Georgia State fiddling champion Chris Ryan at the 2018 Georgia String Band Festival – photo by Bobby Moore
On April 27-28, the city of Calhoun, GA celebrated its place in roots music history with the 12th annual Georgia String Band Festival. The small-town gathering preserved local traditions for a new generation of old-time musicians. It also allowed modern practitioners to entertain ancestors of some of the region’s greatest talents.
Festivities began with a Friday night concert featuring New York-based trio, the Down Hill Strugglers. Their appearance continued a modern tradition of big-name touring acts kicking off the weekend. When the event made its return in 2007, the award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops played the same stage in the historic downtown area’s Harris Arts Center.
The three out-of-town guests stuck around on Saturday afternoon to judge the Gordon Country Fiddler’s Convention. In the spirit of the Georgia Yellow Hammers, the Baxter Brothers, and other talents to pass through Gordon County in the prewar years, performers vied for cash prizes in the singing, buck dancing, banjo, string band and fiddle competitions.
In a small town like Calhoun, folks in the audience come from families that’ve stayed in the area for generations. That’s why it’s no surprise that an older gentleman seated next to me on the first night mentioned that the Baxter Brothers, a successful duo of African American and Cherokee descent, performed in his family’s home. Likewise, it shouldn’t have been too shocking that fiddle contestant James Satterfield from nearby Adairsville is related to famed Georgia-born performer and Merle Kilgore mentor Clayton McMichen.
Those examples capture one of the appeals of this sort of event. Whenever there’s old-time music, you never know who’ll have an interesting backstory or influential kin folks.