In Arkansas, Fiddlers Try To Preserve Local Tunes

slideshow of Mountain View, Ark.

hide captionWatch a slideshow of the musicians in Mountain View, Ark.

Jam session i i

hide captionFiddlers in Mountain View, Ark. hold a weekly jam session.

David Gilkey/NPR
Jam session

Fiddlers in Mountain View, Ark. hold a weekly jam session.

David Gilkey/NPR

In the small Ozarks town of Mountain View, Ark., everyone looks back to the touchstone moment when residents decided to hold an annual folk festival in 1963.

Mountain View resident Glenn Morrison remembers that the town had just one motel when the festival first started.

"Thousands of people, nowhere to eat, nowhere to sleep," Morrison says. "That's what it amounted to — and nowhere to go. But they seemed to be happy because they were there."

The folk festival is now an annual tradition, and Mountain View has grown into a destination for music. But the mountain community is also a place where local musicians are leading the effort to preserve the type of music that connects them.

Morrison — a fiddler himself — is one of the residents leading this charge. Spend a few hours with fiddlers like Morrison, 74, and it's easy to see how music is the life force in the town.

It's what keeps the hotels and inns busy, and residents say it's a tradition that needs to be nurtured.

Every Tuesday, a group of fiddlers try to do this by leading a jam session on the town square, where fiddlers can be as young as 8 years old.

Martin Darell, one of the Tuesday fiddlers, has a flowing gray beard that all but hides his mouth. He says that these jam sessions are a small way of making sure that these songs live on: Some even predate the Revolutionary War.

"A lot of [the songs] are strictly the oral tradition that's just passed along," Darrell says. "Some of this music is written — you can find it in a number of books. But a lot of it isn't written at all."

After a few minutes, a small audience gathers, eating ice cream and listening. If you walk around the court square, there are four or five groups of musicians offering impromptu jam sessions — like any typical night in Mountain View.

Produced by Thomas Pierce

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