Ozark Mountain Daredevils spending July 4th holidays at Grand Ole Opry and Washington, D.C. Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Published: Jun. 29, 2023 at 7:32 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 29, 2023 at 7:43 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - They may be over a half-century into existence, but the Ozark Mountain Daredevils are still lining up some pretty good gigs.

The upcoming holidays will see them performing at two significant events to which they’ve been invited because of their unique style of music that’s hard to categorize.

On Saturday night in Nashville, they’ll play at the Grand Ole Opry on a bill that includes Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Steven Curtis Chapman, and Riders in the Sky.

Then on the evening of Tuesday, July 4, they’ll be on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., representing the Ozarks at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, an event launched in 1967 as an international exhibition of living cultural heritage presented annually in the two weeks surrounding our nation’s birthday.

“We’re on the road this year more than we’ve been since the ‘90′s,” said John Dillon, one of only two original members still with the group that’s now in its 51st year of existence. “That’s astonishing to me. I think it’s kind of a rediscovery thing. People are going, ‘They still exist? And they’re still out there touring? Well, let’s go see them!’ And maybe there are some new people finding out about us too. Our fan base has been very loyal. So it’s been exciting and a little bit scary after all these years. But to play in D.C. at the National Mall and at the Opry again is just wonderful.”

This will be the Daredevils’ second appearance at the Grand Ole Opry as they debuted in May 2022. Their two biggest hits from the ‘70′s (“If You Wanna Get to Heaven” and “Jackie Blue”) are certainly not considered traditional country tunes, but the Opry has changed with the times.

“It really means something after all these years because, in a way, a lot of those fans are catching up with us,” Dillon said. “I don’t know if we’d be considered country now, but we certainly weren’t considered country back in the day. But it was joyous to go out on that historical stage and play ‘If You Want to Get to Heaven’ and see people in cowboy hats up on their feet. It was cool!”

Dillon admitted that despite playing in front of hundreds of thousands of people over the years, he was nervous when he played the Opry.

“I was surprised how many butterflies I had that night,” he said. “It’s real fast. You go out. You set up and play. You leave. So you don’t really know what to expect. And once they introduced us and I walked around the curtain and saw all the people, I had to make a decision as to whether to play or make a run for it. But it’s very special and unique, and I know what the honor means.”

This time on the Opry stage, the Daredevils will be debuting a new song written by the other original member, Michael “Supe” Granda, who lives in Nashville and is known for his sense of humor.

The name of the song?

More Cowbell.

“How can you say ‘More Cowbell’ and not think of Will Ferrell,” Dillon said of the famous Saturday Night Live skit. “It’s just part of that whole absurd take on what music is about....more cowbell! But I always look at things metaphorically. Does more cowbell really mean that or does it mean something more philosophical? And Supe just takes the lyrics all over the world. We’re in Paris. We’re in Barcelona. We’re doing a lot of things with more cowbell. It’s just hilarious.”

After leaving fans in Nashville contemplating the existential meaning of “More Cowbell,” the Daredevils then head to Washington, D.C., where they’ll celebrate our country’s birthday in the shadows of the Washington Monument, playing to thousands of people who’ve come for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Some 70 people are a part of the Ozarks contingent at the festival, and considering the Daredevils’ music includes influences from country, rock, bluegrass, and folk, they’re the perfect instrument to showcase the Ozarks’ rich musical legacy.

“Our influences are vast and varied based on the fact that we come from the Birthplace of Route 66,” Dillon explained. “We’re not just one thing. We’re so many different genres because we’re just a group of songwriters. And I think people over the years have been respectful of that. I’m also looking forward to playing for a crowd like that again. I think the biggest crowd we ever played for was the Veiled Profit Fair in St. Louis. There were around 700,000 people there. I wasn’t nervous about that one because it was like playing for a field of wheat. Then when they all applauded, it was unbelievable.”

Marshfield native Kaitlyn McConnell is one of the organizers for the Ozarks part of the Folklife Festival. Normally she’s out all across southwest Missouri and northern Arkansas documenting the region’s people and places as the founder of Ozarks Alive, a website and publication devoted to preserving Ozarks traditions.

So for her bringing the Ozarks traditions to Washington, D.C., is a momentous opportunity to share the area’s way of life with a whole new audience.

“This festival is a place where different regions, states, and countries can showcase things that are special about their homelands,” McConnell explained. “So, for the Ozarks, this is a huge deal. We’re literally sitting here on the National Mall with the Washington Monument on one side and the Capitol building on the other side, and you’ve got all these people coming around wanting to learn more about the Ozarks. We’re really striving to show a diverse representation and, hopefully, in some cases, help people understand that it’s more than what they might think of in a stereotypical way. So you’ll see things like quilting, distilling, and basket making. Music and dancing are big focuses. But we also have things like teaching gardens where people can learn more about plant life. And they’re also setting up a biking trail because the Ozarks is known for its nature trails.”

Nature has also had an effect on the festival itself, as the first day had smoke from the Canadian wildfires hovering over the site, causing many people to put on masks.

“They ended up canceling the opening ceremony today,” McConnell said. “But that hasn’t stopped the festival opening. It’s going great.”

The festival runs through July 9.

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