Music with Heart
Music With Heart
Southern Appalachia has long been known for a culture that is ingrained with music that invokes heart-felt longing, love, and inspiration. There is perhaps no area of these great mountains and valleys more immersed in this musical heritage than Union County Tennessee.
Union County natives have always had a heart for music. Theirs is a heritage that has been passed down through the generations, and that legacy continues on today. The county was designated as The Cradle of Country Music in 2011. But Union County held bragging rights for a long list of native-born musicians who claimed their fame nationally, and even internationally, long before. Those names include famous artists such as Roy Acuff, Chet Atkins, Lois Johnson, Carl Smith, and Kenny Chesney.
Roy Acuff may have been the first Maynardville TN native to achieve fame for his music. He was a country singer, fiddler, band leader, songwriter and record company executive, and recorded more than thirty albums. Acuff was credited with bringing country music to the singer-based format that brought the genre international success. In 1962, he became the first living musician inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Union County boasts a museum that houses memorabilia from the Acuff family.
Chet Atkins was born near Luttrell TN in Union County and is credited for having helped create the “Nashville” sound. While best known for his solo performances, Atkins also collaborated with many other country greats through the years.
A chart topper and one of today’s most popular country singers, Kenny Chesney, was also born in Luttrell TN.
Local multi-talented musician/singer/songwriter Sarah Morgan has more than earned her place on that renowned register. Morgan began playing at seven years old on a dulcimer built by her grandfather. After he passed, her parents decided the instrument would be a good way to incorporate music into her home school education.
“I didn’t enjoy playing the dulcimer at first,” said Morgan. It required patience and dedication and seven-year-old Sarah says she didn’t have much of either. “But eventually I fell in love with it.” The dulcimer is Morgan’s instrument of choice but she also plays the upright bass and banjo. As with many of the talented Union County musicians, Morgan constantly explores avenues that continue to take her music to the next level.
Since the early1980’s, Big Ridge State Park has brought together musicians of all calibers by hosting an annual Blue Grass Festival. The small town of Luttrell began hosting their own music festival more than ten years ago. Nashville Legacy featuring Jason Coleman (grandson of Floyd Cramer) and Meagan Taylor (niece of the great Chet Atkins) carry on a family tradition.
The Union County Heritage Festival has drawn talented musicians the first Saturday of October for the past seventeen years. Since 2007 folks have been jammin’ with Jim Woods at his music store on Maynardville Highway in Union County. A drop-in can often result in a sit-and-pick-a- spell session. Woods says his mom, Virgie Woods, was the one who instilled in him a love of music.
“Mom told me that music self-played is happiness self-made,” said Woods. “Those words, spoken to Woods when he was ten-years-old, are one of his fondest memories. Woods plays music like an old soul and is a natural-born entertainer. This is true of most Appalachian musicians. “The Lord has blessed us at Woods Music with kind people who walk through the
door with smiles,” said Woods.
A later addition to a long-standing tradition of excellence is the Union County Opry. The Opry consistently showcases nationally-known bands, along with talented local groups. The inaugural show in 2019 was a tribute to past Union County musicians and featured the Opry Band. At the August 2022 headliners for the Union County Opry, Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers expressed excitement at playing in Union County. “I am glad we were invited to the Opry stage in Union County Tennessee,” said Mullins. “There are not many opportunities to perform in the East Tennessee region north of Knoxville so I’m happy we’re included in the 2022 series schedule for the show. We like up close and personal, and the sound for our kind of band is usually great inside a high school auditorium.”
According to Ronnie Mincey, Federal Programs Supervisor for Union County Public Schools and a member of the Union County Lions Club, the Union County Opry has not only brought well-known musicians into the area, but has promoted community involvement by engaging with local non-profits.
“The Opry Board approached the Union County Lions Club to ask if we would like to sell concessions during the programs,” said Mincey. “During the past two years the Lions Club has made money from the shows and all the profit goes to promote eye health in Union County.”
Many lovers of country and blue grass music have already headed to Union County from across the region and from out of state to enjoy the Opry. The Opry delivers a new show each month, and is a family-oriented venue that
always opens with prayer. Doors open at 6:00pm and the show begins at 7:00. Ticket prices vary depending on the performer and can be purchased in advance at unioncountyopry.com or at the Kitchen Design Center. You can also purchase tickets at the door the night of the show.
The lineup for the remainder of 2022 is well worth a visit to Union County. Confederate Railroad plays on Friday October 14. November is an open month, but the annual Christmas show will be Saturday, December 10.
For music at its finest from local, regional, nationally, and internationally known artists, Union County Tennessee is the place to be. Travelers need to know, if they plan to attend any event in Union County there will most likely be great music; much of it performed by amazing local musicians with a family history steeped in Appalachian culture.
Cindy Taylor is a freelance writer and author. She lives just north of Union County.