Throngs of old-time music fans gathered for three days of picking, food and friendly competition July 7-9 at the 23rd annual Uncle Dave Macon Days festival, held in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Named for the Grand Ole Opry’s first major star, Uncle Dave Macon, the family-oriented festival takes place at Cannonsburgh, a restored pioneer village in Murfreesboro, and includes national championships in clogging, buckdancing and old-time banjo.
Country music star Marty Stuart received the Heritage Award Saturday (July 8), after performing an hour-long set to an excited crowd gathered in a field in front of the main stage. The award honors individuals who have dedicated their careers to the preservation and promotion of old-time music and dance. WSM-AM (650) radio announcer Eddie Stubbs introduced Stuart’s accomplishments. Past recipients of the award have included Roy Acuff, Herman Crook, Wilma Lee Cooper and Bill Monroe, among others.
“I love old-time music, I love country music and I love the American music that we have to offer the world,” Stuart said while graciously accepting the award. “And any part of that is fine with me, as long as it’s pure. And when you come from this part of the country, you don’t get away with it if it ain’t pure! And I thank God for this award.”
A ceremonial banjo was passed from last year’s Heritage Award recipient, LeRoy Troy, “The Tennessee Slicker,” to Stuart, who picked a little and then instructed Troy and Stuart’s band member, Charlie Cushman, to play the banjo as a team. Stuart did a little clog dancing much to the delight of the appreciative audience. Stuart’s crack band consisted of Roland White (guitar), Cushman (banjo), Matt Combs (fiddle) and Kent Blanton (bass). The colorful Tennessee Mafia Jug Band served up comic relief during the show.
Music and dance competitions began Friday evening and continued into the wee hours Sunday morning. Old-time fiddle, singing, mandolin, bluegrass banjo and bluegrass band were some of the categories represented. The winner in the beginner instrumental category, youngster Jacob Bracken, was invited onstage during Stuart’s show to play his mandolin; it was the first time Bracken has competed. Phillip Steinmetz Jr., a nephew of Grandpa Jones, won the national old-time banjo competition.
For the first time in the festival’s history, WSM-AM (650) streamed live audio over the Internet. Radio personalities Stubbs, Bill Cody, Hairl Hensley and Matthew Gillian did live reports of festival activities as well as interviews of special guests.
Other events included a motorless parade Saturday, for which Stuart served as Grand Marshall. Macon, who died in 1952, drove a mule-drawn freight wagon for part of his career and was said to have hated motorized vehicles. Horse and mule-drawn carriages and wagons circled the historic town square and courthouse in Murfreesboro, traveling up Broad Street to Cannonsburgh village.
Amateur musicians from around the country gathered to pick in the shade and on the porches of the buildings in Cannonsburgh. An arts-and-crafts fair and food vendors added further ambience to the festival. A bluegrass gospel showcase closed the festivities Sunday afternoon.