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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

PICKIN’ AT SACUL

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
Much of East Texas’ rich musical heritage came decades ago from the region’s small towns. Today, some of the small towns are larger, some are smaller and some have disappeared altogether.

Aubrey (Moon) Mullican, who grew up playing a church pump organ near Carmona, became the king of the Hillbilly piano players. Stuart Hamblen, who wrote It Is No Secret and This Old House, was born at Kellyville. And Al Dexter, who wrote Honky Tonk Blues and made the term a household word, came from Jacksonville. Today, small-town musicians are still performing all over East Texas--and shaping careers that may make them future Mullicans, Hamblens and Dexters.

On the fourth Saturday night of each month, amateur pickers and singers travel to Sacul -- a Nacogdoches County town that almost became a ghost town -- in search of appreciative audiences.
Mall building in Sacul, Texas
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, 2005
As the sun drops behind the forests, the sounds of bluegrass and county music fill the inside of a century-old building that once housed the town’s mercantile store, bank, drugstore and post office. It is almost the sole relic of what was once a small, but thriving, railroad community in the early 1900s.

It may be ironic that the most popular tune each fourth Saturday is “The Orange Blossom Special,” an old fiddlers ditty that mimics an old steam locomotive.

In 1992, as Sacul’s citizens were looking for ways to raise money to make community improvements, someone suggested that the town develop a venue for musicians. From that suggestion came the Sacul Bluegrass Opry, which attracts hundreds of fans each month.

The performances are all done with acoustic instruments. No amplified instruments are used in keeping with authentic bluegrass music. But the shows aren’t restricted to bluegrass. Gospel, country and western songs are welcome as well.

Most of the bands who show up at Sacul have been playing around East Texas and Texas for years. Few of them are professionals, but they come with a deep love of traditional music and a lot of heart.

The number of bands at each fourth Saturday show may be as many as a dozen, but all of them are given time to play, and all around the Opry building, other bands warm up as they await their turn on the stage inside.

Admission to the Opry is free, and none of the musicians are paid, but what one spectator called “a free-will love offering” is taken up at each performance to pay for the expenses of the Opry and to build a nest egg for Sacul’s community needs. The performers and the audiences carry with them a lot of gray hair, but you’ll also find a smattering of young people who have developed a kinship with traditional East Texas music.

“The thing about bluegrass is that people dearly love it,” said an observer. “It’s like when you were younger and picked and played on people’s porches in East Texas. It’s real family fun.”

Sacul isn’t the only venue of its type in East Texas. Others can be found in churches, campgrounds and community halls in dozens of small towns from the Red River to the Gulf Coast.

Cowboy and Sara Barrett, who help run the Sacul Opry each month, host bands at a bluegrass reunion at their Sandyland home twice a year, and Sacul’s opry house is open on Fridays from noon to 5 p.m. for those who want to drop by and a pick a while.
All Things Historical > October 4, 2005 Column
Published with permission
(Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman of Lufkin is a past president of the Association and the author of more than 30 books about East Texas.)

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