Fiddlin’ John Carson’s 136th Birthday Celebration – (Cabbagetown, GA)
One mile from the heart of Atlanta sits the small Cabbagetown neighborhood, its wood-frame shotgun shacks and gritty storefronts a stark contrast to the modern skyscrapers of the city. The community was built around 1880 to house migrants from the north Georgia Mountains who came to work in the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill, now a loft development.
One of the early residents was John Carson, who brought his beloved hillbilly music with him and often entertained the residents after his shift at the bag mill. A spot on WSB radio led to Carson becoming one of the city’s most popular musicians, and his Okeh record “Little Log Cabin In The Woods” from 1923 is considered by many to be the first “country” recording, reportedly selling over half a million copies.
Each year, Carson’s birthday is remembered in Cabbagetown by his descendants and neighborhood residents. Though many have moved away, they are a close-knit group who cherish the reunion. This year’s event, hosted by Carson’s grandson, John L. Carson, began with a brief performance of several jigs and reels from fiddler Danny Ray Cole, a musical homage to the family’s Irish roots. This year’s “Fiddlin’ John Carson Awards” for contributions to Atlanta’s traditional roots music were presented to retired musicians Charlie Bradford and Ernest Jump. Previous honorees include Little Jimmy Dempsey, Randy Howard, Harold Bradley, Paul Peek, and Howard “Louie Bluie” Cunningham.
The rest of the afternoon, old timers in song circles played classic bluegrass and country tunes while onlookers enjoyed a fiddle-shaped birthday cake. In spite of the celebratory atmosphere, there was an undertone of sadness. As one participant remarked, “Every year we get older and the group gets smaller, but Fiddlin’ John’s memory needs to be kept alive. He was country, and we are country.”