I grew up just south of Murfreesboro, going to the “big city” whenever we needed to see a specialty doctor like my allergist or, of course, hit up Target. At that time, it was what others might have considered a “small town” at roughly half the size it is today; Murfreesboro had less than 70,000 residents when I graduated from high school, while now, its population exceeds 130,000. Not only is it the fastest-growing city in Tennessee, but it also has landed on the top 10 lists of fastest-growing cities in America for multiple years in a row. Needless to say, Murfreesboro has changed a wee bit since I was a kid.
But some things haven’t changed, events like Uncle Dave Macon Days that still, at their core, promote Tennessee’s heritage and have appealed to locals and visitors for 41 years and counting. And somehow despite my love of both music and festivals, I had never been to this local festival until this month.
Uncle Dave’s Origins
The festival memorializes singer-songwriter David “the Dixie Dewdrop” Macon, who was a renowned banjo player but also one of the first superstars of the Grand Ole Opry when it debuted in 1925. While the Dixie Dewdrop was born in neighboring Warren County, he moved to a farm in Rutherford County after getting married. The legend goes that he would sing and play his banjo from beneath a shady tree during his breaks. His music career didn’t start until his 50s after he was forced out of business by a trucking company, but this old dog could learn new tricks, it turned out, as he was signed to perform at vaudeville theaters across the US before going to New York to record and eventually returning to Nashville a bonafide country star.
Dave was credited with aiding the transformation of folk music into modern country and inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame after his death. It makes sense then that a pickin’, swingin’, jammin’ celebration of a weekend like Uncle Dave Macon Days would have been established in the 70s in his honor.
Uncle Dave Macon Days is held on the grounds of Cannonsburgh Village. I was familiar with Murfreesboro’s Civil War history—more than 6,000 Union soldiers are buried in Stones River National Battlefield—but little did I know until this weekend that Cannonsburgh was the original name of Murfreesboro, which is Tennessee’s geographical center and also hailed as state capital from 1818 until Nashville took its place in 1826. Today, it represents a century’s worth of Tennessee history, spanning from the 1830s to the 1930s.
Cannonsburgh Village was built for the bicentennial back in 1976 as one of 16 nation-wide projects receiving federal assistance. “Cannonsburgh Village invites you to take a tour through 125 years of Southern rural life,” the flyer reads, and even though the event was going on all weekend, the village was still open to the public. Among many offerings, there are blacksmith demonstrations, a working gristmill, a wedding chapel, a one-room schoolhouse, a country store, a turn-of-the-century fire engine. How did I never go on a field trip to this magical place as a kid?
And, seriously, have you ever seen a cooler spot to integrate a roots festival throughout the grounds? Even if you can’t make Uncle Dave Macon Days next summer, Cannonsburgh Village should be on your to-visit list the next time you’re passing through Murfreesboro.
Uncle Dave Macon Days brands itself as an “old-time and Americana music festival,” and there’s a full lineup of Americana, bluegrass and roots music spread across two stages all day on both Friday and Saturday. Rhonda Vincent was one of this year’s headliners, and bluegrass comics the Cleverlys closed out the weekend late on Saturday night.
There are also various competitions like guitar, fiddle, banjo and clogging held during daytime hours. The whole thing is very casual and draws a large, diverse crowd of up to 40,000. I love that UDMD feels like going to a county fair, but with an elevated music experience.
You also can bring in your own coolers of snacks and beverages (just no alcohol). You can buy tickets at the gate. There’s no pretense, no advance planning needed, just a good, old-fashioned, family-friendly weekend outdoors with great music.
But what I found most enticing were the jam sessions that took place all over the grounds. Anyone can bring in their own instrument along, and many did—from a fiddle to an upright bass—often joining other pickers in impromptu jams for festival-goers to enjoy.
Tickets to UDMD are just $10 a day or $15 for a two-day pass, and best of all, you can buy them at the gate.
You’ll find all the delicious fried food your heart and stomach can handle at UDMD, from funnel cakes to gator on a stick. I tried the Oreo ice cream sandwich while SVV indulged in shaved ice, being the Californian surfer that he is.
There was a long line for the BBQ truck all weekend long, so when we wanted to eat a full meal, we just walked over to the square, five minutes across the road: for lunch the first day at Simply Pure Sweets coffee shop and brunch on Saturday at hot chicken joint Party Fowl.
The Murfreesboro square has dozens of options for meals and snacks, so you won’t be lacking for things to eat, whether you opt to dine on the festival grounds or off.
Dozens of vendors from all over the state set up shop in the Dave Macon Artisans Court, the major requirement of which is that everything must be made, assembled or embellished by the exhibitor.
In a world where all art seems to be made in China no matter where we travel, it was refreshing to meet so many craftsmen from across Tennessee who made everything from stringed instruments out of lunch boxes to topiary animals having a tea party.
Every Saturday morning sandwiched in between the two days of the festival is a motorless parade that starts on East Main Street, winds its way up to the courthouse, does a half-loop around the square then continues on into the festival grounds.
This was one of our favorite parts of the whole weekend. We arrived an hour early to explore the Murfreesboro Farmers Market on the Square, posted up on the east side of the square so we could catch the parade coming through, then darted to the other side of the courthouse to photograph them as they were leaving, as well.
Uncle Dave Macon Days embodied everything I love about summer in the South and reminded me of why we’re so lucky to live where we do among friendly, talented and hospitable folks like the ones we mingled with at the festival. Here’s a taste of the festival in case you want to put it on your calendar for next July:
This post was sponsored by the Rutherford County CVB. All opinions are my own.