MINNESOTA-SOUTH DAKOTA-NEBRASKA-IOWA "Four Corners" New Home for America's
Largest Traditional Music Event
LeMars, Iowa—Balancing 'tradition' and 'innovation' can be a tricky proposition.
Bringing as much as a half-million dollars (and mostly more) into the local economy
of a specific geographical area isn't always easy. Old-time country music 'elder-statesman'
Bob Everhart, has been President of the National Traditional Country Music Assn. for
33 years, and is celebrating the move of his Association's only fund-raiser
of the year to the Plymouth County Fairgrounds in LeMars, Iowa,the full week before
Labor Day (Aug. 25-31, 2008).
When asked how he plans to balance tradition and innovation in this kind of move,
his answers can sometimes be both—traditional and innovative.
this event 33 years ago as a fund-raiser for our non-profit association in
an attempt to save some of America's incredibly beautiful rural music. In the beginning
it was difficult for us, nobody had much interest in old fiddle songs, or ballads
about life in the 20th century or earlier. But, as we plugged along, we started
receiving some very nice recognition for our work. I say 'our' becuase it has
taken an incredibly large number of volunteers to make it all succeed. Neither my
wife Sheila or I receive pay for our involvement, it is all a labor of love,
but when the United States Conference of Mayors deemed our festival as number 22 in the
nation, we felt we were doing something right. When the National Geographic Magazine
judged it number one in Iowa, we thought that was pretty incredible. When American
Profile Magazine (a nationally distributed newspaper insert) did a wonderful article on
what we do and why we do it, we thought yes, this was our life. However when the
Iowa Legislature produced a special Resolution-35 honoring our work, we felt a strong
need to continue on the road of life we had selected."
Moving it from one location to another has required not only innovation,
but perserverance. This event has previously been held in Council Bluffs, Avoca,
and Missouri Valley. Everhart continues, "We want to stay in Iowa, even though we've
been courted to move to other states. We want to stay in Iowa because we think
of Iowa as being the most 'rural' of all the United States. The people of Iowa have
consistently been friendly, helpful, caring, and welcoming in all aspects of life here.
Iowa is also where our Pioneer Music Museum is located, in the small friendly rural
town of Anita. This is also the same location as America's Old Time Fiddlers Hall of Fame
and America's Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame. We've been attracting
tourists from around the world to see these projects for many years now."
When we asked Everhart to be more definitive about exactly what is country music,
he was thorough. "Our definition of 'country' is a pretty large umbrella, and includes any
kind of musical art form that might be considered 'rural' in nature and origin. We do
this annual festival to raise money to not only keep our current projects going, but to also
raise money for a children's music camp in an attempt to keep this 'rural' music
culture alive. With music classes rapidly disappearing from the public schools, we need to
re-establish this music connection with the young, now more than ever. We need to
take kids away from television, from video games, from violent movies, from all
the bad influences they are so easily and constantly subjected to. We need to
give them a decent alternative. But, we can't do this alone. We need to raise a
lot of money, just to find an isolated wooded area to build a music camp, and then
begin the 'teaching' end of it."
We asked Sheila Everhart (Bob's wife and an officer of the corporation), how they can
make the innovations necessary to continue their work? "We have a very stong hold
on what we consider 'rural' music. Why would Iowan's want to pour hundreds of dollars
into their gas tanks to see country music shows in Branson and Nashville, when the
same shows, and somewhat better we believe, are in their own back yard? We ask the
same question of Minnesotans, South Dakotans and Nebraskans. We can do shows cheaper,
do them better, and provide more of them. Can you imagine ten sound stages functioning
simultaneously from 9am to midnight every day for seven days? It takes over 600 performers
to make this work, and as we make our big move to LeMars, we know we are
moving into a brand new marketing area as well. the 'four-corners' of
Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa, is a new experience for all of us.
For those out-of-state music lovers, we can't make it any easdier. We chose the
Plymouth County Fairgrounds for several reasons. It's flat as a pancake which makes
it easy for the elderly to get around, as well as the handicapped, and we have some
beautiful level RV cmaping areas with electrical hook-ups tha makes the 'investment' in
gas tank dollars much smaller. We have an air conditioned main-stage building, and
some beautiful out-door stages as well. Why drive all the way to Branson or Nashville
for a country music show, when you can drive a much shorter distance and get ten shows
for the price of one?"
According to Bob Everhart, there is more than music going on during this celebration.
"We have an entire old-time tipi village at this event. All of it authentic, from
costumes to tents. We will stage the "International Busking Championship" in the
tipi village. We have other contests too, about 25 of them with over $4,000 in
prizes and awards. Workshops are also available for beginning artists, and six
great old-time dances, from polka to cowboy, all included in the daily ticket. We even
have arts and crafts in a rural style. We've also, through careful budgeting, kept
our ticket prices down. The daily 10-stage/all day ticket is $15 for regular
admission, and $11 for seniors over 70. You can even get a 7-day pass for $55,
which is the normal ticket price for just one show in Branson or Nashville."
There are two other 'major' ceremonial activities taking place during the 7-day run
of the festival. "America's Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame" says Everhart, "has
become a focal point of celebrities in country and bluegrass music. It's taken awhile
of course, but when celebrities realize that we actually do have a museum and a hall of
fame, they are anxious to participate. We also have incredible foreign participants,
over 25 coming from as far away as England and New Zealand."
The food is rural in nature at this event too. Expect to find everything from hamburgers
to char-broiled Iowa corn-fed beef. And don't forget the Blue Bunny ice cream. More
information is available at http://www.oldtimemusic.tipzu.com.