Who was/is Janette Carter ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
Deliverance will come
The cars start arriving late Saturday afternoon. The Carter Family Fold doors are already open, and people wander in. The regulars put a personal item on a seat to claim it, then drive into Hiltons or Gate City to get a bite to eat. Up on a hill overlooking the Fold, Janette Carter readies herself for another Saturday night. Her brother, Joe, opens the Fold, then sits in an airplane seat off to the side. Friends wander up, sit and talk. Joe built most of the Fold himself by hand, and it's a remarkable structure; remarkable both as a building and as a living monument. Clinch Mountain towers three thousand feet above it, and the Fold is built into the mountainside, affording a natural slant. When it rains, water runs off the mountain and down the theater aisles. The seats are mostly old bus and train seats. There are a few lawn chairs with the back legs cut down so that you sit flat rather than on a 45-degree angle. The bleachers are railroad ties with carpet samples stapled onto them. There's no air conditioning other than tin roll-up windows, which are open in summer and closed in winter. Joe fires up two big wood stoves on winter afternoons to warm the place before the crowds arrive. If someone faints in the summer heat, Janette's son, Dale, carries them out and puts them under a tree. If it rains and cars are stuck in the mud, Dale will pull them out. If it snows, and someone has a long drive home, one of the Carters will put them up until the roads clears.
Promptly at 7:30pm Janette Carter walks onstage. She's unsteady on her feet these days, but her eighty years sit well upon her. She's a handsome woman with a beatific smile, and first time visitors are often moved to tears as she talks briefly and humbly about how she and Joe built the Fold in order to fulfill her promise to her father, A. P. Carter. "Before he died, my daddy asked me to try to carry on his music, and I told him I would," said Janette. "And when you make a promise, you keep it if you possibly can. It took me a few years to start after he died, but I was busy. I was taking care of my children, and trying to put first things first" . In 1974, she began holding shows in A.P.'s little general store, and the Fold was completed in 1979. She took the name from the Book of John 10:16. ”And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd."
Janette begins every show with a Carter Family song, accompanying herself on the autoharp. Sometimes, Joe and Dale will join her on a hymn; sometimes, Joe will do a comedy monolog with animal imitations. Then Janette introduces the evening's act, which is almost invariably a bluegrass or old time band. Johnny Cash did his last show there on July 5, 2003, and word-of-mouth alone drew seven hundred people into the space normally occupied by five hundred. Only acoustic instruments are permitted, with very rare exceptions. Jack Wright made a documentary about the Fold during its early years, and tells how Ricky Skaggs came to the Fold to perform. "When he tried to plug in his guitar, Janette told him, 'Nobody's allowed to do that except Johnny Cash.'" So now nobody plugs in. Johnny and June's house, formerly Maybelle Carter's house, sits empty just a few yards up the road.
The dance floor in front of the stage quickly fills with dancers of all ages. There is, as the locals will tell you, not much else to do on a Saturday night, but there aren't many other venues where children, parents, and grandparents dance together. They'll do a clog dance or an Irish buckdance, or just kick up their heels. Janette's daughter, Rita, supervises the food concession. They try to keep it all affordable. Five dollars to get in, and just a few bucks for soup, chili, popcorn, or a burger. No ripoff stadium pricing at the Carter Family Fold. This is, after all, Poor Valley.
Janette chooses the bands herself, listening to all the tapes and CDs that come in. After she's finished her opening numbers, she sits on a couch behind the band, and if there are too many slow songs, she'll prod one of the band members with her walking stick. "You're losing 'em, boy." She is, in her unaffected way, an astute judge of what works. During the intermission, Janette's niece, Flo Wolfe, sells CDs, tapes, videos, and souvenirs. Flo's mother was Janette and Joe's older sister, Gladys. Janette sings another song or two after the break, and then the band does its second set. There's no off-color humor, no drinking, and no smoking. The Fold closes up around 10:00PM, in time for everyone to get home, and get up in time for church.
In its way, the Carter Family Fold ranks among the most remarkable achievements in American music. It's hard to know what Elvis would think of Graceland, or what Martin Luther King would think of his speeches and catchphrases being copyrighted and trademarked, but it's absolutely certain that A.P. Carter would be very proud of the Fold. It was an almost inestimable act of faith to build it there near Hiltons, Virginia. The nearest interstate is miles away, and while Clinch Mountain is lovely, there's no reason other than the Fold to be four miles outside Hiltons on Saturday night. Something seemed to tell Janette that if she built it, they would come. And they have. Every week, Janette asks where everyone is from. The audience shouts out their home states. Visitors from Ireland get a good hand because most of the audience is directly or indirectly descended from Irish and Scots migrants. Janette and Rita made one trip to England and Ireland in 2002, and felt very much at home in Ireland. It was one of the very few times in the last thirty years that Janette has not presided over Saturday night at the Carter Family Fold.
Janette Carter Deliverance Will Come
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