Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Northernmost City in Kentucky

The northernmost city in Kentucky really is Dayton (across the river from Cincinnati), but one can say that about the Ohio Dayton, too. Though it might more properly be called the northernmost city in the southern Appalachians, due to the huge demographic influence from not only eastern Kentucky, but West Virginia, western Virginia, and eastern Tennessee.

It's a good question when the big Appalachian migration started; apparently it has been happening, or was noticed, already in the 1920s. It was probably the Depression and WWII that really kicked off the influx, then the mechanization of coal mining in the later 1940s and 50s. The 'briars' (local slang for southern Appalachians) settled in older neighborhoods on the east side, but also in Riverdale, and parts of West Dayton, and suburban areas in Drexel, Fairborn, Riverside and Moraine..

This map from the 1970s was an attempt to develop a geography of where the Appalachians settled, based on common surnames in the region

The Appalachian migration was in enough volume to alter the character of Dayton from a Midwestern metropolis to one more akin to the Upper South, as the culture and values of that region came to influence this area. Examples range from things as mundane as the popularity of country music, stock car racing, and vacations in Gatlinburg or the Gulf Coast, to foodways, to changes in accent/dialect, to the various forms of evangelical Christianity setting the religious and moral tone.

As this migration was perhaps more men at first, working in factory jobs, which led to a lot of bars and taverns to go after work. A product of this briar nightlife was bluegrass music.

The Appalachian working class of Dayton and vicinity was an early fan base for Bluegrass music (which often is, in its lyrical themes, a music of migration), and produced some of the "name" artists in the genre, as well as lesser known musicians and local bands.

Bluegrass remains popular in the area, and one of the experts on the genre (and a musician, too), Fred Bartenstein, is based here. Fred produces a syndicated bluegrass radio program out of the WYSO studios.

Probably one of the best venues to see all this come together is Mountain Days, held in Eastwood Park, in the heavily Appalachian east side of the metro area. I usually don’t go to this as I don't want to pay the $6 entry fee, but decided to check it out this year. I was at one 11, 14 years ago or so, and was pretty impressed with how large it has grown. They have four stages, one for cloggers and square dancers, one for the bigger acts:

...another for local bluegrass acts:
...and yet another more intimate venue for singer/songwriters, which was quite a few:

Dayton apparently has a nice little collection of folks writing country and bluegrass tunes, based on what I saw.

Plus re-enactors, craft booths, etc. Mountain Days is certainly worth the entry fee (which goes to a scholarship fund), and another one of those things that makes Dayton "Daytonesque".

Click here for a pix tour of Mountain Days

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