By Jacob Hatcher
In their sin, there are those who make the banjo the butt of their jokes. Plenty are the references to Deliverance and backwoods hillbillies. Within pop culture, the sound of a banjo conjures up images of toothless buffoons, barefoot and clad in overalls. My first real experience with a banjo was at the Opryland theme park, which to a country music obsessed young boy may as well have been Heaven itself. The front gate may not have been adorned with pearls nor the streets made with gold, but the live music that filled the air as I made my way around the park sounded like a chorus of angels to my young ears.
Daddy worked mounted security at Opryland and much of our summers were spent wandering from one area of the park to the next, riding roller coasters until we were sick and eating Dippin’ Dots until we could hold no more. Of all the areas my favorite was Hill Country. In Hill Country you could watch a man make dulcimers, mine for fake gold and get soaking wet on the Dulcimer Splash log ride. Most importantly, though, was the Folk Music Theater.
This little amphitheater was not only my introduction to bluegrass music, but my introduction to the way it was made. I sat mesmerized as a five piece band gathered around one microphone. The way they moved among one another was nothing short of amazing; the choreography required to have each instrument be heard but not play over the other instruments would put the grandest ballet company to shame.
Banjos rolled, mandolins chopped and bow strings flew drifted on the wind like falling leaves. And I absorbed every bit like my life depended on it. It’s been twenty-five years since the gates closed and the music stopped, but there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about that place. It’s now been closed as long as it was open, but it seems as though that can’t be true. It seems too important to have had such a short life; how could something that meant so much have been such a small blip on the timeline?