Old time and bluegrass artists celebrate the Smokies

On Top Of Old Smoky - New Old Time Smoky Mountain MusicThe Great Smoky Mountains Association, a non-profit group who promote the preservation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, are in the process of preparing a new recording in honor of the park system’s centennial this year. On Top Of Old Smoky, due in August 2016, will feature new performances from a gaggle of top bluegrass, old time, and folk artists with their versions of mountain songs originally collected in field recordings many years before.

The large protected area of the Smoky Mountains that is contained in Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses parts of western North Carolina and east Tennessee, with over 500,000 acres of land held in its wilderness state for the enjoyment of current and future generations. Here you can encounter herds of deer in their natural environment, along with black bears and a wide variety of the native species endemic to this mountain region.

Before the park was created in 1934, the area set aside had been home to people from many different backgrounds. There were the people of the Cherokee nation who had lived in these mountains for centuries, plus many descendants of early European settlers, both maintaining a culture that went back several hundred years. It was a popular notion at the time that these were backwards people, aided by retelling of stories from the Hatfield and McCoys feud. While those legendary battles occurred quite some distance from Tennessee or North Carolina, the image of the barefoot hillbillies who couldn’t shoot straight had embedded itself into the public consciousness.

To combat these images, folklorist Joseph S. Hall traveled through the region to interview residents who were forced from their homes and farms as the park was being established. He had wanted to preserve their accents and manner of speech for posterity, but managed to also capture much of the folk music that lived in these hills. Starting in 1937, and continuing for the next forty years, Hall’s field recordings went unheard until The Great Smoky Mountains Association compiled them into an album, Old-Time Smoky Mountain Music, in 2010.

An now the Association has tasked a group of present-day roots artists to recreate many of the songs from Hall’s field recordings as On Top Of Old Smoky – New Old Time Smoky Mountain Music. With country star Dolly Parton anchoring the project, it seems sure to generate attention from the wider community of music lovers, but there is much to tickle the fancy of serious fans of traditional music as well.

See if you don’t find a few you know here:

  1. On Top of Old Smoky – Carol Elizabeth Jones
  2. Come, All You Young Ladies – Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin
  3. The Girl I Love Don’t Pay Me No Mind – David Holt
  4. Lost Indian – Travis and Trevor Stuart
  5. Ground Hog – Alice Gerrard
  6. Something’s Always Sure to Tickle Me – Corbin Hayslett
  7. Mole in the Ground – Sheila Kay Adams
  8. Bonaparte’s Retreat – Bruce Greene
  9. I Started Out A-Courting – Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin
  10. Don’t Forget Me, Little Darling – Ed Snodderly
  11. Man of Constant Sorrow – John Lilly
  12. Black-Eyed Susie – Stephen Wade
  13. I Wonder How the Old Folks Are at Home – Bryan Sutton
  14. The Ramshackle Shack – The Brother Boys
  15. Mule Skinner Blues – John Lilly
  16. Black Mountain Rag – Travis and Trevor Stuart
  17. Goin’ Down This Road Feelin’ Bad – Amythyst Kiah, with Roy Andrade
  18. John Hardy – Martin Simpson, with Dom Flemons
  19. The Dying Cowboy – Norman and Nancy Blake, Rising Fawn String Ensemble
  20. Chinquapin Hunting – Tony Trischka and Courtney Hartman
  21. Conversation With Death – The Brother Boys
  22. Little Rosewood Casket – Dolly Parton
  23. Will The Circle Be Unbroken – Dale Jett and Hello Stranger


The album is set for an August 21 release, to coincide with August 25 as the official commemoration of the Centennial of the National Parks system.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.