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Homegrown Opry: Campbell Culture Coalition Explores Rural Radio Barn Dance in East Tennessee

Local variety shows were a staple of early Twentieth Century radio programming, but they exploded throughout the country following the Second World War and the rise of nationally known shows like the Grand Old Opry. Though important from an artistic point of view, such programs often provided a very literal stage for civic life and local culture; a place for performers, politicians, businesses, and citizens to come together in search of entertainment, commerce, and a sense of community. If you wanted a portrait of rural life in the Mid-Century, the local radio barn dance could paint that picture. Few of these shows lasted more than a couple of years, and fewer still were well documented. Next to none have been interpreted for the public...but that's about to change.

The Campbell Culture Coalition in LaFollette have long been leaders in providing humanities education at the local level through arts education programs and their signature Louie Bluie Festival. The CCC first partnered with Humanities Tennessee's Community History Development Fund back in 2008 as a host organization for the statewide tour of the Smithsonian's New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music. Through a companion exhibit and multi-media project, the CCC explored many of their local roots music traditions, everything from Cherokee music and traditional mountain ballad singers to the work of local country blues master Howard "Louie Bluie" Armstrong. 

Building upon their previous work, the Campbell Culture Coalition will now explore life in Mid-Century Campbell County through the lens of The Tennessee Jamboree, a weekly stage show and radio barn dance that lasted more than twenty years! Using recently discovered film footage, extensive archival audio and photography, as well as oral history accounts, the CCC will develop a multi-media exhibit placing the Tennessee Jamboree within the wider context of public culture and expressive life in LaFollette during the 50s, 60s, and 70s. 

According to the project scholar, Bradley Hanson, "Both directly and indirectly, local manifestations of broader cultural shifts registered on the Jamboree stage: migrating north and back for work; transitioning from coal mining and agriculture to a factory economy, new forces in business and political life...the toll of the Vietnam War, the move of women into the workforce...these and other issues reverberated along with the changing musical sensibilities on the Tennessee Jamboree." The exhibit will debut in May of 2014.

Humanities Tennessee is proud to provide support to this project through our Community History Development Fund