Raymond Fairchild and a vanishing tradition
By Charles and Cynthia Seeley • Guest Columnists
I am a visitor to Maggie Valley. My husband, two friends and I chose this area of the North Carolina mountains as our vacation destination by pure chance. Our goal was to see the beautiful Smoky Mountains while doing a little sightseeing at some of the well-known tourist places in the area. Something happened, however that made the Biltmore Estate, Dollywood and casinos, although nice, irrelevant. And that was Raymond Fairchild and his Maggie Valley Opry.
On a recent Thursday evening, my husband and I went to hear him. We knew he was a five-time world-champion banjo player. That would have been enough — just to have the opportunity to hear banjo music from a renowned musician was all that we had expected. We came away with a lifetime experience and a respect for the musician and his colleagues that goes far deeper than an evening of entertainment.
Because space in a newspaper is limited, I will list some of the reasons why we were deeply moved by Mr. Fairchild and his colleagues.
1. Respect — It is an unbelievable feat to be able to present a show every night of the week and to treat each audience as though they are the most important audience ever. On the night we went to the show there were many seats left unfilled, but that did not change the level of professionalism that came from the performers. I sat in my chair realizing that were I one of the musicians I might well feel disappointment at not having a “crowd.” Not a hint of disappointment. Each musician was a true showman who made me feel that I was being treated to a special performance.
2. Happiness — As the show began and continuing throughout the two and a half hours of music, I felt great joy in being able to hear a performance that most of the world never has an opportunity to hear or see. Banjo music and groups such as this are too often localized and are not typically available in large forums. Having lived the majority of my life in a big eastern city it would have been impossible for me to see a stage show of this caliber in my neighborhood or even in my area of the country.
3. Enjoyment — We appreciated the venue, every song and each performer. The music was toe-tapping, insightful, emotional and heart-warming — traditional music that can be readily appreciated by everyone.
4. Pride — We not only felt the pride that the artists take in their work but also the pride they have in the places they sing and play about. Mr. Fairchild obviously loves Maggie Valley and this beautiful part of North Carolina. He is actively trying to preserve its culture in the way he knows best. All the musicians have a talent given them by God and they are sharing it with as many people as will come to listen.
5. Charity — Each evening there is a 50/50 raffle and the Opry’s share is given to the Shriners and the Masons to help their efforts in treating children who are burn victims.
6. Entrepreneurship — Mr. Fairchild is a businessman who wants to support himself, his family and his employees. Although he makes his work sound effortless, all the various small business enterprises that he has developed (the Opry, DVDs, CDs, moonshine and moonshine jam, among others) take perseverance and huge attention to detail. It takes hard work and a deep sense of responsibility to make a small business profitable.
7. Fear — As a guest at Thursday’s performance, I felt joy and pride at being a witness to the music of Raymond Fairchild and his musicians, but I also felt, on a deeper level, great sadness and fear. A fear that what is being done right here in Maggie Valley will soon “no longer be.” Much of America is caught up in the technology of today’s world, in the “bling” that is offered by modern stage and movie productions, and in the fake opportunities offered by casinos that they have failed to dig into their own heritage. I do not believe that the people of today are indifferent to their culture, but rather that they do not realize what they have to lose. We are blindsided by what is new and forget to look at where we have come from.
My husband and I are thankful that the Raymond Fairchilds of the world are here to make us realize and care about the traditions, the artistry, the strength of what has made each part of America so great and special. Haywood County and its neighbors are better because of the efforts made by these musicians. It is my hope that each school child, each family, each Mason and Shriner, each public official and most of all each resident whether born here or a transplant take advantage of the opportunity offered by the Maggie Valley Opry. It is an American treasure that if lost might never again be found.
(Charles and Cynthia Seeley visited recently from Tallahassee, Fla.)