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A day in the life of a song

Just about as far northeast in Tennessee as you can get, you’ll find a place where folks still get together and play Old Time music on their front porches. Every year a celebration takes place just across the county line in Mountain City honoring the iconic Old Time mountain music style that shaped country music as we know it.
This year’s Long Journey Home festival on September 4 and 5 might look a little different, but even a global pandemic can’t stop the celebration. The anticipated events will be enjoyed virtually.
The excitement begins Friday with an exclusive one-time online community preview of “Short Life of Trouble: The Legend of G.B. Grayson.
This film tells the long overdue story of the blind mountain fiddler G.B. Grayson, whose short career produced The Ballad of Tom Dooley, Train 45, Handsome Molly, and about 40 other songs that became the standards of Bluegrass and early country music. The film was created by Appalachian Memory Keepers in partnership with Johnson County Center for the Arts and funded by Tennessee Arts Commission.
Fiddler G.B. Grayson played the fiddle in an archaic style, holding it against his shoulder rather than his chin. Most of the songs he wrote were based loosely on other well-known songs of the days
Saturday, Sept. 5, the Musical Heritage Homecoming Tour goes live at 11:30 a.m. Viewers can watch the unveiling of “A Day in the Life of a Song,” the newest addition to downtown Mountain City’s Musical Heritage Mural Mile. Artists Cristy Dunn, Temple Reece, and Lewis Chapman created scenes that celebrate music as a part of everyday life, from singing while making biscuits to ‘Lassy Makin and Sawmillin’ and ending with a family gathered around an old-fashioned radio listening to The Grand Ole Opry.
The Kody Norris Show will entertain with the songs of G.B. Grayson at noon, and then two more virtual sites will celebrate the music of Clarence “Tom” Ashley, Clint Howard and Fred Price with video segments ‘Lassy Makin and Sawmillin’ and My Home in the Mountains.
Afterwards, viewers are invited to go for a guided tour of the Musical Heritage Mural Mile. This virtual tour through beautiful downtown Mountain City will provide an in-depth look into the inspiration behind the musical heritage murals.
Among the murals featured in downtown Mountain City is “It Surely Is A Train” on the Smith and Crockett Building on Main St. Everybody loves train songs, and they found their way into the repertoire of Johnson County’s musicians. “Train 45” was one of G.B. Grayson’s biggest hits. Doc Watson, Fred Price, and Clint Howard recorded “New River Train.” And, in their younger days, Clarence “Tom” Ashley and G.B. Grayson spent a lot of time buskin’ at train stations and in the Coal Fields.
Another mural — in the Muse Hardware Building — features Tom Dooley cooling his feet in a creek. The infamous Tom Dooley was captured in Johnson County on the banks of Doe Creek. And blind fiddler G.B. Grayson recorded the earliest version of The Ballad of Tom Dooley back in 1929. The mural depicts Colonel Grayson with a rock in his hand and a pistol in the other. The legend is that he arrested Dooley with the rock and held the pistol on the North Carolina posse to keep them from hanging him on the spot. He made sure Dooley got home for a fair trial.
Finally, acclaimed Appalachian author, Sharyn McCrumb provide an online talk and share her insight into ballads and murders in Johnson County. Wherever you are this year, you can tune in and share in the sites and sounds that make Johnson County such a special place at www.longjourneyhome.net.