The Morris Family Old Time Music Festival 1969-1973

The Morris Family Old Time Music Festival was the brainchild of the Morris Brothers, John and David from Ivydale, West Virginia -- at that time (pre-interstate) it was just a little over an hour's driving time up the Elk River from Charleston. David was fresh out of the service and Vietnam and wanted to make his mark, make up for lost time. He was pals with many other musicians of the time who would later become well-known. For example, I remember well the night in 1972 (or was it 1973?) seven of us climbed into my 1966 Plymouth Fury to see them play with John Prine at the Capitol City Jamboree (it was a neighborhood movie theatre called The Custer in the 40's - 60's, later a porno house called The Lyric and now an office building) on Charleston's west side. While David nearly became nationally known, too much of everything took its toll.

And during it's five year run, the Ivydale Fest was marvelous. In 1972 local filmmaker Bob Gates shot in 16mm a 30 minute documentary of the festival. While Bob is working of transferring it to DVD, here is a site that you can watch the entire film:

It was our "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" with black meeting white, old & young, straight & hippie.

The poster says it all: "No Country Western, Bluegrass or Electric Instruments allowed."

Three of the performers would later form The Red Clay Ramblers.

I attended three of them and can catch a few fleeting glimpses of my bearded, ponytailed self in Bob's very fine piece of cinema verite.

And assisting in the making of the film were individuals who would later become well-known for their involement with West Virginia arts: John Stone, Mike Meador and Bill Hogan.

From The Ramblers' website:

From 1969 to 1973 brothers John and David Morris held old time music festivals at their homeplace in Ivydale, West Virginia. This film captures the 1972 festival with its music, dancing and mud; and documents, as part of the festival, some of the most important traditional Appalachian mountain musicians of these times. Tommy Thompson, Bill Hicks and Eric Olson played in memory of Bobbie Thompson, who performed at Ivydale in 1971, but died in February, 1972. See Bill's story "The Sleeper." The fall after this fest, Bill and Tommy went on to start the Red Clay Ramblers with Jim Watson.

Enjoy the film by Robert Gates
"Morris Family Old Time Music Festival"
order from
Omni Productions
Box 5130
Charleston, WV 25361
30 minutes, black and white, VHS from the original 16 mm film
Institutional copies $150, individual copies for personal use $25 ppd. Special Collectors edition add $5, priority mail add $5

In the film ...

Bonnie Collins
Jones Cottrill
Harry Dixon
J.P. Fraley
Sherman Hammons
Preacher Harold
Bill Hicks
Tom King
John Martin
Dave & John Morris
Gruder Morris
Minne Moss
Ira Mullins

and ...
Della Norton
Sylvia Obrian
Eric Olson
Dana Perkins
Herb Pitzer
Sparkey Rucker
Art Saxe
Jean & Lee Schilling
Glen Smith
Joe Thayer
Tommy Thompson
Lee Triplett
Homer Walker

Views: 713

Comment by Bob Gates on November 19, 2009 at 11:24am
These were wonderful festivals. This film is typical of most of my films, I do not make them because I want to, but because I have to. This festival just had to be documented, so I went to S. Spence Moore Co. and charged as much film to my account as I could. Filmmakers like to talk about shooting ratios: this film is one to one. I even went thru the outcuts looking for anything I could use as a 12 second cutaway. It is fascinating looking at the splices in the two roll soundtrack as you run the film thru the syncronizer. It really hangs together, and though I have yet to get an audience to do it, you could dance thru the entire film sequence to sequence. While this is one of the first things I filmed after buying my Bolex in January of that year to document strip mining, it is a very good thing that I waited til 1980 to edit it as it really took some expertice. If I had edited it before making "In Memory of the Land and People" it would have just been a mess, as I only had film enough to shoot the beginning and ends of the songs.

As a contrast, the following year the Beckley PBS station showed up with a big grip truck and big lights and videoed it with a three camera setup. This not only ruined the mood of the festival, but their resulting program was demeaning and made the festival look like the Ted Mack Amateur Hour. Horrible. I am so happy I made this wonderful Black and White 16mm film and preserved the memory of so many musicians that are no longer with us.

Bob Gates
Comment by Jack Ballengee Morris on April 26, 2010 at 12:22am
Does anyone research this shit before they write it David went to the nam not John. The Morris Brothers are international not " nearly became nationally known" and "to much of everything took it's toll" what the fuck does that mean. If your going to write about my dad you should get your shit together and call him first. He also did the music for "Harlan County U.S.A" you should write an article about the director changing the movie from the original oscar film to what it is now. Jack Morris
Comment by Amos Perrine on April 26, 2010 at 4:19am
The film is now available on DVD. $20, for more information contact
Comment by Scott Harrison on October 18, 2010 at 4:52am
I heard John and David Morris at theUniversity of Chicago Folk Festival in the early 1970s. I bought their record containing an a capella version of TheWhite Pilgrim or The Lost Pilgrim which they performed for the festival. Since then, my son lent the record to a friend who has not yet returned it. Does anyone know if this piece is still available?


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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.