Hooked on Bluegrass

Mildred Criswell

I have ALWAYS loved to sing, and at five years old, someone would stand me on the podium at church, and I'd belt it out with no shyness at all. When I was 9 years old, we moved from St. Louis Missouri to the Mountain View Arkansas area. A little town named Fifty Six. Two stores, a gas station, and post office. The little one room school we went to on Roasting Ear Creek, doubled as church and community center. (This was before the Mountain View Culture Center was established.) The only thing was, all the folks were Baptists, and my parents missed the Pentecostal style services. My mom talked Dad into stripping the living room of furniture, and setting up benches for a prayer meeting night.

Since entertainment was very rare, the folks came out of the bushes. Literally. The crowds became too large for the house, so my dad and my brother-in-law moved the services across the road to the National Forest Service land, Built more benches, and a pulpit. Folks would walk, ride on wagons, or horseback to come. One family had a pet pig and brought it along.

One night a deer came running through the crowd, with hound dogs on its trail. It only temporarily interrupted the services.

I don't really recall singing solo there, but, when those Ozark hill folks started singing with that beautiful high lonesome harmony, I just was overcome with emotion. I guess I had not experienced harmony singing. "Mansions For Me." "Mother's Only Sleeping." There are songs I learned there that I have never heard anywhere else. This wasn't actually bluegrass as we hear it now, but it was a precursor to it.

When I was 15 years old , we moved to California, and singing in church was enough to keep me satisfied, then in the early 70's, the band, High Country, came to do a concert at the Visalia Convention Center. It sounded very familiar, but the accent was sure different!

Through them, we discovered the Norco Bluegrass Festival, then after about two years, the CBA Father's Day and fall festival. I was HOOKED! But it was some time before we became acquainted with Tom Caffrey and his camping friends, and I actually got to sing with folks.

Singing and picking with my husband, Sam Criswell, is the fulfillment of my musical dreams. In fact I have written a song "Living My Dream." I'll sing it for you one day.

(posted 12/31/2009)

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