History Series

Author, musician Wilkes
to speak at OCHS dinner

He has traveled the country
to write about barn dances

LA GRANGE, Ky. (February 2014) – Barn dances and jamborees are an important element to the traditional Kentucky music scene in addition to the social scene they provide. Grammy-nominated soundtrack artist and author J.D. Wilkes has delved into the folklore behind these iconic traditions to write a book that celebrates an old time custom.
“A sense of history, cultural identity and community spirit are what draw people to these socials,” said Wilkes, author of “Barn Dances & Jamborees across Kentucky.”
“Perhaps more so than the music, which can be hit or miss. People should view these get-togethers as events like church or potlucks where we meet to gab, have a bite and hear some tunes.”


Several years ago, Wilkes, 41, attended some old time jamborees in Tennessee and found them to be “refreshing. These jamborees were down-to-earth and homespun. And the social aspect was uplifting and pure.”
Deciding he would one day like to journey down the back roads to find out more about them and chronicle what he learned, Wilkes did just that. He conducted “interviews with experts and old-timers” and took “a half dozen good old fashioned “field trips.”
According to Wilkes, he “spent a lot of money on gas driving to extreme opposite ends of the state. I stayed up late in motels writing down the details of the events I’d just attended. It was fun to go exploring and learn about my home state.”
He combined his experiences with Internet and library research to produce a book that takes a look at barn dances and jamborees and their uniqueness to each region of Kentucky. Wilkes will present a program about “Barn Dances & Jamborees across Kentucky” at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20, for the Oldham County History Center.
The program will take place in the Rob Morris Educational Building, where a light dinner and cash bar will be available. Copies of Wilkes’ book will also be for sale during the program.
Wilkes will present this program as the first in the 2014 series of The History Press Author Dinner Series, a hugely popular series for the History Center in 2013. All authors are Kentucky writers and have published books through The History Press, located in Charleston, S.C.
“What a great lineup we have for this year as we host the 2014 Annual History Press Dinner Series,” said Nancy Theiss, Executive Director of the Oldham County History Center in La Grange. Authors from across the state will provide a spectrum of programs revolving around such topics as Kentucky sweet treats, Canonero II (Kentucky Derby winner), Lexington, Ky., the Battle of Perryville, country ham history, and La Grange resident Rob Morris.
“We usually have 40-50 people attend. The program includes a lovely dinner prepared by History Center volunteers and a cash bar,” she said. Reservations are required.
“Older folks tend to populate these events, folks born in more agrarian times,” said Wilkes of barn dances and jamborees. “I believe they are the last of their kind and should be both appreciated and celebrated. The music they make is honest and devoid of pretension.”
In researching material for the book, Wilkes said he learned that there is a small movement among the younger generation, especially in northern Kentucky, to keep these old events and tunes alive and relevant. “The Louisville and Covington areas especially imbue a “hipness” factor to the culture.”
Wilkes was born in Texas to Kentucky parents and has lived in western Kentucky since he was 2 months old. Also a musician, he plays clawhammer banjo but said he is better known as a harmonica player in the bluesy rockabilly band, the Dirt Daubers. He has recorded harmonica professionally for Merle Haggard, Hank Williams III and June Carter Cash.
He said that is where “where jamborees and picking parties come in. They’re the best places to hone your skills, as they are welcoming environments that are happy to have young people in attendance.”
Wilkes said he hopes attendees will appreciate the specialness of these “old-time get-togethers” and understand that they are important to support. “They carry on historically and culturally significant traditions that can edify the modern listener who perhaps has grown jaded in our high definition, industrial age of iPhones and fast food.”
In addition to writing many articles for the Kentucky Explorer Magazine, Wilkes is the author of two self-published southern gothic comic books. He has also illustrated a book on Kentucky ghost stories for the University Press of Kentucky.

• To reserve, contact the Oldham County History Center at (502) 222-0826. Cost is $15 for members and $18 for non-members.

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