The Southern Sound Series is an annual event hosted by the Culture and Heritage Museums at McCelvey Center's Lowry Family Theatre in York, South Carolina. The musical acts this year included Nikki Lane, The Steel Wheels, Mark O’Connor Band, and Rhiannon Giddens. While each of these well-renowned artists have developed a sound of their own, their music maintains its southern roots.
Marie Cheek, the Community Relations Coordinator at the Culture & Heritage Museums of York County, explains "We really try to focus our Southern sound series on music that has connections to the Carolina piedmont. For instance, this year we have Rhiannon Giddens who is from North Carolina and she sings songs that, old tunes, that really have a connection to the music of the Carolina past."
Rhiannon Giddens, a North Carolina native, reflects on that, saying "It's always really exciting for me to come back to the Carolinas and to come back to the south because the people in the audiences here have a slightly different relationship with the music than other people do… the way they respond in the south is more familiar to me and it's always nice to feel like I'm coming home." She adds, "Folk music is a very important kind of music to me because it's one of the oldest kinds of music and it's one of the ones that's really the closest to regular people and I think what folk music is changes with time and with the transformation of culture and society, but it's still folk music…I think that's really going to be what I always come back to because that's kind of where I live...with regular people."
Folk music is a staple in Appalachian and Southern culture but has been able to transcend southern boundaries and be appreciated all over the world. Not all Mark O’Connor band members are originally from the south, but they still maintain a deep relationship with southern sound.
Mark O'Connor, originally from Seattle, says "I think the idea that people can play southern-based music from not only all around the country, but all around the world…This is an incredible opportunity for really the world to share in the arts that the southeast of our country has produced. This place was settled early on. The hoedown comes from here, 400 years ago. The African American spirituals come from this part of the world, the blues, the early ragtime, which was originally called cakewalks, start in the 1830s in the southeast. So we really produce this amazing musical language." He talks about originality in music, saying "In this generation, I think its incumbent on the musicians to make it their own…one of the things we do in music over the course of 100s of years is add our own stamp to it, develop it some, change some things and come up with some new ideas.”
The Steel Wheels share the sentiment that authenticity in music is crucial. Trent Wagler, a member of the band, says "I think it’s important for us to be true to ourselves and the sound that we can make well. I can see a lot of styles of music that if we tried to make it…just wouldn’t seem honest. Like we’re not going to do a full-on electronica dance album because that wouldn’t be us, it wouldn’t seem like it was coming from us….we don’t ask ourselves and worry is that not bluegrassy enough, or is that not going to fit for people? We’re trying to make the music that feels true to us so if that ends up veering off the track of what people define as bluegrass, or old time, or whatever it is…Americana, that people consider us, then we’re not going to worry too much about that as long as we feel it’s still who we are as musicians."
Cheek comments about the importance of bringing a concert like this to York. She says “I think the series really impacts the community in a beneficial way. Here in York, SC....we're in the same county as rock hill but we're off the interstate so the visitation out here is not quite like it is in the Rock Hill or Charlotte area so the community really appreciates having high-quality music and talent to come here.”