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Music Parties in the Missouri Ozarks: Continuity and Change in a Traditional Community

About a dozen elder people sit in a circle of folding chairs under a white gazebo playing acoustic guitars, banjos, and fiddles.

Gazebo music get together in the principle sq. of Mansfield, Missouri, June 2000.

Photograph by Julie Henigan

The Ozarks area is residence to a specific model of home leisure, one which unites social, leisure, and creative elements, mostly referred to as a “music get together.” Additionally referred to as a home get together, selecting get together, or jam session, the music get together lies someplace in a continuum starting from a neighbor’s go to to a big, comparatively formal occasion like a paid public sq. dance or native pageant, picnic, or pie supper.

Based on some, the time period “music get together” was as soon as synonymous with “home dance.” Some Ozarkers agree that “music events” had been as soon as primarily dances, whereas others say that home dances or “playparties” and listening—and even singing—events existed facet by facet. Some have instructed me that earlier than the Second World Battle, these occasions had been invitation-only affairs, whereas others have stated that they’ve all the time been open to anybody locally who bought information of them. Each are more likely to have been true.

In any case, small gatherings that introduced kinfolk and neighbors collectively for a night of socializing and leisure, structured primarily round music and dancing, have been documented within the Ozarks for the reason that early nineteenth century.The primarily Scots-Irish immigrants and their descendants who finally carried this custom to the Ozarks till just lately nonetheless had their counterparts within the Irish céilí, cuaird, or hooley. Seán Corcoran, documenting the traditions of Derrygonnelly in West Fermanagh, Eire, described a céilí as “a night-visit to a neighbour’s home ‘to kill the time alongside’ with chat or card-playing, tales, songs and sometimes, music and dancing.”

A seated woman with short gray hair smiles at the camera as she and a child, faced away, pet a dogs. In the background, musicians sit in a circle.
Ailene Adams, Fortunate, and pal, McClurg, Missouri, summer season 2005

Photograph by Julie Henigan

Talking of the dances close to McClurg, Missouri, within the early twentieth century, Ailene Adams remarked, “Again then individuals didn’t have [much] furnishings, they usually didn’t have their homes crowded up. They’d scoot all the pieces again towards the wall, they usually’d unfold down a quilt for the little youngsters to put down on, they usually’d play music and dance.”

“They’d simply transfer the furnishings exterior,” Jimmy Gage, a fiddler from close to Lebanon, Missouri, remembered. “A few of them would dance all night time. They’d be dancing when it come time to take advantage of within the morning.”

There appears to be common settlement that though distinctive musicians—and certainly, devices themselves—had been uncommon earlier than World Battle II, “lots of people may play a little bit little bit of music,” in response to Adams. Typically solely two or three musicians performed at a time, taking turns so that everybody bought an opportunity to bounce.

Cash was generally concerned in these events, however often solely sufficient to pay musicians a really modest quantity or to recompense the host for his or her hospitality—within the Nineteen Thirties, for instance, charging maybe a dime a set.

“We had a girl down right here locally right here that used to snort and say each time she wanted a brand new kitchen rug, they’d have a sq. dance,” Adams recalled. “Earlier than they’d have the dance, she’d cross round a hat and take up a set, make ’em purchase her a brand new kitchen linoleum.”

Phrase of dances and music events was usually unfold on visits to city, since whilst late because the early Fifties, each electrical energy and telephones had been scarce. By that point, home dances appear to have begun reducing within the Ozarks. However in response to Gene Conley of Mansfield, Missouri, even then one may moderately anticipate finding one someplace on a weekend in his neighborhood.

A seated man with a cowboy hat plays fiddle with other musicians cut out of frame in a home.
Jim Beeler

Photograph by Julie Henigan

A man dances among folding chairs and seated people in a home.
Kenny Buschong, McClurg, Missouri, June 2000

Photograph by Julie Henigan

The late Artwork Galbraith, a famous fiddler from Springfield, Missouri, implied that the decline in home dances was largely as a result of disapproval with which dancing was considered by sure church buildings and spiritual sects within the space—mainly Baptist and Methodist. I’m inclined to consider that the recognition of recent and bigger venues, together with neighborhood facilities, skating rinks, and public halls, together with enhancements in transportation, performed as a lot if no more of a job on this decline, marking not a lot an precise lower in dancing as a change of context from personal homes to public services.

Though they’ve dwindled extra just lately, a variety of music events had been held recurrently for a few years within the Missouri Ozarks, mainly in Springfield and the world south and southeast of the town, in cities like Mansfield and Ozark. One of the widespread and visual of those events, nonetheless held each Monday night time in McClurg, Missouri, was begun in 1985 by Ailene and Lester Adams—who, for a few years, operated the hamlet’s common retailer and put up workplace—in a acutely aware effort to revive the custom regionally.

This get together, which has had an attendance as little as three and as massive as forty-three, has attracted guests from as far-off as Washington, California, and even England—a indisputable fact that distinguishes it from its counterparts within the earlier a part of the century, when attendees would have consisted completely of household or neighbors. However the core of standard individuals—which incorporates musicians, card gamers, listeners, and sometimes dancers and storytellers—reside within the common space, and a few have recognized one another in numerous contexts for a few years.

An implicit etiquette ensures that each one musicians current can be given an opportunity to begin a tune, sing a music, play a solo, or in any other case reveal their musical ability, though till just lately probably the most established fiddlers had been usually the lynchpins of the get together and began the vast majority of tunes. Though there may be not fairly sufficient room for squares, those that want to “jig dance”—that’s, carry out a freeform solo dance (extra generally recognized within the Appalachians as clogging, flat-footing, or buck dancing, and analogous to conventional Irish sean-nós, or old-style, dancing) are welcome to take action every time the temper strikes them.

Couples dance and sit at tables in a bar, with a few musicians lined up along one wall. Black-and-white photo.
Music night time at Gleeson’s, Coore, Co. Clare, Eire, December 31, 1997

Photograph by Peter Laban

Offering a medium not just for creative self-expression but in addition for easy leisure and socializing, these events create, as folklorist Henry Glassie has put it, “a locus for artwork and drive for social cohesion,” which unite “pleasure and social goal” with “aesthetic and moral values,” the “entertaining” and the “good.” They’re events when neighbors reaffirm “the relations that make them greater than individuals who likelihood to reside close to each other.” In my expertise, Ozark music events accomplish all of those ends, producing optimistic feeling, friendship, pleasure, and even exhilaration within the sharing of firm, musical and verbal efficiency, meals, and common “good instances” by way of the medium of what Ailene Adams merely referred to as “fellowship.”

Whereas I might agree with Glassie that one of many important objectives of such gatherings is the achievement of social concord, such native social occasions can even mirror life locally in unfavorable methods. Actually neighborhood life within the Ozarks was and nonetheless shouldn’t be uniformly harmonious. Particular person tensions and even animosities usually exist between those that reside in comparatively shut contact with each other, and within the Ozarks such tensions as soon as resulted not sometimes—and often with the assistance of grain alcohol—in violence.

To forestall such occurrences, a lot of those that host latter-day music events have prohibited using alcohol. Actually, overt violence is virtually nonexistent at modern music events within the Ozarks, the place private variations are typically left on the door or are defused by way of music, dancing, teasing, and social interplay. Individuals who attend the events now typically include the intention of getting alongside, having a superb time, and having fun with the humanities of music, dance, and dialog. The late Ava fiddler Bob Holt commented that the McClurg events had been akin to these he remembered from his youth within the Forties and ’50s, “solely higher!”

This type of change within the social guidelines that govern such occasions demonstrates that traditions will not be passively reenacted however are topic to the acutely aware innovation and transformation of those that follow them. Creating pleasure, goodwill, or perhaps a sense of neighborhood requires work, and on this respect the music partyas a metaphor for all times is acceptable: the individuals not solely abide by the implicit etiquette of give-and-take which characterizes such occasions, however they need to contribute to it in some substantial approach, whether or not by way of performing, cooking, cleansing, making dialog, or merely being a responsive viewers, so as to guarantee that it’ll certainly be not solely entertaining however good.

About 14 people sit in a circle indoors playing acoustic guitars and fiddles.
McClurg Jam, 2016

Photograph by Kaitlyn McConnell/Ozarks Alive

Since Ailene and Lester Adams died within the early 2000s, subsequent owners of the property—most just lately, Tom Peters, dean of library companies at Missouri State College and co-curator of the 2023 Smithsonian Folklife Pageant’s Ozarks program—have stored the music nights going, albeit generally in an attenuated vogue, particularly in the course of the top of the pandemic.

“I don’t know if I wish to say it’s going away, however it’s altering,” says fiddler and music get together lynchpin David Scrivner on the way forward for Ozarks music events, alluding to the rising age of most musicians and attendees. “It’s a query of what are you gaining versus what are you dropping, and who’s going to have the time to care?”

The current involvement of enthusiastic youthful gamers like fiddler Emily Garoutte and guitarist Hawken Boldman, nevertheless, has made him extra optimistic.

“They’ve breathed new life into McClurg. I hope that it’s an indication that extra on this space—however particularly younger individuals—will turn into concerned in Ozarks music and tradition.”

Julie Henigan is knowledgeable musician, specializing in conventional Irish and American music, and a scholar of folklore and British and Irish literature. She holds an MA in folklore from UNC-Chapel Hill and a PhD in English/Irish research from the College of Notre Dame.

Additional Studying/Watching

Julie Henigan, “The McClurg Music Events: A Residing Custom.” The Old-Time Herald 4.5 (Fall, 1994).

Monday Night Music Party, McClurg, MO,” produced by Ed Fillmer, 2000.

Henry Glassie, Passing the Time in Ballymenone (1982; Bloomington: Indiana College Press, 1995).

Nell Gleeson and Buddies, The Pub down in Coore, (2011).

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