It has been nearly a hundred years now since Horace Kephart prepared to resettle in the highlands of North Carolina. In his search for information this librarian could find little about the people or the land. Poe, in one of his tales, had described the area as "tenanted by fierce and uncouth men," but this was of no help. The notion was more typical of the view held by the uninformed "outlander." Few had truly studied the region. Its isolation and wildness made the well known West seem quite tame by comparison.
By 1913 Kephart had filled his copious journals with enough first-hand observations to publish an original work that described the mountains of North Carolina with honesty and accuracy. His book, "Our Southern Highlanders," was so well received that additional chapters were requested; the mountain folk especially liked it, fondly referring to it as "that book". A second edition was printed in 1922.
Many years later, a roughed-up copy of "that book" came to me by way of a banjo pickin' friend in Raleigh; he had received it from a Carolina wildlife magazine editor. I gave it to a Seattle fisherman, who in turn gave it to a bluegrass guitar picker. The book was full of photographs, stories, people, and history of places where I had hiked and camped since I was a kid. Although I had spent much of my life in the Smoky Mountains I knew little of its history, either social or natural.
Kephart laid it all out in his first-person account of the region, and he breathed life into the stories by using the words and expressions of the mountain folk. When I first read "Our Southern Highlanders," music seemed to fill the pages. The dialogue was lyrical, and every story sounded like a song. I have set these songs to the words, phrases, and ideas contained in each chapter. For many, the chapter headings serve well as song titles. Only one song is imported, French Broad, a shape-note hymn we used to sing in Etowah, NC.
Today, you can hike up the Hazel Creek drainage where Kephart's rude little cabin stood and search the dark laurel for his ghost. It is quiet now where an Eden was nearly lost to the chainsaw. A national park protects the beauty of this place, the vision of Kephart, its founder. If you go there you might hear his spirit in the croak of the raven. You might smell it in the earthy ruins of a tub mill. You might see it through the glimmer in the moon-shine on the mountain dew that wets a spider's web deep up the balsam. The voice of Kephart can be heard in the songs that fill this recording.
The writings and life of Horace Kephart , and his great work, "Our Southern Highlanders," provides the substance for this song-cycle of original lyrics and music.
The fourteen songs are closely based on the dialect, lore, language, ideas, and action found in the text of Our Southern Highlanders. Thus, all of the songs are based on true events and real people. The only import comes from Walker's "Christian Harmony" shape-note hymnal, a song called "French Broad." We used to sing this one in Etowah, NC when I was young. The music I wrote for this is pretty much Monroe (Bluegrass) definition, however an old camp-meeting song is included, the words to which Kephart noted in Highlanders; we found the melody and additional words in the Library of Congress Folk Room and arranged it for this record.
The band consists of Robbie Link (bass), Rickie Simpkins (fiddle), Craig Smith (banjo), Tony Williamson (mando), Jack Lawrence (guitar). Vocals are contributed by Scott Huffman, Peter Rowan, Tim O'Brien, Jim Watson, and Mary Miller (my wife.) The voices of Watson/Huffman and Rowan were chosen to represent the two voices of the NATIVE and the OUTLANDER. These two voices are used throughout the songs to narrate the cycle, where the voice of Kephart is heard to moralize and narrate, and the voice of Quil Rose, the native, is heard in the context of action and nature. The roles are defined at the outset in "Outlander Meets Native," also a chapter title.
The graphic content is of particular interest to Kephart readers as it include many photos from the Hunter Library (WCU) which have never been viewed before. In our liner we include a relevant photo for each cut, the bonus of our working closely with the faculty and staff of W.C.U in Cullowhee, N.C. to produce this CD. The front cover is a hand-colored copy of the original photograph which we obtained from the Hunter Library. It is done to look like an old postcard.
The snakestick was carved in 1996 by Norman Amos, a wonderful old wood carver from Callands, Va., whom we discovered while researching the CD. I gave him only the written description of the stick from the book, and from that he worked his genius into this awesome stick. The stick begins as a maple sapling with a honeysuckle vine wrapped around it. The maple grows in between the coils of the vine, which is pulled away. The snake is carved into the coils of displaced honeysuckle. Every scale on the serpent, nose to tail, is anatomically correct. You see, Nor man collects rattlers!
The intent of this CD is to elevate the public awareness of the Smokies' wonderful history by promoting the readership of regional writers, in particular, Horace Kephart. As the century approaches a close this very important writer should be remembered. His contributions include many great books, a complete and historical profile of the Southern Appalachians before urbanization altered the culture, and he gave us the vision of a national park.
The effort this project carries is the achievement of many talented and dedicated people. More than a labor of love, this project seeks to remember a great writer (and librarian) whose contribution to North Carolina is a notable, albeit largely forgotten, event of this century.