Stories that Inspired The Mountain Minor
I’ve heard stereotypical Appalachian accents and dialect in films since I was a kid. So many times its obvious that the writer and actors don’t know how Appalachians really talk. Sometimes its just an honest failed attempt and sometimes its done in mockery. Since the great migration from Appalachia to the midwest so many Appalachian migrants have either hidden or tried to loose their accents to fit in with the midwesterners. For some unfortunate reason the Appalachian accent was, and too often still is, associated with ignorance and lack of education. There’s actually something in our DNA as animals that demands conformity in order for the pack to survive. The Bible calls this our carnal nature. There’s a carnal desire to make people look, talk and act like us and many do what they can, often mean things, to try and make that happen. In our film the grandpa is talking with young Charlie before he leaves for Ohio and says “When folks get scared they can get awful mean. If they laugh at you, make fun of the way you talk you pay ‘em no mind. You just work hard, learn them books and remember who you are.”
I visited my Abner cousins in Jackson County, Ky a couple weeks ago. These are smart educated women; some became school teachers here in Ohio and in Kentucky. I so love to just listen to them talk. The sounds that so many have associated with ignorance is just beautiful to to my ears. Like old photographs and the mountain music, that accent is a window into my past; my heritage. Like so many migrants my family lost most of that accent over the years and I try to imagine my grandparents as children pronouncing their words and using those unique phrases like my mountain cousins still do. One of those Abner school teaching cousins, Mildred Abner, recently passed away. During our pre-production phase I had her and another cousin, Tibbie, read all of the dialog of the movie into a recorder for our actors. I’d grown to love Mildred and was heartbroken to hear of her passing. I’m so happy she got to see the movie last year and tell me how much she loved it; how it was one last glimpse of her childhood. I still have that recording and always will, and when I have the heart to hear her sweet voice reading our script with that mountain accent again I’ll take another listen.
Local Farms and DVDs
For Thanksgiving this year I decided to buy a locally produced fresh turkey from some friend’s nearby farm, 37 Acres in Camden. After I picked it up I was thinking about how it costed so much more than one of those cheap frozen turkeys on sale at my local grocery store. Dang, was this thing really worth that much money? But, then I got to thinking; my friends Daniel and Brandi raise a limited number of turkeys. They hand feed and water them, let them roam and have to pen them all up every night. Then they have to round them up and take them to a processor to have them butchered and packaged; then either deliver them or set up a pickup location and spend the day there. They make their living from hard work and have no choice but to sell them at prices most folks just don’t want to pay. Those factory farms, on the other hand, keep their turkeys miserably caged up their whole lives and for the most part, automate their whole process. But in the end my family had a great, no chemical, no antibiotic, organically raised turkey that lived a good life. And really, it tasted so much better than any turkey I’d purchased in the past. Best of all I was able to support some good folks that love their work.
A few folks have commented on the amounts we are charging for our DVDs and Blu-Rays. Although brand new releases are priced similarly to ours, they can get popular movies on DVD and Blu-Ray from Amazon for a fraction of the cost of ours and have it delivered in a couple days with free shipping. I guess I like to think of The Mountain Minor as if it were a local farm. This has been a five year labor of love born out of a passion to tell a story that has never been, but needed to be told. We were a non-profit sponsored project and received many donations from individuals and foundations, however my producer Susan Pepper and I also invested a very significant amount of our own money to round out our budget. Every actor, musician, location and crew member were paid fairly. We’ve made numerous trips to North Carolina in the process. I’ve worked pretty much full time on the film for five years and haven’t received a penny of compensation, probably never will, but that’s okay with me. The movie is out there now and the dream is being realized.
Once the movie was finished with the film festivals we had additional expenses to re-edit a few things, re-record two of the songs, have the DVDs and Blu-Rays authored, artwork and package designed, special features added to the Blu-Ray and pay for setup, packaging and duplication. Our cost for the duplication and shipping of a disc comes out to more than what I can buy a popular movie from Amazon for.
Then, unlike Amazon’s automated processes that allow them to absorb costs by producing and selling millions of discs, we have the labor and costs involved with purchasing the shipping containers and supplies, boxes and labels and the time to assemble each order by hand and take them to the post office for shipping. After all of this our net is only a fraction of the selling price. We will need to sell around 5,000 at the current prices just for Susan and I to break even on our personal investment. And, after so many requests for it, we hope to raise the money to produce the movie soundtrack CD.
So, Susan nor I ever expect to profit after the thousands of hours and personal monetary investment spent to make the Mountain Minor. But, we were never in this for monetary gain. And, I wish there was a way for us to sell our movie for just a few dollars and ship it out immediately with no shipping fees but that’s just not possible. So, we certainly appreciate all of you who have supported us with those few extra dollars for your orders. We think you’ll agree that it was worth it when you see the movie. And with that in mind I’ll be returning to my friend’s farm again next year for my Thanksgiving turkey.
When did Old Time fiddle music get old?
We call it Old Time fiddle music but I wonder what my grandpa called it when he played it back in the mountains of Kentucky in the 1930’s. Ask 20 old time fiddlers what old time fiddling is and you’ll probably get 20 different answers. I like this one:
The fiddle was a functional instrument: what mattered to the old players was that people could dance to them. They weren’t concert performers, they were dance musicians with a completely different set of standards. There are a few things that come through fairly clearly. The first is the driving rhythm. It comes from the bowing style which is usually direct, moving with the individual notes, and rarely employs slurs. The second major difference is that the tunes are treated quite simply. There’s little decoration, just a few turns and mordants, and the occasional trill. The old players didn’t use vibrato, and many, just like the old singers, tended to use natural scales. The use of more-or-less constant drones on the lower strings isn’t unusual, particularly amongst morris players.
This sounds like a pretty accurate description of the music played in the hills and hollows of Kentucky, North Carolina, West Virginia and Virginia in my grandpa’s time but what were the Morris players he speaks of? This quote was taken from from: Chris Bartram, “The Fiddle in Southern England”. English Dance and Song LVIII-2 (1966), where Bartram describes English fiddling of the 17th-19th centuries.
The fiddling he describes was played by the ancestors of so many fiddlers who’s music crossed the ocean and was taken to the remote sections of Appalachia 200-300 years ago. Those musical traditions continued for so many years until the great migration, the influence of radio and exposure to the northern urban stylings. Thankfully, a remnant of that ancient music has survived through old recordings and is being kept alive by a new generation of music preservationists today. Today’s fiddling is smoother, cleaner, fun to perform and great to dance to, although sometimes not always so easy to listen to as the players enter a trancelike groove and play a tune through 20 times or so…
I don’t know what Grandpa called it; maybe old-time or maybe just music as it was all he knew back in the mountains. I don’t know what they called it in the 1600s. We now call it Old-Time but it never really gets old. As a matter of fact, we think it will be quite new to a whole new audience of folks that might experience it for the first time when they see our film as young Charlie Abner finds his connection with another time and place through those old tunes.
Many of us musicians love those old beat up, pick worn, finish checked, dull vintage instruments. Unlike so many other possessions in our lives we find those imperfections desirable when it comes to musical instruments. We often like to think that our own character is reflected in that life-worn look. And those vintage instruments aren’t cheap, sometimes costing as much as a car and in some cases a house. But we want them so badly. For some musicians just the look of one is enough to help create their brand; their image. So, they are happy to take sandpaper, finish stripper and sharp objects to their new instruments to make them look as if they’ve been played hard for 50 years. Like pre-washed and pre-ripped designer jeans sold by many garment brands, some instrument companies are now selling “relic” instruments; brand new instruments that are sold pre worn, scratched and chipped at handsome prices, yet still within reach for many. But its just not the same.
I see those old instruments the same way I see old people in my life. Every wrinkle and blemish earned by a life full of stories and memories; every scar an experience that added to their character. There’s so much value in learning from the older folks in our lives. When one of them passes we often regret not spending more time with them, learning more of their past. Those old instruments have stories too. Every year of aging, every scratch, every little ding; just the wear and checking of the finish contributes in some way to that unique sweet tone that only a vintage instrument can fill a room with. And there’s a mysterious energy you can feel when you play it. Like a spirit that leaves the body, every note ever played was a sound wave that was inaudible to the ear by the time it left Earth’s atmosphere but takes another part of that story along as it travels eternally through the cosmos. Like those of the old folks long gone I wish I knew the stories that my old instruments could tell.
That old fiddle in The Mountain Minor has a story. A big part of that story is told by the Abner family as it gets passed down through five generations. The music changes, the tone changes and the people passing it along from one generation to another change but that music connects us all in the process. When you see The Mountain Minor you too will become a part of that old fiddle’s story. Ain’t that something?
The northern factory life didn’t set well with my great, great uncle Dow Abner (1907-1993) so he took the family back to Jackson County, Kentucky. Deep in Abner Hollow he set out with an axe and saw to clear a place for the new farm. He took those downed trees, cut them to length and with an axe as adze chipped and hued them into slabs and carefully cut the dovetail notches to a perfect fit. They were then stacked, chinked and roofed into what became the family’s new log cabin home. With chains, ropes, a shovel, pick and mattock, he dug out all those stumps and pulled them out of the ground with a horse team. He cleared away all the rocks and built a stone wall along the new dirt road leading to the cabin. Then he tilled the hard ground and planted, tended and harvested the family’s substanance. He and his wife Osa then set about the business of survival with countless chores and challenges of mountain life. And then, if there was time left at the end of the day he got out his fiddle to provide moments of joy that the music brought to the family.
As I stood there at his grave site along with those of his parents and baby sister I wished that he could have known that he would someday be a primary inspiration for our film, The Mountain Minor.
Love and Plenty
I grew up in the Cincinnati area suburb of Fairfield. The suburb was a great place for a kid with friends and plenty of outside activities to keep us busy; since video games, computers and cell phones were only a thing of science fiction movies. But the best part of my childhood was spending time with my grandparents who lived in the country. I loved every part of spending time on their farm; playing in the woods, riding horses, hunting bears with my Daisy pump action bb gun.
Grandma always had this small white radio playing this strange sounding music on the kitchen counter. I can remember standing eye level with that old radio listening to the sounds of what I later in life realized were dobros, mandolins and banjos. Grandpa always called it Hillbilly music. He’d often sing along and it made me laugh. That music I never heard in the suburb was just the soundtrack of life on the farm.
Grandmas big kitchen was the life of that place. There was always company of friends and family around that huge table and Grandma was always cooking. In addition to raising cattle, horses, chickens and keeping a huge garden, Grandpa was the public works director for the Village of Evendale. It seemed strange to me that he would routinely bring the whole work crew home for a hot cooked lunch. I don’t know of any bosses that would even consider that today, or wives that would tolerate it, let alone a two Appalachian migrants who were once on the verge of starvation in the mountains of Kentucky.
After Grandpa retired they moved to a smaller farmstead in Preble County. I was a car driving teenager and got to spend even more time with them there. J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a good book, but about a segment of the Appalachian Migrant population that I’d never seen. At the risk of being a little out of context, he says “we do not like outsiders or people who are different from us, whether the difference lies in how they look, how they act, or, most important, how they talk. To understand me, you must understand that I am a Scots-Irish hillbilly at heart.” That’s so far from the truth of my experience of the Appalachian migrants in my life. There was always a steady stream of unannounced drop in company of friends, neighbors and family. We’d hear the sound of a car driving up the long gravel driveway and all try to guess who it would be. Grandma was best at that game. As soon as the company was greeted at the door Grandma’s first question was always “have you had anything to eat?” It was always a challenge talking her out of cooking something right up. And if you couldn’t talk her into refraining you had to talk her out of her perpetually putting more on your plate as you ate. I still laugh when I remember a time when I arrived and saw the water delivery truck parked by the house. All these years later I remember walking into the kitchen and the look on the water delivery man’s face as he was sitting at Grandma’s table eating his fill, and more.
Grandma rarely ever sat at her own table as she saw it her job, and pleasure, to constantly serve. I rarely saw her fix her own plate. I thought it strange, even a little gross, that she would eat the food left on the plates of family as she cleaned the mess we all left. She was very generous, but nothing went to waste. If there were any food scraps after a meal and Grandma’s personal picking from it, it was promptly put into the dish of a very happy dog outside.
There must be something about growing up in the depression and not knowing where your next meal would come from that I can never understand. My grandparents worked hard all their lives and were generous with their rewards. They loved providing and I saw it in so many ways. Grandpa even loved providing for his livestock. I’d go out to the barn with him during feeding times. He’d throw down chicken feed and put out grain or hay for the cattle. He’d always stay out there and watch the animals eat every bite. He told me that loved watching his animals eat. He also loved his animals. He usually had a half dozen or so cows. He gave them names and would talk with them and sometimes sing to them (it still made me laugh); and then he would eat them. Another part of his way of life I don’t have the capacity to understand.
They’ve been gone now for over 20 years and I’m still here living here on the old farmstead. Folks seldom drop in anymore and the only animals I feed are the birds and a stray cat. But I still see Grandma and Grandpa in my mind and relive those great memories often. I also stay connected with them on the porch, playing those old tunes on the banjo and fiddle. Some of the best memories were playing my banjo while Grandma sang and Carter scratched the guitar and hearing Grandpa’s stories of music and growing up in Kentucky. The Mountain Minor is just me sharing a great experience of music and heritage that was given to me over a lifetime of love and plenty.
My Grandpa Charley Cox became a man in 1927 at the age of 13. The family farmed and ran a store and post office in Foxtown, Kentucky. One time when Grandpa and I took one of our road trips “back home” we traced the 20 mile route from McKee to Foxtown that he, at age 13, traveled alone by wagon to buy supplies for the store. He said that he would make the day long trip, spend the night at an old woman’s boarding house and return home the next day with the supplies. He said he’d hear bobcats up in the hills but mostly feared packs of wild dogs, although he did take a shotgun along with him. Sections of the old road grade paralleled the paved road we drove and he’d talk of riding the brake with all his strength as to not overrun the horses going down the steep hills. I suppose my great grandparents worried about him, but during those hard times a kid had to grow up fast in the group effort to survive.
My Grandpa, Vestal Farmer, hopped a train to Montana at the age of 13 to join his two brothers working on a horse ranch. He lied about his age when he turned 16 to join the military during WW1. He managed to survive his European tour during the war and returned to McGoffin County, Ky to marry my grandmother, Oza Whitt. They started a family and eventually loaded up the kids and what possessions they couldn’t live without into a wagon and made the 115 mile trip to Brown County, Ohio before relocating to Lockland, a suburb of Cincinnati. I wonder how many days they spent in that wagon headed north, up and down the mountains, crossing rivers and streams in good weather and bad. I wonder what they would have taken; if Grandpa played the banjo and Grandma sang her ballads; where they stayed overnights on the several day long trip. I wonder if they were excited about starting a new life or if they missed their home and dreaded the uncertainty the whole way.
These were some tough, resourceful folks I come from. The Mountain Minor combines elements of these two families into one. Nearly everything in the film actually happened to them. But, they all had dreams. Some were fulfilled; others have only found life in the story of The Mountain Minor.
These are my family stories, but the theme is universal. Many thousands of us have very similar family histories and we hope you’ll see this film as an opportunity to share that life with an audience that needs to see a positive version of Appalachians and Appalachian migrants not often portrayed in popular culture.
I just got home from Ohio Valley Antique Mall in Springdale, a town just north of Cincinnati. I like passing the time at antique malls. I hardly ever buy anything; I mostly just like looking at old stuff. I like imagining my ancestors using those old treasures, or triggering a memory by seeing one of my childhood toys or a familiar kitchen tool. I especially like seeing old farm tools that my grandpa might have used.
The irony of the whole thing is that this antique mall is located on the site of the old Grote farm, the property where my grandparents started tenant farming when they moved to Ohio from Eastern Kentucky. I remember Grandpa talking about living there. He said he’d go to work all day and then come home and work the farm till bed time. He’s say that during some parts of the year he never saw his house in the light of day.
My grandparents eventually gave up playing their music after migrating to Ohio. I could never understand that, but Grandpa said there just wasn’t time for it, working two jobs an raising a family. Grandpa sold his fiddle and Grandma told me that some man visiting their house broke the headstock off her old Harmony Monterey guitar. They hadn’t played in over thirty years when I took up the banjo. Grandpa bought Grandma an old red Stella guitar at an auction so she could accompanying me whenever I’d come for a visit. So I visited every chance I got and she taught me many old standards and passed on a love for the Stanley Brothers and the Carter Family. Grandma said she learned the guitar as a young girl by listening to Mother Maybelle Carter 78 RPM records on a Victrola and playing along. Grandma was a master at the old Carter Scratch style and I’d give anything to hear her sing Rank Stranger again. Grandpa told me that he learned the fiddle from his Uncle Dow Abner and although he’d have rather danced with the girls, they made him play the fiddle at the square dances back in Kentucky.
I also have two uncles that also play guitar and sing. We had family jams at every reunion and family get together. I bought a cheap old fiddle at a flea market and at one of our family jams I got that fiddle out and put it in Grandpa’s lap and asked him to play it for me. Although I’d already tuned it, and after much coaxing, he started turning the pegs into a strange non-standard tuning. He said “here’s one Dow used to play” and bowed out a haunting modal tune that gave me goosebumps. He handed the fiddle back to me and never played it again.
I recreated a version of this story in the Mountain Minor. I was looking for an actor to play the loose version of me. Susan recommended that I consider Trevor McKenzie, so I turned to Youtube to check him out. I saw a video that he produced called Cultivating Tradition and I knew right off that this was the guy. One thing that I’ve been committed to is casting only people that have a deep understanding and appreciation for the substance and soul of this music. That was obvious right off with Trevor. Besides being a world class fiddler, guitar player, banjo player, singer, song writer and who knows what else, Trevor has a depth of understanding and love for this music well beyond his years.
Trevor gave me his latest CD, Generational Things, on my last trip to Boone and I listened to it all the way home from North Carolina and a hundred times since. I highly recommend it.
I wish I knew now what that tune was that Grandpa played for me. I once told Jonathan Bradshaw (Vestal Abner) that story and now he says that I’ve been chasing that tune every since that day in 1980. Jonathan’s probably right and I suppose that making The Mountain Minor is just me still chasing away.
Father Son and Holy Ghost, Daniel prayed 3 times, Jesus arose on the third day, Peter denied Jesus three times, three crosses, Jesus ministered three years, Christ the profit priest and king, Jesus was tempted three times, Jesus asked for the cup to be taken from him three times, three wise men brought three gifts, Paul was blinded for three days. And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
The chord; three notes that vibrate in sweet satisfying harmony. Maybe the reason Old time and Bluegrass singers love those two part harmonies is because there’s a tension in not having that third note of the chord to resolve that feeling, leaving a craving for that next note, the next line; a craving never quite filled. And then there’s another song with the sweet sound of three part harmony. There’s strength and resolve in three.
The Appalachian granny women, also called “granny witches” had their own understanding of this powerful number three. These women usually had a strong Christian faith and what many might even equate with what the Bible calls the spiritual gifts. The granny women had their way of channeling God’s power through his creation; plants, minerals and music to heal and to discern the spirits. They say some of these granny women had the ability to see beyond the three humanly dimensions into that spirit world. A world where the spirits, good and evil, do battle for the soul.
The Mountain Minor’s Granny Whitt knew the power in the number three and how those spirits meaning to do harm would flee from it.
Judy Waldron plays our Granny Whitt. Judy is perfect for the part of the guitar playing, square dance calling healer of Abner Hollow. I met Judy and her husband Warren Waldron (Tom Abner) at a weekly old time jam over 30 years ago and have since followed their music over the years with the Pine Ridge Partners, the Rabbit Hash String Band and the Full Moon contra dance band. A few years ago, Judy and Warren were joined by Jonathan Bradshaw, Susan Pepper, Amy Clay and myself to form the Jericho Old Time Band. I’ve come to know Judy as the best old time guitar player I’ve ever known. Her timing, dynamic and tasteful runs bring out the soul of those old guitars like no one else. She’s also a fine singer, banjo player, autoharpist, pianist, and square dance caller. You’ll love hearing Judy play the guitar and call a square dance at the same time in the film. Judy’s own insightful character is reflected in Granny Whitt as she passes on wisdom and healing to the Abner family.
I just returned home from a Ma Crow concert near my hometown. I’ve been living the Mountain Minor story over and over in my mind’s eye, several times a day for the last year or so. I see the cast members as characters more now than I’ve ever seen some of them in real life. So, tonight I found myself watching Ruth Abner up there on the stage about as much as I did Ma, and it makes me all the more happier to have Ma as a part of the movie.
I met Ma several years ago and have been friends every since. Ma is one of those people that lives and breaths the music. I’ve been drawn to her musical soul when she plays and sings as much as the music itself. So when it came time to cast the part of Ruth Abner, there really was no one else I could imagine filling that role. And like Ruth Abner, she’s such a genuine person; the real deal.
It’s been that way for the entire cast actually. As I play the movie in my mind I picture Ma, and the others and I can’t imagine having anyone else as the Abner family. I’m truly amazed by the talent of the entire cast. The music in this film is going to be something to experience.
Take a listen to Ma as she and the Lady Slippers perform on a cold day. You’ll see what I mean about the soul of this wonderful musician.
1 beyond or above the range of normal or merely physical human experience
There was music all the time… Get a bunch of Old-time musicians together to make a movie and the entertainment never stops. This summer we got the principal cast together with our film company and did a bunch of test shots and rehearsals to prepare for the actual shooting of The Mountain Minor next summer. We’ve edited some of that footage into a promotional trailer that will be posted here in a couple of weeks once we’ve secured all the musical licensing.
We would shoot from about 9:00 each morning till about 11:00 that night. With setups, walk throughs, read throughs and multiple takes, we spent hours on each scene. That left all those musicians not in that scene with hours of downtime. Sounds like it would make for some long boring days for most, but it was anything but…
I’ve been around other musicians all my life and I’ve found for many, if not most, we are always searching when we play. The music can take a musician through all of the emotions and nearly always brings a satisfaction to some degree. But ask just about any musician if they’ve ever experienced musical magic and they could probably tell you of every unforgettable time. For me it’s a rare place that I try to find whenever I play. And sometimes when the stars line up just right, there it is; transcendence; when the music takes me beyond normal human experience to a state of mind, of being, that is beyond logical explanation. It’s euphoric.
The musicians playing the roles in The Mountain Minor get that. They understand what the protagonist, Charlie Abner, has found when he let’s the modal music take him to what he calls “the old place.” A place that can only be found from that transcendent experience. I don’t want to drift into spoiler territory here so I’ll leave it at that. But, those musicians spent their downtime searching together at every opportunity. Made it kind of difficult to yell “quiet on the set!”
The Mountain Minor could be said to be about a lot of things; music, migration, Appalachian life and heritage, but at heart, its about a family’s never ending transcendent connection.
Independence and Opportunity
Sometime in the late 1700s my ancestors sold off all their possessions and boarded ships bound for America, a land of independence and opportunity. The few things they were able to bring with included ancient ballads and fiddle music that had been passed down through many generations. They settled in various counties of Virginia and as families grew and land became more and more difficult to acquire, they followed in the footsteps of Daniel Boone through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky. They lived good lives of hard work and bounty for several generations, still singing and playing the songs and tunes that had since been passed down to them. In the 1930s and 1940s my family and thousands of others came into hard times with vanishing land, opportunities and resources, and again like their ancestors, had to migrate to a new land of independence and opportunity.
My grandparents came to the Cincinnati area from the mountain counties of eastern Kentucky. I was the oldest grandchild and as such, had a special relationship with my grandparents. As a young boy I was especially drawn to the stories they would tell of growing up on their remote mountain farms. And, what a time I had when they would take me back there for story filled visits. All four of my grandparents were musicians, playing fiddles, banjos, guitars and singing ballads. I was especially drawn to the stories of mountain square dances, church singing and porch music with the family gathered around. I eventually became a musician myself and found that playing many of those same notes and musical phrases that sailed the Atlantic give me this transcendent experience; a connection with family long gone that I could never have otherwise.
When I tell people I’m making a movie the first things they usually ask are “what’s it about” and “Is is a true story.” Although The Mountain Minor isn’t the literal story of any one of my grandparents, it’s based on thousands of true stories of Appalachian migration, my grandparents’ included. Many of the very stories my grandparents told me as a child, particularly those of my maternal grandfather Charley Cox, and some of my own experiences with my grandparents have found new life in this film.
I’m so lucky to know so many great Old-time and Bluegrass musicians in southern Ohio and beyond. Whenever we play, we carry on the musical traditions that followed the historical steps of so many families like my own. But still, deep inside me is a longing for something I can never have; to sit on that mountain porch in 1932 with that kid I knew as Grandpa; to hear him play a certain modal fiddle tune he once played me and hear it echo off that old farmhouse and drift out into the nearby mountains.
As we all drove up the holler to the Willet Ponds Pioneer Farm where the Mountain Minor is being filmed, we all seemed to have the same experience of somehow stepping into the year 1932. It was amazing to see the actors transform into the Abner family; to channel those old souls into the notes of the timeless music of this film. So, although I can never return to that time and place of my grandparents’ youth, the Mountain Minor is giving me an insightful experience of that life and how big a part that transcendent music played in its story. Through this experience I’m finding myself embracing my Appalachian heritage like never before as I find my own new independence and opportunity.
Dale Farmer, Writer/Director
The Mountain Minor is a film that is sure to inspire by telling a compelling story shot in the beautiful settings of the North Carolina mountains. The film will be especially unique with transcendent fiddling, soulful unaccompanied ballads, Old Regular Baptist line singing and lively flat foot dancing from historic Appalachian sources.
There is something universal and even anonymous about the ballads and traditional tunes we hear today. More often than not, we don’t know the exact sources or where they come from. But, for many people in the 1930s in rural America, in this case Eastern Kentucky, music was very much a part of daily life. People learned their songs in the flesh and blood from other family and community members. And often a song came with a story and a lifelong memory. This film follows the role of music in the lives of several generations of the Abner family, following them from their ancestral homeland in Eastern Kentucky to later generations that migrated to Southern Ohio. The music of his childhood in the mountains has left an indelible mark on Charlie, the protagonist, and there is a tension throughout the film as to whether or not he will fulfill his lifelong dream of returning to the home place upon his retirement.