With the rise of Rock and Roll and Nashville’s turn towards hyper-stylized Countrypolitan, country music parks and campgrounds of the 1950s and 1960s acted as catch-all venues for performers and fans in the still very active hillbilly and honky-tonk music scenes. Located just across the Pennsylvania border in Rising Sun, Maryland, New River Ranch welcomed everyone: old-time legends, honky-tonk heroes, and homegrown fiddle bands.
With an open-air stage and wooden planks for seats, picnic suppers and rudimentary PA, what New River Ranch lacked in amenities, it made up tenfold with the music. On the urging of Mike Seeger, Ralph Rinzler first visited New River Ranch in 1954 to see Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys; an experience that profoundly affected the future of not only Rinzler and Monroe, but also the future of folk and country music in ways that continue to resonate today.
The Eugene Earle Collection holds a treasure trove of live recordings from New River Ranch and countless other parks and venues across the U. S. A. Digitized for the project Fiddles, Banjos, and Mountain Music: Preserving Audio Collections of Southern Traditional Music, these clips come from a reel-to-reel tape likely recorded by Gerald Mills on May 8, 1955, featuring a rare 1950s reunion by The Monroe Brothers, Charlie and Bill, whose bands both performed regularly at the park, just two years before Charlie’s retirement from music in 1957. The raw beauty of the setting and the enthusiasm of the audience and the performers shine through on these recordings. “Nine Pound Hammer” is the brothers’ classic rendition of the Merle Travis tune, including the ferocious first licks of Bill’s chiming mandolin solo. “This World is Not My Home” is their rendition of the gospel tune popularized by the Carter Family. The vocal harmonies are stunning. Please enjoy.
Both clips from SFC field tape FT-12917 in the Eugene Earle Collection.
The ongoing digitization project Fiddles, Banjos and Mountain Music: Preserving Audio Collections of Southern Traditional Music, is made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.