Monday, October 19, 2015

Jeff's Corner - "Rackensack"



The Rackensack Folklore Society had its origins in Stone County, Arkansas,  in 1963. From that point on, this small group of folks from the Ozarks worked to preserve the traditional folk music and folk heritage of their native mountain country. They would provide support for the early folk festivals in Mountain View, and later provide most of the music and entertainment at the Ozark Folk Center, which  they  helped establish and promote. 

 According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, in 1962, Lloyd and Martha Hollister moved from Little Rock to Fox in Stone County to establish Lloyd’s medical practice in Mountain View . In February of 1963, Lloyd met with six other people to establish a local folklore society. The group decided to meet again in a week with more people invited to officially elect officers and set down the goals and rules of their new group. The original seven charter members were Lloyd Hollister, Eddie A. Walker, William P. Morrison, Glenn D. Morrison, Lloyd Westbrook, Otis Johnson and Gerald Cain.   At the second meeting, the group was joined by local musician and songwriter, Jimmy Driftwood. Driftwood suggested the name “Rackensack Folklore Society” for the organization. The name was approved and Lloyd Hollister was elected the president. Jimmy Driftwood was elected vice president. At first, group received permission to use the Stone County Courthouse and grounds for practice  every Friday night. The musical gatherings at the courthouse became a weekly event, open to the public. TheRackensack group began to promote the ides of a larger gathering place for regular public performances began to be promoted in the county.  

Now the name, “Rackensack” has several definitions. The Oxford dictionary simply says: “Having to do with Arkansas.” This is not much help. Other sources refer to a rackensack as a form of rucksack or potato sack that wanderers would fill with their belongings to hit the road. One reference can be found in Volume Nine of the Arkansas Historical Quarterly . Published in 1950, the quote comes from a Civil War Diary of William Williston Heartsill, who served with the company of Lane’s Texas Rangers as they crossed into Arkansas in 1861. On  November 26, 1861, Heartsill wrote:
“A march of 12 miles down the Arkansas River, through as fine country as I ever saw…If this is the “Rackensack” that so much fun is made of, then it is a pity that there is not more “Rackensacks” than one.” 

This use of the word seems to mean a hardscrabble,  backwoods, wilderness region seemingly  worthless landscape not fit for civilization.

Driftwood more than likely meant for it to be a statement of independence and toughness of the Ozark people, which he strove to preserve through their shared folk culture in music, crafts, and lifestyle.

In 1963, a charter group of the Rackensack Society was established in Pulaski County by a group of musicians eager to help preserve traditional Arkansas music. The group included George Fisher, who worked as the political cartoonist at the Arkansas Gazette . The group held monthly concerts at the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock on the first Monday  of every month. According to their website, the group is made up of “musicians, storytellers, and friends who are dedicated to the preservation of the performance of old time traditional folk music of the Ozarks.”

The website further defines this traditional music as ,“The  acoustic music in Rackensack is performed with fiddles, guitars, banjos, dulcimers, harmonicas, bass tubs and other instruments of our forefathers.” The group’s present officers include Brode Morgan as President and Jim Munns serving as Secretary.  

The website section titled  “Our Story” was revised in 2015, and includes this definition: “Traditional folk music was the root music for many well-known musicians including such noteworthy musicians as the Carter Family, Doc Watson, Ricky Skaggs, Emmy Lou Harris and most notably, Jimmy Driftwood of Timbo, Arkansas, the founder of the Rackensack Folklore Society of Mountain View, Arkansas. This noted personality was the inspiration for the founding of the Pulaski County Chapter.”

In any event, the group began drawing bigger crowds and more members joined. The group began to promote the establishment of a folk festival for the third weekend of every April. From 1963 until  the early 1970s the Rackensack Society worked with city and county officials to turn the festival into a major tourist attraction for the Ozark region. By the 1970s, the city of Mountain View took over the responsibility of the Ozark Folk Festival and the next step for more political control and money on the state level became the goal. The  need for a central location to permanently house the performances,which  were outgrowing the grounds of the courthouse, brought about the drive for the financing and building of the Ozark Folk Center right outside of the town of Mountain View.
In 1972, two  LPs titled “The Rackensack” were released. The liner notes state: “These LPs were recorded when the players – young and old were at their best.”  ” Some of the musicians listed were: Bookmiller Shannon – Hubert Hinkle, (banjo); Ollie Gilbert, Glen Branscum, (ballad singers); Kermit Moody, Seth Mize, Buddy Lancaster, (fiddle); Lynn Young (autoharp); Kathy Morrison, Mary McSpadden, (dulcimer); Kenneth Gosser, (dobro); Adrian Parks, Marvin Morrison, (mandolin); Kenneth Crymes, (wash-tub bass).

There are many recordings of the Rackensack Society performing live at the Ozark Folk Center available at the Arkansas History Commission as part of the Ozark Cultural Resource Center Collection. Patrons can access these recordings by visiting the research room of the Archives at 1 Capitol Mall in Little Rock, Arkansas. There are examples of the music performed at the Ozark Folk Center online at www.ark-ives.org in the digital collection Ozark Folk Life and Culture under ahc.digital-ar.org.

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