Johnson City Sessions Box Set release party a throwback

Tony Casey • Oct 21, 2013 at 7:04 AM

Saturday night’s Johnson City Sessions Box Set Release Party at Down Home was just as the old-timers would have wanted it: top-notch historical Appalachian tunes being played to a packed house, where a captivated audience was sipping the suds.

The Down Home venue brought out droves of people, savvy to the ways and history of local music.

Ed Snodderly hosted the production where many thanks were given to the people who helped put together the collection of world-famous recordings of the 1928-29 Johnson City Sessions. These sessions took place just down the road in the old Marshall Brothers Lumber Co. at East Main Street over four days in 1928, and in the white brick building connected to West Main Street Christian Church in the downtown area.

Snodderly promised the crowd in the beginning of the party that they would be glad they came, and judging by the toe-tapping, singing-along, and high level of musical magnitude, he was right.

East Tennessee State University had both the ETSU Old-Time Pride Band and “Gone Fishing” play. The latter kicked things off with three songs from the original Johnson City Sessions, with all of the band’s six members rocking sunglasses.

The five-person ETSU Old-Time Pride Band also carried tunes from the sessions, playing into a single microphone. Their set list included a song from the Bowman sisters, daughters of the session-famous musician Charlie Bowman, who was highlighted many times throughout the night.

When National Public Radio’s Larry Groce, of their Mountain Stage program, took to the microphone, he commended the bluegrass music program that ETSU has to offer and said that he was proud to be at the well-known Down Home venue, saying it wasn’t often he was in venues that have been around longer than his program.

It was the Corklickers, a local band that played at the recent Rhythm and Roots Festival in Bristol and has been playing together since 1978, who gave historical information about the Johnson City Sessions, and especially about Bowman, throughout their songs.

They told the crowd they were deciding which Bowman songs to perform, and came to a funny realization.

“We went over songs Charlie Bowman might have played,” one of the Corklickers said. “And we decided that he probably knew every song we know.”

They explained how in 1925, Bowman took second place at a fiddlers’ convention in Mountain City, and went on to become one of the very few musicians who was able to make money during the Great Depression.

The Corklickers noted Bowman’s unique abilities in saying that they can’t play exactly like Bowman, but took solace in knowing that nobody else could either.

Sprinkled throughout the audience were descendants from the families of Johnson City Session musicians, who stood up when honored by Dr. Ted Olson and Tony Russell. Olson, a co-producer of the production, and his colleague, Russell, were applauded as being some of the masterminds behind bringing the whole project together.

They were quick to thank everyone else involved, including local WETS radio station director Wayne Winkler and Johnson City Press columnist Bob Cox, a historian who had helped immensely with information related to the sessions.

Despite his attempts to deflect praise, Johnson City’s Nancy Fischman said credit needs to be given to Olson who brought this topic to the forefront, and that having the release at Down Home was fitting, given its history in local music.

There’s much more left for the weekend, with a 5 p.m. VIP Boots, Blues, and BBQ Gala event at the King Center in downtown Johnson City today, and the Mountain Stage performance at 7 tonight at ETSU’s D.P. Culp University Center.

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