Just you remember, Charlie, these old mountain tunes will bring
you back home; they’ll bring you back home. ~ Tom “Pap” Abner
At the height of the Great Depression, young Charlie Abner has only known the beautiful hills of Kentucky and a life steeped in hard work, church and playing the fiddle when his father announces plans to move the family north to Ohio in search of a paying job. Uprooted from the place he loves, Charlie never gives up his dream of returning. It is only many years later that the lifestyle and the music he loves, that breathes life into his spirit and soul, brings him back home. So is the tale of The Mountain Minor.
The Mountain Minor is a fictional adaptation woven from the memories of writer and director, Dale Farmer, a skilled musician himself. The movie is based on his family’s own experiences of migrating from the Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky across the river to southwestern Ohio. From the many stories and mountain music traditions of his grandparents, all of whom were Appalachian musicians and ballad singers, the movie spans five generations and brings to life the rich culture and music traditions which unified the generations. It is the story of many Appalachian families who built the backbone of this region and had such an important impact on American music culture.
Although the movie is set in Kentucky, it was filmed on location at Willet Ponds Farm, an authentic Appalachian farm in Todd, North Carolina. The Mountain Minor is packed with beautiful Appalachian scenery, great mountain music tunes, and real musicians in the principle roles.
With over 25 old time tunes, ballads and gospel songs, this movie is a treasure trove that will have old timers delighting while introducing newcomers to this great American music. Some of the highlights for me were:
- Tecumseh on the Battlefield
- Hickory Jack
- Fiddler a Dram
- Old Jimmy Sutton
- Sally in the Turnip Patch
- Brushy Fork of John’s Creek
- Cripple Creek
- Paddy on the Turnpike
- Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane
- Comin’ from the Ball
- and, an original song by writer/director Dale Farmer – Across the Ohio
Here Asa Nelson & Hazel Pasley play Sally in the Turnip Patch .
Dale Farmer made a decision early on to use real musicians to play the leading roles. This strategy adds an authenticity to The Mountain Minor that is palatable throughout the movie. Among the players are:
- Dan Gellert (Charlie Abner): Dan Gellert is a legend in the field of old time American music. His distinctive phrasing and touch brings to life the spirit and atmosphere of eastern Kentucky fiddle playing.
- Asa Nelson (Young Charlie Abner): Asa has won numerous awards for his old-time fiddling. The young musician enjoys playing traditional Appalachian music and has competed at many Old-Time Fiddlers Conventions.
- Ma Crow (Ruth Abner): Ma Crow is a longtime veteran of folk and bluegrass music. She played for many years with the well known Cincinnati band Ma Crow and the Flock and also formed her own bands, Ma Crow and the Medicine Show and also the Motherpluckers.
- Hazel Pasley (Young Ruthie): Hazel was born and raised in the mountains of North Carolina and began playing guitar in the third grade. Music and dance have been a part of a rich childhood for Hazel filled with fiddlers conventions, square dances, jams, and a wonderful community of musicians.
- Elizabeth LaPrelle (Oza Abner): Elizabeth LaPrelle grew up in Rural Retreat, Virginia in a home where there was always singing, and a community with many fine old-time musicians. She has been performing Appalachian ballads and old-time songs since she was eleven.
- Trevor McKenzie (Ves Abner): Trevor is a multi-instrumentalist and singer originally from southwest Virginia. He performs as a sideman with several regional acts including the Elkville String Band and the Laurel Creek String Band.
- Mike Oberst (Willie Abner): Mike is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, musician, and songwriter best known as a co-founder of the Cincinnati, Ohio string band, The Tillers.
- Warren Waldron (Tom Abner) and Judy Waldron (Granny Whit): Husband and wife, accomplished multi-instrumentalists and singers who plays music with the highly sought-after Rabbit Hash String Band and the contradance band, Full Moon.
Here Ma Crow and Dan Gellert rehearse Cripple Creek for their upcoming scene during the filming of the movie. Farmer wanted to show some of the relationship between Bluegrass and its predecessor Old Time. As the music was passed down it evolved and continues to as time goes on. This old song, Cripple Creek, became popularized as an instrumental by Earl Scruggs and later as the theme song for Hee Haw’s Pickin and Grinnin.
On The Mountain Minor Movie website, Dale Farmer explains:
“We’re part of a grassroots movement encouraging Appalachians, both in Appalachia and in the places their families migrated, to embrace their amazing heritage. We’re doing it though the music that has had a resurgence of popularity in recent years. Musicians and fans of traditional Appalachian music of all ages will experience the substance and special meaning of the music as it was passed down over the generations to today’s stages, porches and media devices. Our narrative feature film, The Mountain Minor, follows an old fiddle through five generations of the Abner Family from Eastern Kentucky in 1932 to a music stage in Cincinnati today. The journey of that old fiddle will give insights into the lives of many thousands of Appalachian families who either stayed or migrated to a land of many challenges to overcome. And, that they did!
Appalachians who migrated to urban centers for work in the 1930s-1960s became the heart of the working middle class. And they brought with them a most valuable resource: their music. Appalachians have long been misrepresented in film and popular culture; we hope our film will help shift this paradigm—revealing the great contributions Appalachians have made to society through their hard work and resourcefulness.
We will share this powerful story of Appalachian culture and music roots in small theaters, schools and universities, and civic and non-profit venues across the country and abroad. Moviegoers will leave the theater asking themselves where they come from, and with a better appreciation of the soul of Appalachian music.“
Unlike most big-budget movies produced today, The Mountain Minor was produced through the generosity of many organizations and individuals. They are listed in the credits along with the actors, support crew, and all the featured music in the film. While most folks turn off a movie when the credits come onto the screen, the credits for this film are a gem as they continue to tell the story, with a slide show of the actual people depicted and their families and a reprise of Comin’ from the Ball at the very end.
To date, the film has won several prestigious awards:
- Jukebox Internation Film Festival (World Premiere) August 24, 2018 – Best of Festival – Jury Award, Second Place – Outstanding Achievement Award for Acting (Hazel Pasley, Asa Nelson)
- Franklin International Film Festival 2018 – Best Drama Feature
- Endless Mountains Film Festival 2018 – Best of Festival – Best Director – Best Actor (Asa Nelson)
- Queen City Film Festival 2018 – Best Film in Category
- UPIKE Film and Media Arts Festival 2019 – Spirit of the Mountains Award
- Longleaf Film Festival 2019 – North Carolina Museum of History – Best Drama Feature
- Northeast Mountain Film Festival 2019 – Best Feature Film
The Mountain Minor is a realistic and heartwarming story about one person and his family that tells the story about the many people and families of Appalachia who left their homes in the 1920s-1950s and migrated to urban Midwestern centers to survive, most never to return to the land and life they loved.
The story is partially told in flashbacks to depression era eastern Kentucky, when Charlie’s parents, Oza and Vestal Abner, face the difficult decision to leave the way of life they know and move to Ohio for employment and better opportunities. This film is unique in that all of its principal actors are traditional musicians—such as Smithsonian Folkways artist Elizabeth LaPrelle and acclaimed banjoist and fiddler Dan Gellert, and they perform all of the music in the film.
The mountain scenery is beautiful, the real-life cultural depictions are enlightening, and the music is incredible. The Mountain Minor is a movie that will entertain and educate.
To date, The Mountain Minor has not been released to the general public. It has only been shown at film festivals and community screenings. If you are interested in bringing The Mountain Minor to your community, contact their Outreach Coordinator, Alyssa Meoak, at Mountainminoroutreach@gmail.com
I have asked Dale Farmer of his plans for a general release to theaters or television. Once I learn anything new, I will post it here, and you can follow any new developments on the movie’s website and Facebook page..
Often, while watching, I thought of my Dad who, just a couple of years older than Charlie, was raised in a primitive house on the family farm in Culpeper Virginia. His life was hard, but happy, filled with family. He left the farm to fight in WWII and eventually marry my mom and settle in the northeast. He always spoke lovingly of his life on the farm. I know he always wanted to return home, but except for infrequent visits, he never made it back.
I want to thank Dale Farmer for his kindness in allowing me to preview The Mountain Minor, and I hope my review does the movie justice.
Added December 4, 2019:
The Mountain Minor has announced they have a limited first run of Blu-rays and DVDs that they are making available on our own web site.