musical lives, remembered in story & sound

Dora Mae Wagers -- 5. The Festivals

Dora Mae became a frequent attendee of bluegrass festivals throughout central Kentucky. “She’d pick all night and day,” Evelyn remembered, sometimes never going to the stage, but playing tunes, instead, outside of her trailer. Ethan said that to him, it seemed that “she liked to perform some, but I think she liked sitting around jamming, better.”

John Harrod, like many who were a part of the Kentucky old time music scene while Dora Mae was around, got to know her at these festivals. Bluegrass festivals, primarily, but “there Dora Mae’d be, picking old time banjo,” said John. “She just liked to hold court from her camper,” he said. “The bluegrass guys, the older ones from this area all knew her… lot of them would always stop by, to pick some tunes with her.”
Ethan recalled, “We had a really good time.” He remembered that at one particular festival, each year, they’d play down by the creek. “And the fog’d get real foggy, and your instruments would be so dead. And finally, they’d get so dead, we’d just quit, you know, cause they sounded so bad, couldn’t keep them in tune, you know. We’d play just about all night. ‘Specially when the Hilltoppers came.”
              For a number of years, that would be the crew: the Roan Mountain Hilltoppers, Kyle and Joe, and Bill and Janice Birchfield, come up from Tennessee; Billy Don Stamper and Earl Thomas Jr, from Clark County; Dora Mae’s daughter Evelyn, and her husband Moses. The Eversole brothers.
              “If you had Evelyn and Janice, they both liked to holler, you know… It was crazy, sometimes. Of course they were drinking…. Shoot. Dora Mae, I mean… she didn’t drink. I don’t remember ever seeing her take a drink, and I don’t know… she may have at one time, but she didn’t mind it you know, as long as someone wasn’t getting crazy. But, she usually had beer or something, if somebody wanted some… a big cooler, you know.”
At festivals, which were, more often than not, bluegrass festivals, Dora Mae didn’t discriminate as some did. “If she couldn’t find enough old time players, she could play bluegrass tunes, clawhammer style,” said Ethan. “I mean, she liked to play, so she had to play with whoever she could play with… She would play about anything anyone wanted to play. She liked to play her tunes, but if someone wanted to play something else, even if it was something she didn’t know, she’d jump in there and play it you know. She could jump in and pick on something she didn’t know. She wasn’t like some people.”