The Smithsonian’s coming to town was the hue and cry in Darien, Ga. last weekend.
Truth is – you didn’t miss everything. Just opening day. Lots ahead. Saturday music and Thursday films.
Wednesday noontime conversations and lectures in the 1876 church.
Wild Georgia shrimp to eat, marsh grasses and blue herons to see, plus birds galore.
Georgia’s Humanities Council partnered with the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street to bring a dozen amazing events called “New Harmonies” to Georgia this year and next.
Darien is the third, with coastal roots music experiences all through August.
Georgia seaside musical culture. Regional roots. I moved here and learned to embrace the music and history others grew up with. In Darien until Sept. 1, people from all backgrounds can experience eons of musical history together.
Century-old wooden floors in the former Darien Hotel support info-panels and listening kiosks --- gospel and blues, mountain and folk, Zydeco and country, sacred and secular.
Check out the Aug. 22 lecture to find out why jazz is not included in the exhibition panels.
Roots music grows out of folk traditions, but the Smithsonian’s curator of this exhibition says, “Even today roots music is alive.
“Some artists have added the soulful voices of gospel and blues singers to their new electronic beats, said Robert Santelli.
“Modern artists draw on nearly every genre of American roots music.”
Among those performing while New Harmonies is in Darien are saxophonist and jazz vocalist Michael Hulett.
He performed with Cab Calloway on his last tour, with Calloway’s daughter Chris, and he played in the Four Tops horn rhythm section.
I tapped my toes to Hulett’s soulful music on the porch of the Horse Stamp Inn, 20 miles south of Darien, just last week so I know his sounds are worth the trip.
Find Hulett and his trio of saxophones Saturday afternoon, Aug. 4, in Darien’s waterfront park on Fort King George Drive.
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra small ensemble presents roots music with the Gullah-Geechee Ring Shouters 7:00 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18 in the nearby McIntosh County Academy.
Here’s the Symphony’s inspiration: “Slave Songs from the Georgia Sea Islands,” a book written in 1942 by Lydia Parish.
Parish was an amateur folklorist, credited with forming the Spiritual Singers Society of Coastal Georgia around 1920.
Long history here with the McIntosh County Shouters who have been presenting ring shouts for decades, drawing from songs sung on slave ships arriving at the Georgia coast in the 1700s.
“Authentic” is the word Tarsia Palmer uses over and over narrating Shouters’ performances.
”Songs were given to us at birth,” she says of each member of the group, all related and ranging in age from 26 to 96.
“Our people always managed to make a way out of no ways, and the songs reflect that,” Palmer said.
I recommend asking Executive Chef Eric Lynch to cook your dinner either side of New Harmonies music and film events.
He layers flavors in a most exquisite way, based on my grilled swordfish exhibition-opening weekend at the Darien River House.
Traveling buddy G. W. Tibbetts said the same of his rib eye steak. Crazy of us not to order wild Georgia shrimp, I suppose, in this town with generations of shrimping families.
Lynch is a graduate of the Hyde Park, N.Y. Culinary Institute of America, bringing to the coast his 16 years of professional cooking in New Hampshire, and more, up and down the northeast coast.
Order from the menu that changes quarterly and with daily seasonal opportunities, or ask for the $45 prie fixe wine-pairing dinner.
“Shrimp are versatile,” Lynch says, contrasting them to the Maine lobsters he knows so well. “I reach into my classical training and complement local fare with braising, steaming and endless sautés.
Stocks too because Lynch lives on the second floor of the 1867 neighborhood home where he opened the restaurant three years ago.
“I can check my simmering stocks all night long.”
He can also pop across the street, Fort King George Drive, to St. Cyprian’s 1876 Episcopal Church for roots music conversations every Wednesday from 11:00 a.m. to noon.
Early days of country music is the lecture focus Aug. 1. The every-Wednesday schedule is available at the Georgia Humanities Council website, HYPERLINK "http://www.georgiahumanities.org/newharmonies" www.georgiahumanities.org/newharmonies.
I’m particularly interested in the Aug. 15 lecture because it’s all about Lydia Parish and I want to know more about her work to “restore the dignity of spirituals” as historian Deirdre Kindthistle describes it.
Commuting is a bit challenging but an overnight or two in a Darien bed and breakfast could help experience several New Harmonies events.
Blue Heron Inn is the choice G.W. and I made, 11 miles out of downtown and a hop, skip and jump to the ferry for Sapelo Island.
Innkeepers Jan and Bill Chamberlain hail from Pennsylvania and now rejoice in all things marshy: abundance of birds visible from their porches, decks and windows, ecosystems in the grasses and tides touching their back yard, long growing seasons for fruits and vegetables they cook for their guests.
Sweet potato pancakes for breakfast our morning at the Blue Heron Inn, and corny as it seems, a real blue heron sitting on a palm tree stump along their driveway.
Even though the Music of ART exhibit with local artists influenced by music will lure you downtown to the former jail turned art association galleries, allow some lingering time at the Blue Heron Inn.
Red Adirondack chairs, side by side like the Cialis bathtubs, face the marsh, backs to the house.
A short boardwalk and a small deck support a wooden swing where I stretched my feet directly over the marsh grasses. Gazed to forever.
Seems like the right quiet place to contemplate ring shouts, Gullah-Geechee culture and all the music roots of Georgia’s coast.
Films too since we could see one every August Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the public library on Highway 17 in Darien. Where else would I find these gems?
“Daughters of the Dust” Three generations of Gullah women at the turn of the 20th century, filled with rich language, song and imagery, New Harmonies organizers say. Aug. 2
“Sing My Troubles By” Older women who continue to gospel, blues, mountain music and ballad traditions from their youth. Aug. 9
“Dreams and Songs of the Noble Old” Footage shot by folklorist Alan Lomax. Aug. 16
“We Juke Up in Here” The juke joint culture often called the Chitlin’ Circuit network of black musicians through the south and east. Aug. 23
“Desperate Man Blues” The story of Joseph E. Bussard Jr., self-proclaimed king of 78-rpm record collecting. Aug. 30
Fine blend of national, regional and local research and presentations all month with New Harmonies seems to me.
Local exhibits about people significant in Darien through the past century include Robert Winslow Gordon who recorded Gullah-Geechee songs for the Library of Congress from 1926-1928, and John and Alan Lomax who succeeded him at the American Folklife Center.
Particularly interesting are hand-written notes from Lorenzo Dow Turner, documenting Gullah-Geechee language that he studied here from 1932-33.
Folklorist Bessie Jones, 1902-1984, formed the Sea Island Singers, who were honored on opening day.
Gullah-Geechee language and people received significant attention from the Georgia Humanities Council and the Smithsonian when Frankie Quimby received their Lifetime Achievement Award for her songs and teaching with the Sea Island Singers. “We enjoy as a family preserving the rich heritage of our culture.”
“This is a unique language still spoken today, reflecting very creative and intelligent people,” Quimby said.
“People come from all over the world to study the beautiful Gullah-Geechee language, she said.
She teaches them about depth with attitudes too. Like this: “Find peace and serenity within yourself by singing ‘I’ll Fly Away.’
“You can be a slave to many things in this generation such as drugs, alcohol, ignorance, so let’s sing ‘Before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave’ like we really mean it.”
The Smithsonian’s coming to town was the hue and cry in Darien, Ga. last weekend.
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