money’ part of the festival is all about.  Bob Duff, and his lovely wife Charyl, who make their home in Newport Beach, California, are making a special trip to Iowa to auction CD’s at the festival for roof-repair money for the museum.  This will happen at 3pm on Thursday on the main stage.”
     Some of the most inspirational saviour’s of old-time music might be families.  According to Everhart, “we have over a dozen ‘family’ groups coming this year, and believe me when I tell you about them.  It’s ‘definitely’ all about the music.  These families, most of them home-schooled, spend a great deal of their leisure time learning how to play a musical instrument.  In every case, it’s acoustic whether it’s a violin playing ‘Ashokan Farewell’ in the hands of one of the Johnson Family (Iowa), or whether it’s a fiddle playing ‘The Battle of New Orleans’ in the hands of the Punches Family (Missouri).  Or, it could be outstanding traditional country music in the hands of the Reed Family (Nebraska), or  traditional bluegrass music in the hands of the Froemming Family (Minnesota).  Or it could be old-time gospel music in the hands of the Kooi Family (Iowa) or honky-tonk music in the hands of the Kenaston Family (Nebraska).  It could be swing music in the hands of the Jacob Austin Family (Texas), or the down-home back porch pickin’ of the Jones Boy’s Family (Iowa).  One thing is for sure, it’s some of the most entertaining and delightful musical performances anyone is likely to see, or hear….anywhere.”
     The bottom line, according to the Everharts, is a satisfying, relaxing, completely enjoyable experience with old-time music.  There is RV camping with electric hook-ups on the grounds; a Tipi Village set up in an old ghost town; arts and crafts in two of the buildings; showcases for aspiring performers; workshops for learning performers; six evening dances in the dance hall; old-town busking; and even contests with $4,000 worth of prizes.  Some of the best ‘rural’ food is also available.  Everything from char-broiled Iowa corn fed steaks at Toby’s Tailgater, to the best in hamburgers and cheeseburgers at the Culver’s Restaurant stand.  The Longhorn has great chicken and fish, and the 1919 Root Beer stand has tap-rootbeer and Blue Bunny ice cream floats.  The Everharts advise bringing lawn chairs for your own comfort. The bottom line is ‘how much does it cost to get in?”  Bob Everhart is quick to respond.  “For all ten stages, all of everything we have going on, even the celebrities, is only $15 per person on a daily basis, for the whole day and evening.  We even have a 7-day open-gate pass for $60.  That’s less than $10 a day.  If there is anyone out there doing what we do for less, please let me know, cause I would like to see it myself.”  More information is available at the Everhart’s website at http://www.ntcma.net

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