The annual Louie Bluie Festival took place on September 24th in Cove Lake State Park. As has come to be tradition, the days events were kicked off with the Cumberland Trail Fiddler’s Showcase on the Louie Bluie Stage. The Fiddler’s Showcase recalls the historic LaFollette Old Fiddler’s Convention, which lasted more than a quarter of a century, spanning the years 1913-1940. At its peak, the convention boasted dozens of fiddlers and string bands from Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, Virginia, and Tennessee. Over the past several years, the Cumberland Trail State Scenic Trail’s Music and History Project has worked to document the variety of fiddle music in the region and showcase several master fiddlers and styles on state at the Louie Bluie Festival.
Though pictured above singing ballads like the “Knoxville Girl” and picking the guitar, Curtis Byrge also showcased his fine fiddling in the Old Time Fiddlers Comeptition. As usual, each performer was awarded gifts donated from local businesses, like Katie’s Diner. The musicians greatly appreciate receiving these tokens of appreciation, so we’d like to thank all our local sponsors.
Tammie McCarroll also participated in the competition. Tammie has played rhythm guitar accompaniment for her father Tom’s fiddling in this annual competition over the past several years. Tom McCarroll passed away on September 4th of this year, a loss for us all.
Tom’s eighty-seven years of life were a gift to the Cumberland Plateau—not to mention the great state of Tennessee and the old-time music community worldwide. As the eldest son of legendary fiddling Jimmy McCarroll, Tom preserved the family repertoire with great spirit and character. A blood-born entertainer, he relished in doing so. Each year he was a fierce presence on the Louie Bluie stage, eliciting reverence for his musical mastery—as well as many a laugh as he tickled the audience with jokes and tales.
Tom McCarroll at the 2014 Louie Bluie Festival
You may learn more about the great life of Tom McCarroll, a Cumberland man through and through, in the obituary here. But perhaps even more can be gleaned from hearing the man’s voice and music. I know for a fact that is what he considered his most lasting legacy. Here at Sandrock, we are just glad to have had the opportunity to work with Tom in his final years of life and preserve the moments he and Tammie share with us on Born Ramblers. I personally am glad to have had the rare chance to have known such a man at all.
Needless to say, we felt the loss of Tom very acutely this year at the 2015 Louie Bluie Festival, but we all carried on as we knew he would want us to. I can almost hear him say, “There ain’t no other way, isn’t there.”
When Tammie was asked to perform McCarroll family tunes on this year’s Louie Bluie stage, she was initially reluctant, having never performed these same tunes the proposed fiddler, young Austin Stovall. As the family saying goes, “McCarrolls play good with anybody. McCarrolls play real good with anybody. But McCarrolls play best with other McCarrolls.”
But Tammie considered the request in the light of her father’s legacy, ultimately discovering that she almost felt obligated to play. She told me, “It’s going to kill me, but I have to do it. I have to do this for my Daddy.”
Tammie is one of the most determined individuals I know, and this drive is most often directed toward preserving McCarroll family music and heritage. In spite of the emotional weight of the task, Tammie stepped up to the stage to play alongside Austin Stovall this year. And, suffice to say, she killed it. They both did: young Austin Stovall made his contribution to the McCarroll family tradition at this year’s Louie Bluie.
This performance marked yet another milestone in cementing the McCarroll family’s music tradition in public memory. I do agree that McCarrolls play best with other McCarrolls, but I’d like to add that equally important is that McCarrolls play. Pure and simple, it’s what they do, and, as Tammie has told me many a time, she was born to do it. We are lucky to have Tammie still playing these tunes for us.
In fact, once she started, she wouldn’t stop playing, continuing to spend the day in jam sessions—when she wasn’t with her grandson, Silas (who has gotten much bigger since last year!)
Jam sessions continued throughout the park. Over by the the other stage, the Pinnacle Mountain Boys were tuning up in preparation of their annual reunion at Louie Bluie.
Throughout the years, members of the Pinnacle Mountain Boys have come and gone. The original group was an incredibly successful Claiborne County bluegrass ensemble. Each year, the group achieves similar success with the fans on the “Sounds Like Home” stage. And singer Don Gulley still leads the group, as he has since their origin in the 50s. Don is often joined by his son, Steve Gulley, a talented bluegrass musician himself.
Don is joined here by Bryan Turner, a family member of Don’s former bandmate and dear friend, Buster Turner. Though members have changed over the years, you might say it’s all stayed in the family, so to speak, making it most fitting that this annual event is regarded as a reunion taking place on a stage that “sounds like home.”
Steve Gulley and New Pinnacle played next. This popular new group acknowledges the Pinnacle Mountain Boys’ legacy in their own band name, underscoring the role of family tradition in this musical bloodline.
The festival was well-attended by thousands of pleased audience members, young and old. Local children were particularly taken with EmiSunshine’s performance. Formally named Emily Hamilton Sunshine, this 11-year-old musical talent from Madisonville has been gathering waves of attention nationwide for her lively country music performances. At Louie Bluie, she certainly did not disappoint, showing sass as she bossed her band members, and bringing down the house with the strength of her young voice.
For more photographs from this year’s Louie Bluie Festival, please visit this Flickr gallery page.