Drake Vintage Music and Curios this past sunny winter Saturday. Freeman and I did some catching up, I bought some stamps, and Freeman’s niece, Betty Lightfoot (née Kitchens), showed me old photos of her daylily gardens over the years. Later, she drove me all around Drake pointing out where and exactly what her family had farmed over the years. A tobacco farmer’s daughter, Betty has an intimate knowledge of the landscape, and where one bit of land ends and another begins. I started to understand just how tied the Kitchens family’s heritage is to the landscape of Old and New Drake, Kentucky.
About a month after the exhibit in honor of Mr. Freeman Kitchens opened at the Kentucky Museum, Freeman—who very rarely leaves Drake—journeyed to Bowling Green with his nieces and nephew, to see and touch the exhibition surveying his life’s work as founding member and president of the Carter Family Fan Club, and as proprietor of his historic country store and record shop.
Showing Freeman photos, records, tapes, old letters from scholars and musicians, and early issues of the Fan Club’s journal, the Sunny Side Sentinel, which he had not seen in decades, as well as the notes written to him in the exhibit guestbook from old friends, college students, and long time customers, was an incredibly memorable moment. I believe it to have also been a very full circle moment for Freeman and his family.
In the middle of the gallery space, we all sat down and took it in. Freeman told me stories I’d never heard before in all my hours of hanging around in his shop. Freeman’s nieces and his nephew shared fond memories of buying candy from Freeman, of special musical visitors to the shop, and of all the stories and songs traded on the store’s front porch.
I am so thankful for his kin who so easily convinced an otherwise very shy and humble Freeman to come out to experience the bricolage of artifacts, sounds, and images which paid tribute to the work he, his fan club and fellow collectors have done for generations of country music fans to come.
[CLICK ON IMAGES to view full size. More images from the exhibit, its opening, and Freeman’s visit can be viewed here.]
One of many pieces of Kitchens-related “fan art,” I’m perpetually in awe of Bruce Hargis’ exact replica diorama of the original shop, Freeman Kitchens’ Grocery, circa late 1970s/early 80s. It is permanently rested on top of Freeman’s shelves in Drake Vintage Music & Curios. [Click for larger view; Photo by J. Jameson]
Happy October from Freeman and Drake Vintage Music & Curios! I recently took my Austin, TX pal Tamara Valdez out to meet Freeman and we were greeted with a parade of singing mechanical ghouls at his shop! The largest dancing skeleton (pictured above) sings “Tutti Frutti,” but we discussed the possibility of piping in some country music for him to sing!
As the “Yours for the Carters,” exhibit comes to a close in two weeks, I’ll post photos and highlights from the exhibit at the Kentucky Museum, including the visit from Freeman and his nieces and nephew.
Research and fieldwork on the life and work of Freeman Kitchens continues, as I’ll be presenting a paper on Freeman Kitchens and the Carter Family Fan Club at this year’s International Country Music Conference in Nashville, May 24-26, 2012.
Jennifer Joy Jameson
Thanks to all who came out this past weekend for the exhibit opening at the Kentucky Museum and for the collective field trip out to visit with Freeman at his shop in Drake.
Curating an exhibit on this man and his rich and layered history has been the privilege of a lifetime, and I’m glad to say that this event does not end the research on, and partnership with, Freeman Kitchens.
Bringing Freeman’s story to the public through the museum was lovely and—I think—important. However, bringing the exhibit-goers and the string band to Freeman was the icing on the cake. He told me it was the first time he’d heard live music in 20-some years. The church across the street happened to be having an ice cream social and there was a serendipitous spill-over from that gathering, as we crammed people into Drake Vintage Music & Curios to hear the band perform in honor of Mr. Kitchens and his great work in the culture and history of country music, and in the community of Drake. One local man pulled me aside from all the bustle at the shop and entered me into the church’s cake walk - this act meant more to me than you can know.
Those of you who missed the opening can catch the exhibit until Nov. 11, 2011 at the Kentucky Museum at WKU. More importantly, though…don’t miss the opportunity to meet Freeman, who faithfully runs his shop in Drake, Ky. every Monday thru Saturday.
The rest of the photos from Drake are here.
Yours for the Carters,
Jennifer Joy Jameson
WKU Public Radio broadcast on “Yours for the Carters,” and Freeman Kitchens
Drake Vintage Music & Curios, 2011.
Here’s a link for the web-stream of the lovely radio broadcast on Freeman and the exhibit, produced by Rachel Hopkin for WKU Public Radio, WKYU (NPR).
Again, please JOIN US this SATURDAY, August 27th from 3-6 p.m. for the opening reception for the exhibit “Yours for the Carters,”: The Vintage Sound Collections of Freeman Kitchens at the Kentucky Museum on the campus of WKU in Bowling Green.
There will be live old-time music from members of the Hogslop String Band (+ friends?), and light refreshments. We will field trip over to Freeman’s shop, Drake Vintage Music & Curios, after the reception!
Get your radios ready!
The Rachel Hopkin-produced, WKU Public Radio piece on Freeman Kitchens, his shop, and the exhibit will air TOMORROW, Thursday, August 25th, at 5:50 am, 7:50 am, and (possibly) again at 5:50 pm, CENTRAL time. Bowling Green and some Nashville area listeners can tune in at 88.9 FM, others can tune in to the online stream via http://www.wkyufm.org/
Jennifer Joy Jameson
Exhibit sneak-peek, Pt. 2: [Click to enlarge photos.]
Leo Fernandez and the Hot Tamales play Mr. Kitchens’ original shop, Kitchens’ Grocery, 1976. Folklorist Burt Feintuch, who worked on the Freeman Kitchens Collection at the Folklife Archives is pictured with fiddle.