On Friday, April 29th, the KSO played a “runout” concert at the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center in Townsend. Opened in February, 2006, and located on “the peaceful side of the Smokies,” the mission statement of the GSMHC....
is to preserve, protect and promote the unique history and rich culture of the residents and Native Americans who inhabited the East Tennessee mountain communities that were incorporated into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and its surroundings.
The facility, a sort of “rich man’s Museum of Appalachia,” encompasses five acres, and includes several historic buildings that have been reconstructed on the grounds. There is a greater emphasis on Native American heritage compared to the Museum of Appalachia.
An outdoor venue always has some surprises, and the GSMHC is no exception. Since the gift shop was basically backstage, we got to rub elbows a bit more with our audience, mostly 40- to 70-something tourists. Last year’s inaugural concert there came with the challenge of the setting sun beaming directly on (part of) the orchestra. Tarps were hastily clipped up at the back of the house to block the sun, and damage to instruments and players’ eyes was avoided. This year there were more permanent sunscreens installed, and I thought, great, they’re thinking of us. Only trouble was the material they used was pretty sheer when all was said and done, and the sun was still a nuisance. While blindly imagining the notes in Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, resident conductor James Fellenbaum could be seen holding his hand up to block the sun from my eyes. Another potential challenge that did not end up being an issue were the several families of birds that had taken up roost in the rafters above the stage. It was a perfect evening for an outdoor concert, dipping down into the low 60's by evening’s end, and we were very well-received.
I was reminded of the concerts we used to play at the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, toward the end of Kirk Trevor’s tenure. Founded in 1969, there are 35 structures on 63 acres. The performance venue there is a covered stage, but the audience, mostly Knoxville residents out for a late summer jaunt, was out in an open field. A Buddy’s Barbecue supper was served, and the concerts featured John Rice Irwin’s Museum of Appalachia Band. Mr. Irwin’s mandolin playing and irrepressible humor were supplemented by upright bass, mouth harp, country fiddle and guitar, and on the last concert we played there (2003?) one of the finest harmonica players I have ever heard. For MOST of the members of the KSO these concerts, which blended the traditions of classical and bluegrass, were real eye-openers. The Orange Blossom Special, which usually served as the finale, confounded some of the players who were not used to feeling the bluegrass aesthetic and protocol. I have returned to the Museum of Appalachia’s gift shop many times to find gifts for foreign visitors that we have hosted. I hope someday soon to return as a performer.