published Sunday, June 21st, 2009

Birchwood: A different drummer

by Laura Galbraith
  • photo
    Staff Photo by Tim Barber Marcus Dyess, right center, of Dallas, Tex., inspects the Native American Flutes made by Frank "Standing Eagle" Taylor, left, at the daylong festival of American Indian music held on Saturday at the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park in Birchwood. Also viewing the musical instruments is Ben Gross, top right.

BIRCHWOOD, Tenn. -- The incentive behind the first Native American Music Festival in Birchwood was clear for Mike Serna, a Mescalero Apache Indian and self-taught musician.

"My motivation came the first time I came here and the hairs on my arm stood up on end," he said. "I could actually feel the end of my hairs on my arms, telling me that the spirits of the old ones are still here."

On Saturday, hundreds of people came to the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park for a day of fun and learning.

The daylong festival was put together by Mr. Serna and his wife, Judy, as a fundraiser to keep the site open.

"There's nobody really who had made any effort to preserve this place other than the people who were instrumental in getting it built in the first place. But they ran out of their grant money," Mr. Serna said.

Several musicians played authentic Native American music in front of the park's building as attendees watched and listened.

The headliner for the event was nationally known fiddler Arvel Bird, who was named the 2007 Native American Music Awards' Artist of the Year.

"We've never been (to the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park), but we have an affinity for the preservation of native history and sacred sites," Mr. Bird said. "We consider this a historical site and a sacred site, so we want to see it flourish and keep going."

Mr. Bird, who has been involved with music since age 9, describes his music as contemporary instrumental.

"Any day I get to play the fiddle is a good day," he said. "It's great to be able to see my music being absorbed and related to by other people, and the things they tell me after a show are often astounding to me."

The event also included storytelling, a blowgun demonstration and a silent auction.

Several vendors were on site selling food and Native American items like dream catchers and flutes.

Although the festival has not yet been deemed an annual event, the positive response from attendees is encouraging, Mrs. Serna said.

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