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History center explores areas roots with melodies
0614music
The Buzzard Mountain Boys, Joe Matteson, left, and Jim White, right, perform with Sarrah Ellen McDonald during a Mountain Music and More Family Sunday event at the Northeast Georgia History Center. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

History lessons are hardly ever taught on the dance floor.

But as the Northeast Georgia History Center highlighted the area’s musical roots Sunday, some 100 Gainesville residents tapped their feet to the tune of history.

Various artists played mountain music and old bluegrass as children passed through different stations, where they learned the mechanics of music and sound.

After a performance by the Buzzard Mountain Boys and Sarrah Ellen McDonald, Gainesville resident Julie Wingate watched as her 5-year-old daughter Ellie participated in some of the educational activities Sunday afternoon. Ellie Wingate had just learned how the ear worked and was coloring a picture of morning sounds.

Julie Wingate, a member of the history center, said she tries to bring Ellie to the family day activities each month. By now, she said, her daughter had gotten to know history center staff.

“I just think it’s important to learn about the past. It helps us to understand where we’re going,” said Wingate. “I love the music. That gets a lot of people that maybe weren’t excited about history; that helps them understand that different aspect ... Everybody enjoys music.”

For about a year and a half, the history center has sponsored monthly events like the one held Sunday, said Julie Carson, education and volunteer coordinator for the history center.

The monthly events are a way to attract people of all ages to the center, Carson said.

“When the families come in together, they not only get that family time, but they also get a sampling of North Georgia history,” said Carson.

Caye Guidry, chairman of the committee that organizes the family Sunday events, said the events have evolved from a monthly event with a handful of participants to one that regularly has 100 attendees.

“I guess the idea is for kids to know that history’s not just something you read about,” said Guidry. “... We try to give them something to do that’s for a purpose, that links to something that hopefully they will make that connection.”

Sunday’s was the first family day in which organizers used music to help make historical connections, but it likely won’t be the last. Carson said she hopes to have future music-themed family days featuring barbershop quartets and gospel singers.

“This music one is just great because everybody has a song they’ll hear and it takes them back to somewhere,” said Carson. “... We have all kind of musical influences ... in North Georgia. There’s the mountain music and the bluegrass and the home family bands that play together.”

But it wasn’t all fiddles and male-female harmonies. A group of local Irish dancers were also in the line-up.

“Scotch-Irish is such a large part of our population,” said Carson.

And Doug Grant, alongside his fiddle-playing partner Nancy Swann, played the jug.

Grant has been playing the jug some 40 years, and Nancy’s been on the fiddle since the 1990s, but on Sunday, they made their music a little more educational, with Grant giving demonstrations on how to play the jug

“We tailor our presentation to say a little bit about the old world connections with the mountain music,” said Grant.

Playing at Sunday’s event was the couple’s second time playing together in public.

The duo mostly plays at home outside of their day jobs (Nancy is a nurse and Doug works at a local state park), which, intentional or not, is a nod to history itself, said Grant.

“What we’re doing is the authentic music from the mountains,” said Grant. “None of the Skillet Lickers were professional musicians ... we don’t do this for a living. We do it for the same reason that mountain people have always done it.”

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