Old-timey Tennessee tunes


Published: Wednesday, August 1, 2007 at 8:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Oh, pardon - didn't see you come in, there. Why, sit down a spell. Time to spin a yarn about those bygone days when things was old-timey and folks had to entertain themselves the best they knew how.

Facts

Mr. Jack Daniel's Original Silver Cornet Band

What: Re-creation of a town band formed in 1892 in Lynchburg, Tenn.

Before the phonograph and the radio and the moving pictures came along, people with a musical inclination took up instruments and started town bands, playing the hits of the day, like "Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-De-Ay" and "Oh Promise Me." This was the closest thing to "show business" they had at that time.

Well, Tennessee didn't have a band. So in 1892, a certain Mr. Jack Daniel - yep, the Jack Daniel, purveyor of fine Tennessee whiskey - bought a mess of instruments and handed them out around Lynchburg.

He found 13 folks in all (most had never played a lick of music in their lives), and thus began Mr. Jack Daniel's Original Silver Cornet Band. For some 20-odd years, they were the source of entertainment for Lynchburg's 361 people, playing saloon openings, funerals, parades and regular concerts in the town square.

But slowly, folks forgot about town bands - too many new gadgets to mess with, perhaps.

Fast forward six decades or so to 1978, when the town band had been replaced by some newfangled thing called disco.

While most folks were busy dancing, a man named David Fulmer found an old, fading photograph of Mr. Jack Daniel's band and busied himself with reconstructing it.

Now, almost 30 years later, it is perhaps more popular than ever, and Saturday it will turn the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts into a rickety, old back porch on a warm Tennessee evening.

"We try to recreate that era - turn of the century kind of small town thing," says Bernie Walker, who plays cornet with the band.

While they play the old songs from the 1890s, some light classical music and Dixieland jazz, Walker says the band takes the songs from a more modern angle.

"We're not real authentic as far as the types of arrangements we play," he says. "They're more modern sounding. It's what people's ears are used to hearing, and it just sounds better."

Walker, who joined the band in 1991, says the experience is as enjoyable for the musicians as it is for the audience.

"The core group just enjoys doing it so much, they'll turn down other things," he says.

It is an odd juxtaposition when something that went out of style a century ago competes in the entertainment marketplace alongside iPhones and Transformers. But Mr. Jack Daniel's band does just that, and successfully to boot.

Michael Blachly, director of University of Florida Performing Arts, has worked with the band before and says that venues across the country are willing to move things around on their calendars and do just about anything to get the band to play.

"This particular group is incredible in terms of musicianship, the costumes, everything," he says. "It's almost like this could be right out of the Smithsonian."

Walker says that much of the group's appeal lies in its rarity.

"The music is completely different from anything you're going to hear now," he says. "The audiences really seem to love hearing it - it's family oriented fun."

It doesn't take too keen an eye to notice that the current incarnation of Mr. Jack Daniel's Original Silver Cornet Band has lasted longer and is probably more popular than the original.

Perhaps this stems from a natural curiosity, as Blachly put it, "to sit back and see what our ancestors lived through." Or perhaps it has more to do with the talent of the musicians.

Most likely, it's a bit of both.

As Blachly says, "The group replicates a part of our American history with absolute class, quality and a great, great sound."

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