There’s something special about music that is beyond the reach of words. Like a sound track in the background of our lives, our memories are usually attached to a place, a time or a song.

My best memories of the holidays are playing guitar with my papaw and relatives on Christmas day. At this time of year, it was easy to lower our musical differences and appreciate the special way Christmas carols brought us all together.

This weekend was the annual holiday party at The Outdoorsman Club on Highway 11W, east of Kingsport. My best friend’s father, like a lot of folks in the Tri-Cities, makes this place a weekly destination. Every Friday and Saturday night, Peggy Pickard and her friends transform this hunting fraternity into a dance hall that features live bluegrass and country music. You won’t find any alcohol here, but what’s short on libation is replaced with great music and great times for any age.

The first thing I noticed about The Outdoorsman was the smell of fresh perms. Sounds kind of silly and it didn’t last long, but most of the folks there that night could have been my parents. They were dressed to the nines too with matching Western shirts and I know I saw one blinking holiday sweater on the dance floor.

There was a $5 cover charge and with a covered dish, you could make yourself a plate of fine country cooking. The lights were low, but the real glow, the one I’ll always remember, came from the music and the people gathered at this special place.

The Tennessee Ramblers are an ad hoc band of musicians that play classic country — the ones from the Grand Old Opry like Hank Williams Jr., Buck Owens, Charlie Pride and Marty Robbins. Most of the guys in the group are retired from all over the nation, but they share a love of music that is inspiring.

During the break, I talked to several of the guys in the band. Dave O’Roark did most of the singing that night. He’s a retired postman from Fairfax, Va., that met up with the rest of the guys a little over a year ago. He was singing with Johnny Sturgill who joined the group for the night and sang several Christmas songs. Ransom McCoy also played guitar and sang like Willie Nelson and together they were able to perform most any re quest.

Tom Smith was sitting in on drums. He’s been playing music for over 45 years and has three drum kits set up at different dance halls in the Tri-Cities. He was playing a vintage 1974 Ludwig painted red, white and blue and along with bassist Larry Gardner they made up a rhythm section that kept the dance floor crowded.

I’m not the biggest country music fan (my mom still prays for me), but I know a good musician when I hear one, regardless of the style, and the Tennessee Ramblers have a couple of players that are worth bragging about.

Jack Willis is from Bristol and he’s been playing fiddle for 40 years, so when he stoked up his bow on the “Orange Blossom Special,” there was magic in the air, because he had no trouble getting everyone out of the chairs. He was not only capable of playing swift melodies that brought out the cloggers, but his talent gave the music a special mountain flavor that added a lot to the band’s recipe.

When it comes to a melancholy instrument, there’s nothing that compares to the steel guitar. For an amateur, it’s a stringed instrument with an erratic glissando, but in the hands of an expert like Eddie Trent, you’ve got an instrument that can make a grown man cry a river of tears.

Knoxville’s Ava Barber was a regular on “The Lawrence Welk Show” and she must have enjoyed Eddie’s talent too, because she hired him to play on tour with her several years. If you like to dance to a waltz or a ballad, Eddie will take you there.

The Tennessee Ramblers are a wonderful band — there’s no doubt about. They have a lot of experience and can play about every classic country song you can name, but what’s special about The Outdoorsman occurs on the dance floor.

I go to a lot places to hear music and if there’s any dancing at all, it’s usually somewhere away from the band, under the control of a disc jockey spinning CDs while thousands of lights strobe the senses. This weekend, the only lights at the dance hall came from the illumination of a life-sized Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman in each corner of the room, but that was enough for me to clearly see what’s special about this place.

The couples that show up each week at The Outdoorsman love to dance. They hold each other close and glide across the floor to their favorite country songs and I imagine they’ve been doing this for many years and to me, that’s a real treasure — one that’s not easy to count, or easy to describe, but whatever it is, it goes well with music.

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This week’s buzz topics…

  • The new GoTriCities Band Directory…
  • Queer Eye for Sadaam…

This week’s best bets for live music…

  • Friday: SRO, new “Vegas” style band at Hemmingways
  • Saturday: 10,000 Flames at the Sophisticated Otter.


David Cate is director of new media for the GoTriCities Network. Send e-mail to him at