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In Arkansas, Fiddlers Try To Preserve Local Tunes

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In Arkansas, Fiddlers Try To Preserve Local Tunes

In Arkansas, Fiddlers Try To Preserve Local Tunes

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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All week, NPR's David Greene has not been in Denver. He's spending the weeks of the two conventions on a road trip, talking to people about whom they admire in their communities. Today, David takes us to Mountain View, Arkansas, where musicians are leading an effort to preserve the town's heritage.


DAVID GREENE: In this part of the Ozarks, everyone looks back to a touchstone moment.

BLOCK: We decided to have our first folk fest, annual folk fest, in 1963.


GREENE: That's Glenn Morrison, whose dad is actually the one playing there. Glenn remembers Mountain View had just one motel in the '60s, when that festival happened.

BLOCK: Thousands of people, nowhere to eat, nowhere to sleep.

That's what it amounted to.


GREENE: And nowhere to go.

BLOCK: And nowhere to go. And nowhere to go, but they seemed to be happy because they were there, you know, anyway we had them.

GREENE: That festival is now an annual tradition, and Mountain View has grown into a destination for music.

When we arrived this week, everyone said it was worth a trip to see Glenn. It was quite a trip. He lives 12 miles down a dirt road that keeps your steering wheel rattling. Glenn's 74. He's in his living room with Martin Darell, a friend and fellow fiddler. I asked them for a song.

BLOCK: Could you play my fiddle?

BLOCK: Probably not. I can't play anybody else's fiddle.

BLOCK: Oh, I think I can beat it.


GREENE: So Glenn jumps in. His border terrier, Gillie(ph), is on backup.


GREENE: He's playing an old song called "The Eighth of January." Just a few hours with these guys and you can feel how music is the life force around here. It's what keeps the hotels and inns busy, but it's a tradition that needs to be nurtured. And Glenn says his buddy, Martin, plays a role in that.

BLOCK: He's trying to bring out, and he is bringing out, the preservation of this traditional, old fiddle tunes. And this is really a worthy cause.

What do you want to start with? What key are you in there?

GREENE: Every Tuesday evening, Martin can be found on the town square. He's a presence with his flowing gray beard that all but hides his mouth.

BLOCK: I think that'll do for now. The humidity changes, we're going to all have to retune.

GREENE: This is Martin's weekly jam session. He says it's his small way of making sure songs live on. Some of Martin's songs predate the Revolutionary War.

BLOCK: A lot of it is strictly the oral tradition that's just passed along. And he learned it from another fiddler who learned it from another fiddler.

GREENE: A small audience has gathered, eating ice cream and listening. Judy Kent(ph) tells me her husband's one of the banjo players. She said she appreciates what Martin does.

BLOCK: He's just known for knowing a lot of the old tunes.


BLOCK: If you watch him for a while, if it's his turn to pick out of tune, you'll hear him probably about the first 16 bars of it, and then everybody pitches in.


BLOCK: This is a typical evening in Mountain View, Arkansas.

GREENE: Martin Darell and the people of Mountain View, working to preserve the music that connects them.

I'm David Greene, NPR News.

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