You can’t think of an excuse I wouldn’t use for trip to North Georgia, especially if music and festivals are involved. So when I heard of the Spirit of Appalachia festival on Facebook, I knew that on September 17th I would awake early no matter how late I stayed up the night before and zip northward from Atlanta to the hills of White County.
According to the White County Chamber of Commerce website, the festival would be held at Hardman Farm in Sautee Nachoochee, Georgia. Sautee Nacoochee? Now where in the world could that be? Intrigued by the unusual name but also hoping to make it on time, I drove up to the intended direction as the landscape grew hillier, greener, and more picturesque. Ahh, North Georgia at last. I knew I had reached the vicinity of the festival as the traffic thickened on the two-lane road and drew to a halt. Out the window to my right I saw huge trails of dust in the air coming from the open pasture–then I saw the very long slow-moving line of cattle that caused this earth disturbance that reminded me of my days living in the Southwest. Such a much-needed change of scenery from city life.
As I drew closer I noticed the flocks of tents gathered on a tree-shaded green field. Parking in a dusty side lot, an attendant with a thick accent and a devilish sense of humor offered a ride to the venue. Thankful to be wearing my cowboy boots as I walked through the grass, a large and beautiful white Italianate house came into view. Replete with dark green shutters, a turret, and a long covered walkway leading to the kitchen, this nineteenth-century gem is known as the Hardman House for which Hardman Farm was named. Being a good decorative arts historian and very curious I knew had to take a tour–which I would do later.
As I walked near the house, I heard the live music coming from one of the festival’s featured bands. Of course this post wouldn’t be complete without a musical review! Three acts performed that day, but this is the one I heard the most before I had to mosey on back to ATL. The first song I heard them play was a bluegrass-y version of the Lumineers’ “Ho Hey.” Clever. The band introduced themselves as “Radford Windham and Step Back Cadillac.” Hailing from the North Georgia former gold mining town of Dahlonega, they described themselves as “school teachers and computer guys” who played gigs on the weekends. Would’ve had me fooled, as they sounded like professionals through and through.
Clearly in tune with the mountain music of the region, the close harmonies of the lead singer, Radford Windham, and the upright bass player, Lauren Stephens, blended perfectly as they turned out country standards such as Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried,” high lonesome renditions of folk classics like Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” and their own material such as the rousing “Step Back Cadillac,” telling the listener never to forgot her roots even as she’s dressed to kill in her evening gown and living the life of luxury. A song I really enjoyed, posted below, was “Do You Dream?” While originally by an artist named Matt Fockler, I thought they did an excellent rendition. I think I’ve found a new favorite Georgia Band.
“Do You Dream?” One of my Favorite Songs they Sang that Day
As the band started to pack up and head off the stage, I grew more curious about the house. On a time schedule, I did not stick around to hear the next band, Men in Blues, but maybe I’ll run into them at another festival soon.
I finally went in to satisfy my curiosity, and saw some beautiful rooms and Empire and Renaissance Revival furniture (once a decorative arts nerd, always a decorative arts nerd):
As I made my way back to the parking lot, I decided to stop by the Sautee Nacoochee Center for a spell just to find a bit more history on this gorgeous area. There I happened to meet Emory Jones, the author of The Valley Where They Danced, a historical fiction novel set at Hardman Farm for which Jones compiled painstaking research, including hauling three buckets of lard himself to experience what life on the farm may have been like in the first half of the twentieth century.
A passionate historian, he also showed me the DVD on the valley and a corresponding coffee table book he wrote detailing the history of the area, to which, not surprisingly, many artists and writers are drawn.
I’m glad I found out more about the above burial mound before I left, thanks to Emory Jones and the SNC video. That hill and the gingerbread-trimmed gazebo above it are part of the area’s history, and a wealth of Native American artifacts were found in the cow pasture on which it stands.
I also finally found out the story behind the name Sautee Nacoochee. According to legend, Sautee was a brave of the Chickasaw, and Nacoochee was the daughter of the Cherokee chief. These young lovers had a Romeo and Juliet-style affair as they came from warring tribes. Local lore claims they were both buried in the mound, but whether or not that is true, it remains a very peaceful resting place that is still considered a mystical spot.
Feeling enlightened on more of Georgia history and culture, I clambered back into my car and headed South with a whole new load of information and a phone full of pictures I had to share with you. Thanks for reading and best regards,