COUNTRY….on the move June 19. 2017

COUNTRY….on the move!

     What’s it like to create and direct an old time music
festival for 42 years?  Good question, and one I can answer.  Some of it
is good, some of it is bad, but most of it is incredibly thrilling. 
The music business itself is difficult no matter what genre you are in. 
Primarily because ‘money interests’ usually take precedence, and
because of that it eliminates some incredibly talented artists 
They simply do not have the money to participate, much less get
involved.  The doors are firmly shut on those kinds of talents all
across America.  Can you imagine how high the numbers must be in each
state?  My passion has always been the music of ‘poor’ America.  The
music that came out of the Appalachian Mountains by poor rural people
who created their own entertainment.  Can you imagine those early
artists that could play a musical instrument, and write about their hard
times.  They could also write about happy times, but they were always,
without a doubt, writing from their own experiences, good and bad.  That
in itself was enough to draw me to their plight, especially when ASCAP
slammed the door in their faces, proclaiming “that music is not fit for
humans to listen to.”  So where did the human ‘music spirit’ of the poor
go when that happened?  It stayed within the confines of their own
perimeters.  In some areas of rural America, even today, you can find
that original ‘spirit’ that moves an artist to write down his or her
thoughts on a piece of paper, and create a musical melody line to go
with it.  The exception being today, especially with the music we hear
on radio and television, it is all done behind closed doors and the
creators write what they are told to write about.  Period, end of story.
     Well not quite.  There are still a few independent
individuals that have the fortitude to try to keep that ‘spirit’ alive. 
I may not have done as much as I could have, but I started a music
festival devoted to the very music that had the doors slammed in its
face so many years ago.  Today it’s called the ‘National Old Time Music
Festival,’ and it’s in its 42nd year.  Wow, that’s a long time for one
individual to maintain the integrity of a musical art form, and
an event, no matter what genre it is.  You’d think that would somehow be
interesting ‘news’ to music makers and media outlets, but alas it has
not, at least not today.  That same closed ‘door’ is still very much
intact, with accusations that “Everhart wants to live in the past.” 
Well, not quite.  The bottom line is, I want the past to live with me. 
That’s why the National Old Time Music Festival has survived for 42
years.  Certainly with some goods, and certainly with some bads, and
we’ll get to that, but the question remains, WHY is it so difficult for
incredibly talented artists in this genre of America’s very real rural
music?  Classical music has all kinds of financial support (it has since
the founding of America), but finding that same assistance for any
other genre, especially ‘rural’ music is pretty much non-existent. 
Makes it even more peculiar that a festival that does not approve of
alcohol or illicit drugs even still exists  And, it has been in
existence for 42 years at the time of this writing.  Even more
interesting is the fact that electrical musical instruments, amplifiers,
electronic music imitating machines, and such, is denied entrance. 
Whoa, this really upsets the ‘progressives’ that insist we are living in
the past and refusing to allow ‘progress’ to have its way.  Nope, not
so, we just want the past to live with us, please keep that in mind. 
Progress tends to ‘erase’ the past, but tearing down statues, removing
paintings, burning books, altering history, and denying the past is
merely a very thin ‘cover’ of refusing to accept the past as it was, and
also refusing to allow the ‘truth’ of the past to exist.  Wow, there’s a
dynamite opportunity to write a song or two.
     Getting back to an event devoted to one of those
erasures, namely the ‘rural’ music of America’s past in all its many
colors, is the focus of this story.  It was fairly easy to do the first
festival, it was during the 1976 Bi-Centennial in Council Bluffs, Iowa. 
I was pretty much on my own, although being a recording artist for the
Smithsonian Institution helped a lot.  The first one was a huge success,
but then when it was over, no one, I mean absolutely no one, on those
many planning committees, those fairboard members, even the music makers
did not want to take on the responsibility of doing it again.  I did.  I
certainly couldn’t do it by myself, obviously, so I had a lot of
volunteer help.  It was, and still is, the major basis for the success
of the event itself.  Without volunteers, it would not and could not
exist.  With only low-cost ticket sales to pay for the cost of making it
happen, the event required a lot of helpers, including music makers who
have also volunteered their time and talent to the cause of saving some
of America’s great ‘rural’ music, especially the rural music of the
upper Midwest.  Both myself and my wife Sheila are unpaid volunteers. 
Sheila has helped do this festival for at least half of its 42 years. 
In the early years though, I managed to get a 501(C)3 non-profit status
from the IRS, and this helped a great deal by being able to give anyone
who volunteered, a tax write-off.  That worked, it kept us going.  And
we’re still going.  We’ve moved a few times, from Council Bluffs (they
demanded we sell beer, we would not) to Avoca (we were there for 21
years and discovered an amazing amount of money disappearing and a
take-over attempt underway) to Missouri Valley (the city and fair shared
property, instant problems), and finally to LeMars at the Plymouth
County Fairgrounds at the request of Mike Mullalley.  None of the moves
were easy, but we wouldn’t change anything, it was either move or quit. 
Both Sheila and myself are not ready to quit yet.  There’s still a huge
number of artists, not just in Iowa or the upper Midwest, but from all
around the world, that not only appreciates America’s very real ‘rural’
music, they perform it.  I just made a survey of the performing artists
that are going to be on the festival this year (2017) for the 42nd
festival.  It’s amazing, here’s the numbers.  Ia-86. Ne-38, Mn-24,
Mo-17, Tn-13, Ca-9, Tx-8, SD-7, Wi-6, NC-6, Ks-5, Ar-4, Va-3, Co-2,
Or-2, Pa-2, Mi-2, Fl-2, Ok-1, Ga-1, Al-1, Md-1, Oh-1, ND-1, WV-1, Ma-1,
and Vt-1 (and still counting).  It’s also interesting to note those
performers coming from foreign countries.  Canada-4, New Zealand-2,
England-2, Ireland-1, Newfoundland-1.  That’s amazing isn’t it?  We
aren’t able to ‘bring’ this many performers to LeMars, they have to find
their own way. Can you imagine how much it must cost someone from New
Zealand just to fly to America, let alone find their way to Iowa? 
Amazing huh?  And we can’t pay them all either, that’s totally
impossible, but we do the best we can.
     All of that is still happening at this amazing
festival now referred to by national media as “Vintage Americana.”  I
suppose that means what the music we promote sounds like in young minds
and hands today, and I have to admit there are some incredibly talented
young people not chasing the foolish ‘be a super-star’ ideology, they
just want to play good music.  God Bless them!
     I need to go back where I started this missive…’some
of it’s good, some of it’s bad.’  The ‘good’ part of this festival is
enormous.  Every single one of them has been an unbelievable production
of incredible talent and a brotherly love kind of feeling I’ve never
ever seen at another event of any kind.  The ‘good neighbor’ feeling is
abundant, at every single one of these events we’ve produced. That in
itself is remarkable, especially in an America today that seems so full
of hate and outrageous behavior everywhere, especially in high places. 
One of the ‘good’ things about our festival is the huge number of young
artists that have been with us and grown with us, from the beginning,
that have gone on to national and international success and
recognition.  Another neat thing about what we do is the recognition
we’ve received from the media.  When the BBC came to America to do a
complete show about us, it thrilled us no end, but it has also been
local, regional, and national media attention that has kept us alive. 
Without that I’m sure we would flounder. In 1985, the National
Geographic Magazine selected the festival as “the one most
representative of traditional values, entertainment and educational
interest.”  In 1986 we even got mentioned by Johnny Carson (who spent
his boyhood days in Avoca) on his national “Tonight Show” on NBC.  Iowa
Public Television was very active with us for many years.  The amazing
number of actual celebrities that have attended this event is also
staggering, there have been so many.  I believe my most precious memory
in that respect was when Patti Page made the trek from California to be
with us.  She was amazing.  She came out of retirement to do this, and
then passed away two months after she was with us.  Her presence with us
absolutely thrilled me, it still burns brightly in my heart as one
of my most passionate memories.  Another very important ‘plus’ is the
many many volunteers that help make this event possible.  We couldn’t do
it without their help.  They are indeed, the ‘salt’ of the earth. 
     Now a little bit about the bad.  The first ‘bad’ was
the fairboard at Council Bluffs telling us they were going to sell
liquor whether we liked it or not.  We moved to Avoca and were there 21
years, when we discovered a ‘take-over’ attempt was underway, we had to
move, we had no choice.  Money was missing from the gate, and they did
indeed attempt to take the festival over after we moved to Missouri
Valley.  The ‘flood’ in Avoca, in 1989, was another really ‘bad’ thing
to happen.  The water was so high it was floating some of the campers in
the campground there. Once we were safely ensconced in LeMars, we began
to experience the same phenomenon that has been happening all across
America.  An ugly presidential election, and a huge increase in ‘bad’
behavior.  One year at LeMars when the temperature was 93 and 95 for
several days, a man completely exhausted fell unconscious in front of
one of the buildings.  We pleaded with the caretakers to turn on the air
conditioning in that building to help restore some of our elderly
visitors.  They absolutely refused to do that. We managed to get the
gentleman to the hospital in time, and all turned out OK, but we
considered that a bad happening.  Another time the caretakers insisted
on leaving the gate to the RV camping area wide open to allow some
building contractor workers free access to the grounds.  We couldn’t do
that of course.  Sheila and I have experienced some difficult events
personally.  We’ve had the tire on our car pierced with an ice pick. 
We’ve had the window of our camper shot out with a gun by an unhappy
visitor who felt $2 to pay for parking his car was too much.  We’ve had
someone pull the plug on an ice cream lady who was visiting her sick
mother, only to discover all of her ice cream melted.  We’ve had another
guy call the police in LeMars to report that the Culver’s
Restaurant Food Wagon was selling pop in cans from Nebraska instead of
Iowa.  We were flabbergasted.  Culver’s Restaurant never came back again
because of that.  We’ve had a disgruntled performer whose thug friend
threaten to beat me up and remove my face if I didn’t give
this performer more money and more time on the LeMars Festival.  Same
performer also cost Sheila and I one of our favorite gigs by having the
promoter threaten Sheila and I with “if you don’t give my guy more time
and money on your festival I’m kicking you off mine.”  Wow, that’s
pretty nasty isn’t it? Sheila and I think it’s a reflection of the
times.  America is very unhappy these days.  Most of the ’cause’ is
political, but it seems to be a never ending attack.  Sheila, Bobbie
Lhea (our daughter), and I are Christians.  We turn to Jesus always, but
more so in these times of stress.  We see a lot of ‘religions’ in
America turning against each other. Freedom of choice is also under
attack.  If you have read all the way down to this final appeal, please
give some consideration for praying for America.  Please pray to Jesus
Christ for a resolvement of the many problems that face all of us. 
Freedom in America is precious and priceless.  Please do not let the
hate-mongers, so busy in America today, alter your thoughts of
goodness.  Keep your faith tightly around you.  Keep your friendship and
helpfulness intact.  Come and share old time music with us, we’re still
the same today as we were forty-two years ago, even though we have been
under attack.  August 28-September 3, 2017, at the Plymouth County
Fairgrounds in LeMars, Iowa.  We have a great deal of love and respect
for history, and we don’t want to see it erased. 
Bob Everhart, President, National Traditional Music Association. for Country Music News International

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