DOVER, Tenn. -- The strains of the fiddle, the thump of the bass, the twang of the banjo and the strums of the guitar filtered through the grounds of The Homeplace 1850s Working Farm on Sunday afternoon.

The farm at Land Between the Lakes hosted its 20th annual Pickin' Party Old-time Music Festival over the weekend, featuring musicians hailing mostly from the western parts of Kentucky and Tennessee, plus a few from as far away as Chicago.

Cindy Earls, the farm's public program coordinator, estimated some 800 people attended Saturday and Sunday.

"This music tradition is really big here in western Tennessee and Kentucky," she said. "We want to teach people what the past was like."

Modeled after farms of the Civil War era, The Homeplace allows visitors to partake in farming activities and watch exhibits like blacksmithing and wool spinning.

Even the name for the festival comes from an old tradition.

"A pickin' party was something that families in a farming community, they would get together on Saturday nights and start playing music and dancing," Earls said.

The farm celebrates its 40th anniversary this fall.

"All of our ancestors probably lived this way in some form," Earls said. "It's just kind of keeping the past alive."

Peggy Browning, whose group Common Thread played the festival this year, said Sunday that the eight-hour drive from Chicago hasn't deterred her since she started playing there 17 years ago.

"I think it's the people," she said.

Browning, who teaches at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music, said she was introduced to the festival by Mark Dvorak, another teacher at the school who played the festival Sunday.

"It's definitely worth the drive," she said. "Look at it. Why wouldn't you drive down?"

Nathan Lynn of Paducah also performed with his duo, the Wheel House Rousters on Saturday and Sunday.

"I've been coming out here for I don't know how many years," Lynn said. "It's one of my favorite festivals because it's community-based."

Lynn and his musical partner, Josh Coffey, began focusing on roustabout songs, sung by the women who worked on riverboats.

"We try to do those songs and talk about river culture within western Kentucky and Tennessee because it plays such a big part of the history," he said.

Lynn's group also plays on riverboats and at festivals across the Midwest, always trying to appeal to regular people.

"I think people can relate somehow to one piece of it and it draws them in, whether it be a story song, or a fiddle tune they heard as a child," Lynn said. "I think that with any branch of folk music, it's for the folks."

Among the folks who turned out Sunday, Charles Childs, 77, of Houston County, Tenn., said he wishes music like that on display Sunday were more popular these days.

"You can't turn a radio on in Tennessee and find a bluegrass station," he lamented.

Childs and his wife, Mary Childs, 80, also took in the Kentucky Opry in Benton on Saturday, and plan to visit this summer's Bluegrass Reunion in Summertown, Tenn.

Despite, in his opinion, a dearth of available festivals of the kind, Childs said he's encouraged by one thing he noticed about some of the performers Sunday.

"A lot of the performers are young. That's good. That means they're carrying on the tradition."

Some younger festivalgoers, Jon and Stacey Hayden, both 34, of West Paducah, said they enjoy the festival and the farm as a place to enjoy community without the hassle of cell phone service.

"I think it's good to come out and get an idea of your heritage and how people lived in your area over a hundred years ago," Jon Hayden said. "It's just cool to come out and see what real work used to look like."

Hayden said he doesn't listen to bluegrass music often, but seeing the performers live makes a big difference.

"Everything sounds better in person," he said.

Earls hopes part of the appeal of the festival is the intimate feel and slow pace of things.

"People like it because it's kind of laid back," she said. "It's kind of like going to your friend's house to listen to music."

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