I've been looking forward to this day for the last year. We had such a good time up here at this event last year, and I was excited to get over there. It's held at Camp Shaub, a former summer camp. The place is has been re-named Camp New Hope. It sits at the head of a small valley, or cove, as they're called around here, and is one of the prettiest places I've ever seen. On the way in you pass by the Test Farm run by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. There are a few houses dotting the surrounding hillsides, but not much else. There is a baseball diamond, a pool, and some other sports facilities in the valley floor, and the large dining hall sits half way up a steep hill, with the camper's cabins up the slope in the woods behind. The dining hall is where our event is held. It is a large rectangular room, wood floored, and wood paneled, with large windows on three sides, a large stone fireplace at either end, and a large covered deck off the long side, overlooking the valley. On the back side, there is a large kitchen, utility rooms, and the restrooms.
We arrived a little before ten to find a few folks already there, loading in equipment and supplies. Uncle French Kirkpatrick and his wife Judy were there. His band, The Unexpected, were there bringing in instruments and sound equipment. Aunt Ruth and her husband Jerry Henson were there, also. Jerry and his gospel group were also loading in equipment. All the ladies had covered dishes, which were being set out on a couple of long tables in the dining room, and also on the counter in the kitchen. More people were arriving by the minute, and before long the place was abuzz with activity and chatter.
Not having any way to cook, we had not brought anything to eat. It wouldn't be a problem, though. There was more than enough food to go around. I brought up my camera case, the guitar and the ukulele, and settled in.
The turn-out was about half what it was last year. This was rather disappointing, but, we made the best of it. None of my immediate family was here, nor any of my first cousins, aunts or uncles. I was the only one representing my branch of the family. I am related to these folks through my mom, Ruby Dean Kirkpatrick. Her father was Riley Dee Kirkpatrick. His father, my great grandfather Will Kirkpatrick, had about thirteen or more children over the course of two marriages. There are a lot of Kirkpatrick descendants scattered among the hills around Haywood County, and a good many of them show up for this event.
Grandpa Will and several of his children had a band back in the 1940s and 1950s called The Kirkpatrick Family Band. Uncle French Kirkpatrick, pictured above, is the only one of them still around and playing music today. I met him up here two years ago, when we were too late arriving, and missed the family reunion. He and a few others were cleaning up and putting away chairs and things when we arrived. He took the time to sit down with me, though, and played and sang a few songs for me on his banjo. What a treat!
This year, as everyone was getting settled in and things put into place, I was sitting off to the side with my guitar. Uncle French came over to join me for a bit, and asked if he could play my guitar. I'd never seen him play anything except the banjo, so I thought this ought to be interesting. It turns out that he is an excellent finger-style guitarist, and had no trouble navigating around that wide necked classical guitar of mine. I was amazed! He sat there and sang & played, just for me, about four or five classic Jimmy Rogers songs. Again, what a treat! I wish I'd thought to pull out the video cam. At least I got a couple pictures of him posing with my old cedar topped classical. I sure wish I could spend a lot more time around this wonderful man. Not only is he a fine musician who I could learn a lot from, but, mainly, he is just a warm hearted, intelligent, fun loving, god fearing man, and I took and immediate liking to him the first time I met him.
By this time the food was all set out and ready, and we were called to eat. Everyone lined up with a plate, and we made our way slowly along the servings. What a spread! These mountain folks sure know how to cook. There were so many great choices, and no way to sample everything. We sure tried, though. Somehow we also found room for dessert later, after the music started.
After everyone had a chance to get a plateful or two down, The Unexpected started the music. They are: Harry Robbins on vocal and guitar, French Kirkpatrick on vocal and banjo, Jerry Stamey on harmonica, and Ray McElroy on bass. Scotty Rollins did an excellent job running the mixing board, keeping everything balanced. They played nine songs, opening up with "I Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound", and closing with "Waiting On The Far Side Bank Of Jordan". Somewhere in the middle they played this instrumental, "Cripple Creek", with French Kirkpatrick's daughter Alison Bumgarner doing a great barefoot clogging dance. Now, that's fun!
After The Unexpected finished their set, Jerry Henson and his gospel group came up to sing and play eight or ten great gospel songs. This is the real deal, folks. These people sing from the heart, they sing from the soul. I am still working on editing the videos I made of them, and will include the links to their videos with the others below when they're done.
The party started trying to end around two o'clock, but it took us untill after three to get everything cleaned up, packed up, and loaded into the cars. It was hard to leave, and there were many long good-byes. We had several invites to come back home to spend the afternoon with several of the uncles and aunts, but politely declined. We had plans to head back up to Cataloochee Valley for some more exploring and elk sightings before it got too dark.
Here are links to the music videos I made this day:
"I Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound"
"This Land Is Your Land"
"A Minute Of Your Time"
"Greenville Trestle Line"
"Watermelon Time In Georgia"
"Nothing Brings You Down Like Your Hometown"
"It's Raining Here This Morning"
"Waiting On The Far Side Bank Of Jordan"