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Gil-Fest 2008 and Dancing in Dementia

Posted by FretlessinTexas on Tuesday, September 2, 2008

His name is Gil Sewell and I am honored to say that he is my friend. Gil and his lovely wife, Diane, live on a farm that backs up to a mountain ridge a few miles outside Pikeville, Tenn.

Their home sits in the Sequatchie Valley, which is an incredibly beautiful if not hard-to-get-to place. The nearest interstate is about an hour away.

But that didn't stop about 150 friends of Gil and Dianne to come to an annual old-time music party that is alternately called "Gil-Fest" or "Sewell-Fest."

I drove eight hours one way from Fort Wayne, Ind., to take part in this frolick, and I had more fun there than any festival that I attended this year. We camped on his property for 2 1/2 days, behind the house and near a pond that was chock full of trout. We played music until 3 a.m. two days in a row.

A lot of talented musicians from Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia were there. I may have been the only  "Yankee" in the bunch, although I consider myself a native son of Alabama, having moved to Indiana last year for reasons of employment.

Now we all have biases and beliefs that we cannot fully defend or even understand. It is in that vain that I will make a truly outlandish if not ridiculous statement. But here goes.

I believe that Southerners are, generally speaking, better musicians than their counterparts in other parts of the country when it comes to "roots music."

Now I know full well there are great musicians from all parts of this wonderful country, but there is something about southern old-time music .... Well, like I said, I am ready to be trashed for making such a broad generalization. Please allow me to put up chicken wire before you start throwing things.

Having infuriated some no doubt, I will add that I want to learn more Midwestern fiddle tunes after hearing them played earlier this summer at the Indiana Fiddler's Gathering. There were some great fiddle players from "Dear Old Illinois" in attendance.

But when I see Gil Sewell jumping around in his chair and sawing away on his fiddle with his dog Booger at his feet, I cannot help but think that these southern fiddle tunes are more intoxicating and that Southerners lap it up with a certain gusto.

With that in mind, something very strange happened about 3 a.m. on our last night or morning there. Seven or eight of us were playing Cotton-Eyed Joe when suddenly we all jumped to our feet and started dancing in a most demented and feverish way, all the while playing the tune.

At that moment, we were all linked together in some strange place, intoxicated by the music.

But then again, it could have been the shine.

I'll be posting some tunes from Sewell-Fest on my music page in the coming weeks.


9 comments on “Gil-Fest 2008 and Dancing in Dementia”

muntjac Says:
Tuesday, September 2, 2008 @11:29:25 PM

A bold statement, but I understand your sentiments. Sounds like a fun time I look forward to the tunes........Ian

FretlessinTexas Says:
Wednesday, September 3, 2008 @11:29:01 AM


I am most pleased to hear from a banjo player 'from across the pond." When I was in Dublin, Ireland, a couple years back, I had a great time going to the pubs at night and listening to the sessions. Of course, the banjo players were playing tenor banjos with picks, something I cannot do. But I had a ball. -- Dean

Debbielee Says:
Thursday, September 4, 2008 @3:39:28 AM

Great blog!  We plan to go next year and were very disappointed that we couldn't go this year.  Our friends Keith and Ginny Loveland, Dean and Judy Robinson, and Gerry Lewis were all there.  What fun!  Can't wait to hear the tunes.

robinja Says:
Friday, September 5, 2008 @7:01:20 AM

Hey, Dean!  I'm lurking here on the Banjo Hangout (aka "The Dark Side").  I don't think it was the shine this time.  I give Gil full credit for instigating the demented dancing.  Demented or not, shine-inspired or Gil-inspired, it sure was fun!


FretlessinTexas Says:
Friday, September 5, 2008 @7:17:14 AM

Now you get back into the light, gurl. You are already married to a banjoist, so you don't need to be probing such rough and rowdy places as this. LOL. I had a lot of fun, as usual, with you and Dean. Gil is now calling our moment "the rising." 

FiddlerFaddler Says:
Monday, September 8, 2008 @8:27:21 PM

Southern Illinois almost ceded from the Union during the War of Northern Aggression, and it was populated by a lot of transplants from Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia.  Perhaps that explains why there is such a strong tradition of fiddle tunes there.  It sure is fun to learn those tunes!  Does manic count as passion?  If so, then I may eventually have a claim to fame!

musiccitymann Says:
Tuesday, September 9, 2008 @12:42:53 PM

I used to live on Fredonia Mountain out side Dunlap in Sequatchie county. It is indeed beautiful country and rooted deeply in the mountain traditions.I used to drive a Coke truck over the mountains there through Altamont and on to Sand Mountain famed for it's penecostal snake handlers and soghum.Sounds like you all got caught up in the spirit of the old time music.By the were you all really drinking shine?ha ha! Best Wishes,Henry

FretlessinTexas Says:
Tuesday, September 9, 2008 @12:58:07 PM

It's true -- I consort with friends who do indeed have access to shine ... at least down in Alabama and Tennesee. I have found none up here in northern Indiana, where I moved last year.

Tastes like jet fuel and has the kick of liquid crack. Certainly nothing to be recommended, although a banjo player might not know any better.

musiccitymann Says:
Tuesday, September 9, 2008 @9:27:47 PM

Just be sure it's copper kettle shine and not auto radiator shine which could make you go blind as well as cause you to have neurological damage due to the lead poisoning, not good.I've bought legal bonded corn whisky in the local liquor stores in Nashville.It doesn't have the kick of the true mountain dew or white lightning.A guy just got busted here in Tennessee last week for having a carload of moonshine. Hope he wasn't one of your friends from Sequatchie County. Henry

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