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NPR Arts & Life

Music Fans Discover The South's Rich And Complex Heritage

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Ashley Capps - he's a music promoter who we met yesterday in this lovely city. For decades, he's booked bands into Knoxville theaters, churches and clubs. And his business has spread across much of this region. Today, his properties include Tennessee's annual Bonnaroo Music Festival. Let's listen to him.

ASHLEY CAPPS: There's a renaissance going on in the South in many ways. And I think there's a cultural renaissance where many people are really discovering the rich and complex heritage of the South and becoming more and more curious about it and wanting to explore it and embrace it and not necessarily sweep the darkness under the rug.

INSKEEP: In Whitesburg, Ky., I was talking with a former coal miner. And on his way to telling a story about something else, he said the following phrase. At the time, I was in a punk rock band called Black Lung.

CAPPS: (Laughter) I love that. That's an interesting thing, I think, about Southern traditions - is I think there's a raw essence to a lot of Southern art - music, literature - that is punk rock and avant-garde, in a sense. And I think that's one of the richest vitalities that you can find in this region and that does influence artists and encourage them to, you know, not only explore those tangents, but also to make them their own.

So like, right here in Knoxville, you know, if you look at the literary traditions of you know, James Agee, Cormac McCarthy, Nikki Giovanni - a lot of the music that was created either here or around here, there's an edge to it that is punk and avant-garde.

INSKEEP: Music promoter Ashley Capps thinking of the great novelist Cormac McCarthy - "All The Pretty Horses," "No Country For All Men" - as a punk rocker.

Chris Green of Berea College has been with us all morning. What do you make of that, Chris?

CHRIS GREEN: Well, I think it's about the history of people who have been in exile since they first came over from the British Isles, people meeting the Native Americans here who were in exile and making their own way together, making music from that exile. They were not part of the systems of power on the coast. They're part of the systems of our capital government.

INSKEEP: You're saying that people in Appalachia have always had a relationship as outsiders to people in power?

GREEN: Yeah, absolutely.

INSKEEP: And also it's a place of struggle, isn't it?

GREEN: It's a place of people struggling together, making their way. They see it not as struggle, but as the opportunity to be together and to have fun while they're doing it.

INSKEEP: OK. Chris Green, stay with us.

We want to introduce you to one more Knoxville musician. We've heard from him this morning. We're going to hear from him again. RB Morris has been warming up this crowd. Fire away, sir.

R.B. MORRIS: (Singing, playing guitar) It was a long time ago. I was on the road, heading through my hometown and moving on. It was a cold winter day. Snow began to fall. I needed a ride, and so I called. And she met me on the street. I threw my gear in back, and she said she'd ride me out till the roads got bad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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