|If you’re a fan of country or bluegrass, you have heard the music and names of Bill Monroe, Grandpa Jones, Leroy Troy and Marty Stuart, all of who have served as Heritage Award Winners at Uncle Dave Macon Days, one of the Southeast’s most popular music festivals.
However, odds are, if you live outside of Tennessee, you’ve never heard the names of Jessie Messick, Birch Bryant, Billy Womack, The Gilley Boys, Barbara Patz, Bobby Cates, Ginny and Dick Shacklett, Alton Haislip, Robert Spicer, Linnell Gentry and John Blankenship.
These are area musicians, music lovers and plain hard-working volunteers behind the stage curtains who make the proverbial shows go on, mostly unseen and unheard of by the media and public.
Without music-loving volunteers, there likely would be no Uncle Dave Macon Days, the annual festival that’s judged one of the best in the Southeast, of the popular Arts Center of Cannon County that brings in music talent from throughout the nation.
“Uncle Dave Days annually draws in millions of tourism dollars to the economies of both Cannon and Rutherford Counties,” accounts Woodbury Mayor Harold Patrick. “The name Uncle Dave is known by all area residents since he and his family had a freight-hauling business here before he became famous on the Grand Ole Opry. And he’s known throughout the world as a historic Americana name in country and blue grass music…
“Throughout the year, music brings tourism and talent to our Middle Tennessee communities,” the mayor added. “Whether it’s at Uncle Dave Days or our nationally-recognized Arts Center of Cannon County, music and the performers bring important tourism dollars to the region.
“For example, our town barber, Billy Womack, (now deceased) was often featured on the Opry with his fiddle,” Patrick added. “Music is an important cultural and economic factor in our lives.”
Murfreesboro’s Birch Bryant, now deceased, is an example of a behind-the-scenes’ force for the perpetuation of Uncle Dave Macon Days.
“For years, Birch faithfully came by U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon’s congressional office here on Murfreesboro Public Square, to sell advertisements and sponsorships in support of Uncle Dave Macon Days,” accounted Kent Syler, who served as Gordon’s chief-of-staff before the congressman retired from Congress. “Each year, you could count on Birch arriving with his briefcase in hand, to record another ‘sale’ supportive of Uncle Dave Macon Days.”
Each July, galactic stars seem to align over Middle Tennessee, the geographic musical heart of Tennessee, as American and European music purists come in collective concert here.
“If you don’t believe it, there’s even a rainbow in the sky this evening as we prepare to witness music history being made,” observed Smyrna resident Hilda Stuart, mother of country music star Marty Stuart, one July night in 2011. “When Marty served as a ‘Heritage Award Winner’ at Uncle Dave Days in 2000, we ran into fans from throughout Europe and America.”
In this 2011 interview, Mrs. Stuart was in Murfreesboro to hear “Southern Gospel.”
While Nashville is known globally for professional country music, Middle Tennessee in general serves as a hot bed of a blended music culture, as evidenced each July when blue grass echoes under the stars with Uncle Dave Macon Days at the outdoor Cannonsburgh Pioneer Village.
Before becoming a Grand Ole Opry star in his 50s, Uncle Dave Macon was a mule-driving man, as owner/operator of the Macon Midway Mule and Transportation Company.
He inherited both his banjo-playing and mule-hauling business from his father, David Harrison Macon.
While transporting goods between Murfreesboro in Rutherford County and Woodbury in neighboring Cannon County, Uncle Dave was seldom without his banjo, strumming it along his freight-hauling route, both for his enjoyment and the calming effect it had on his mule teams.
The famous Opry pioneer rests in Rutherford County’s rural Coleman Cemetery, on old Highway 70S between Woodbury and Murfreesboro.