How It All Began . . .
Uncle Dave Macon Days began as an afternoon banjo pickin’ contest on the East side of the Rutherford County courthouse in July of 1978. It was started by the late pharmacist Jesse Messick and David “Ramsey” Macon, a grandson of Uncle Dave. The two men planned the event over a lunchtime sandwich at a nearby drugstore. Signs were painted on large plywood boards advertising the ‘Banjo Pickin’ Contest.
Messick, who owned the local Martin Rexall Drug Store on the north side of the square and active in the local merchant’s group, was looking for a way to bring business to the area. He remembered, how in the past, the historic square buzzed with activity on Saturday when local folks came to town.
Also, he knew that when Uncle Dave was alive, the Dixie Dewdrop, who was inducted posthumously into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1966 often enjoyed perching on a courtyard monument and playing his banjo. In Messick’s mind, holding a little music gathering on the square was a grand way to keep Macon’s memory alive, have fun and draw a crowd to the square.
With this new idea percolating in his brain, the upbeat Messick set out to raise some operating funds and asked his neighboring merchants to contribute $25. With his wife, Martha, serving as the treasurer and members of the Macon family assisting with emceeing and registration duties the festival was born. George Parrish, a local newspaper columnist oversaw the publicity.
Gloria Shacklett Christy took over the director responsibilities in 1984 and continues in that role. Due to increasing crowds, the event moved off the square in 1989 to Cannonsburgh, a restored pioneer village which was established in Murfreesboro as a United States Bicentennial project.
Today, the three-day, family-oriented event is recognized as one of the premier traditional music and dance festivals. It consistently is selected as one of the top 20 events in the southeast by the Southeast Tourism Society. More than $10,000 in prize money is awarded; it is home to three national championships in Old-Time Banjo, Old-Time Clogging and Old-Time Buckdancing. During the weekend there is an arts and crafts show, “Motorless Parade,” children’s activities, historic demonstrators, gospel and shape-note singing, an historic photo exhibit and more, designed for everyone to enjoy themselves.
UNCLE DAVE MACON DAYS TIMELINE
1978 – 2012
History of one of the premier Old-time Music and Dance Festivals in the Southeast.
During July, the original Uncle Dave Macon Banjo Pickin’ was held on the east side of the courthouse steps in Murfreesboro, TN. At about 5 p.m. a band called New Grass Express, which provided the contest sound system, performed. A thunderstorm rolled through sending people to their vehicles and cover. When the weather cleared, the actual banjo picking began about 8 p.m. Six contestants entered and only trophies were given as prizes.
Event was organized by local pharmacist, (the late) Jesse Messick with Uncle Dave Macon’s grandson, Ramsey Macon. Messick, who owned the local Martin Rexall Drug Store located on the public square surrounding the courthouse, started the event with the financial help of other square merchants, who each were asked to donate $25.
The Daily News Journal newspaper and WGNS-AM (1450) radio helped promote the new event in their community and continue to be strong media supporters in 2012.
An Uncle Dave Macon recording, produced by Dr. Charles Wolfe, Middle Tennessee State University English professor,received a nomination for a Grammy Award by the National Academy of Arts & Sciences.
The “Motorless” or “energy saver” parade was started, honoring the fact that Uncle Dave never drove a motorized vehicle. Roy Acuff served as the Grand Marshal and recognized with first Heritage Award. It was started by Mr. Forrest Paschal and later assisted by Mr. John Blankenship.
(NOTE) The early Heritage Award winners were initially the grand marshal of the Motorless Parade. The Heritage Award recognition was developed to be an honor awarded on stage Saturday evening to an individual(s) who had dedicated their careers to the perpetuation and preservation of traditional, old-time music and/or dance. A performance by the winning artist follows the award presentation. This individual also still serves as the grand marshal of the “Motorless Parade” on Saturday morning.
In 2005, a second award was presented by the festival committee called the Trailblazer Award. The first winner was banjo player Bobby Thompson. This award is presented Friday evening on the stage, followed by a performance by the recipient. It is for an individual who has a long career in traditional music and or dance and, along the way, has served as a mentor/trailblazer for other artists.
Prize money was increased to $450. Today in 2012, prize money totals more than $10,000.
“Dixie Dew Drop” Bicycle Race starts on Sunday. Event continues until festival moves off square.
Sunday Old-Time Gospel show was added to the program. It was directed by bluegrass
entertainers and sisters Louise Tomberlain and Sophie Tipton Haislip.
Bill Knowlton, a New Yorker and public radio host of the long running “Bluegrass Ramble” show begins emceeing the event. He always has paid his own expenses to come to Murfreesboro and continues to announce the Saturday evening finals in 2012.
Buckdancing competition is added, prize money increased to $1,400 with help of Chamber of Commerce, local radio stations and area merchants. The first Uncle Dave Macon “look alike” contest debuts (this would eventually become the Freewheelin’ contest) and the event’s first winner of $100 was T. J. “Uncle Jake” from Lexington, TN.
Festival’s first logo, a side profile of Uncle Dave Macon smoking his pipe, is designed by John Doubler, great-grandson of Macon.
Gloria Shacklett Christy became festival director, a position she still holds in 2012.
Nationally recognized folklorists and authors Dr. William K. “Bill” McNeil, folklorist for the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View, Arkansas. (1940-2005) and Middle Tennessee State University English professor, Dr. Charles K. Wolfe (1943-2006) continue their relationship with festival as contest judges and advisers. They were involved until shortly before their deaths.
Congress recognized Uncle Dave Macon Days as home to three National Championships: Old-Time Banjo, Old-Time Clogging, and Old-Time Buck dancing.
Festival outgrows Rutherford County Courthouse area and was relocated to Cannonsburgh Village, a historic area established as a 1976 U.S. Bicentennial project. It is one of the few in the country still being utilized in 2012. Cannonsburgh remains the home of Uncle Dave Macon Days.
Festival became a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization.
Then vice-president, Al Gore a former congressman from Tennessee, visits the festival. The organizing committee learned first hand how to deal with Secret Service security procedures.
Festival featured in documentary, “America’s Music: The Roots of Country”. Program airs on Turner Broadcasting System.
Macon-Doubler Fellowship scholarship program starts for beginning musicians. Part of endowment is donated by family of Alvin and Mary Macon Doubler, granddaughter of Uncle Dave Macon.
Festival grounds at Cannonsburgh expanded to include an additional five acres. Stage moved to Greenway area in field next to historic village.
WSM 650 AM radio partners with UDMD. Station helps with national promotion, live web streaming and on-air broadcast from the festival.
Festival develops website.
Community Service Fair added on Sunday afternoon.
Blues Harmonica competition named for Grand Ole Opry performer DeFord Bailey.
Professional stage, lighting and sound upgrade. ‘Home-made’ wagon stage is retired.
“Trail Blazer Award” established. The first winner is Bobby Thompson. The Bluegrass banjo
competition named in his honor.
Murfreesboro Rotary Club partnership developed.
Addition of Jumbotron large screen to serve increasing night time crowds.
Patriot Films of Murfreesboro shoots unofficial documentary of the Uncle Dave Macon Days Festival.
Uncle Dave Macon Heritage Driving Tour established by the Arts Center of Cannon County.
Development of festival’s Facebook page.
Development of Uncle Dave Macon Days Board of Directors.
Workshops for old-time banjo and buck dancing introduced. First instructors are Rebekah Weiler
(banjo) and Thomas Maupin and Jay Bland (buck dance).
Gospel Showcase dedicated to Jimmy Palmer, a long-time organizer of the Saturday “Shaped Note” singing.
Small admission fee charged in order to achieve continued long-term financial sustainability for future of festival. Gates managed by Murfreesboro Noon Rotary Club volunteers.
The Federal Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department utilized the festival in its testing and grading system for the region’s ability to provide safety and security, improving the festivals emergency procedures.
Mobile phone/text message communication offered to competitors and QR Code digital map for visitors.
ATM added for crowd convenience.
Festival celebrates 35th Anniversary.
Special 35th anniversary banjo logo designed by John Doubler, great-grandson of Uncle Dave Macon.
Festival starts collective effort with Rutherford County archivist John Lodl to locate and preserve the event’s memorabilia, promotional efforts and official records.
New website launched.
Ricky Skaggs receives Heritage Award.
Daily & Vincent receives Heritage Award.
Tennessee Mafia Band Jug Band Receives Trailbazer Award
Return of Jug Band Competition in honor of Lester B. Armistead (Founding Member of The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band)
For the first time ever, UDMD has full concerts featuring: Ralph Stanley (Heritage Award Winner), The STEELDRIVERS (Trail Blazer Award), Russle Moore and IIIrd Time Out, and Hog Slop String Band.
Ben Wilson takes over as Executive Director
New web Site by JamHouse Designs
Timeline researched and written by Teresa Owen and Ben Wilson (2012)