The Bean Blossom
Country Music’s Birth Place (Almost) ~ A Two-Part Report
by Mark Blackwell
Just about everybody knows that Bean Blossom is world famous for being the home of the Bill Monroe Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival. Some folks remember back when it was home to the Brown County Jamboree. But almost nobody knows that in 1927 Bean Blossom nearly became the birth place of the country music industry.
It all started with Doc and Diner Biesel.
Doc and Diner were a husband and wife musical team. Diner, whose real name was Mary, played fiddle and Doc, real name Vincent, accompanied her on guitar. They played for local get-togethers and square dances around Hamblen Township. Doc and Diner came to the attention of the manager of the Palace Theater in Indianapolis. They auditioned there and were hired as The Brown County Fiddlers. The act was popular among theatergoers and before long they were booked on a Vaudeville circuit. The whole county was buzzing about their success.
The 1920s saw the first big push to acquaint the outside world to the charm of Brown County. The new found celebrity of the Biesels fueled the imaginations of the county boosters who were eager to share our little patch of paradise in the hills. In the spring of 1927, with dreams of Brown-County-on-Broadway, plans were laid to inaugurate a search for more musical talent like Doc and Diner. A committee was convened and promptly proposed a talent show along the lines of the then popular radio show “Major Bowe’s Original Amateur Hour”. An ad was placed in the newspaper and fliers were tacked to fence posts and telephone poles throughout the county.
There were nominations for the Brumble Brothers, a close but not too close harmony quartet from the southern end of the county. The Possum Waller neighborhood entered their favorite son, Elmer Snavely and his musical whipsaw. Miss Leticia Flossnagle, soloist in the choir of the Queasy Creek branch of the Old Irregular Baptists, was added to the program, as well as the “Scarce O’ Fat Skunk Jumpers” jug band. Children known to possess no talent for anything but mischief were entered along with local political aspirants looking for a captive audience.
One application mystified the talent show committee. The “What is the nature of your talent?” line was left blank and the entry was simply signed “Uncle Bunk.” He was known by sight but no one knew whose uncle he was or where he lived. He would just appear at one end of the county one day and at the opposite end of the county on the next day with a half dozen coon hounds trailing behind him.
A large revival tent was erected and the judges were selected. Most of the Bean Blossom talent experiment evidence has been lost or destroyed. It is believed that there were four judges, one for each township. This presented a problem because each township had entered at least one act and it was presumed that the judge representing a particular area would undoubtedly vote for that locale’s entry. The committee decided that they needed an impartial tie-breaker from outside the county.
It was decided that a posse would be sent out to find a tourist willing to take on the responsibility. They first went to the train station in Helmsburg, thinking that it would be a likely spot to apprehend an unsuspecting visitor. But all they only found a few itinerant salesmen. The posse traveled to Nashville and spotted a stranger at the corner in front of the court house. He was addressing the Liars Bench regulars, begging for directions out of the county and getting six different answers. The talent delegation pulled their truck to the curb and got the stranger’s attention. They offered precise directions and a map in return for his services as the tie breaking judge.
This was indeed a fortuitous encounter for the stranger was Ralph Peer and he was on his way from Chicago to eastern Tennessee to scout out hillbilly talent for the Victor Record Company. Peer saw an opportunity to avoid another 800 miles of Model-T torture to find rustic musical acts for his company. He agreed to the deal and checked in to the hotel.
On the day of the talent show Bean Blossom blossomed with folks arriving in pick-up trucks and hay wagons, on horse back and Model-T’s. People from all over the county crowded the grounds. Hastily erected booths were selling patent medicines and peach preserves. There were large kettles of beans cooking over open fires. It was like the County Fair, Old Settlers Reunion, Election Day, and a fox hunt all thrown together. At last someone rang a bell and the big show was set to commence.
To be continued…