In a scene from 'The Mountain Minor' film, Warren and Judy Waldron (left) play music as Amy Cogan Clay and Jonathan Bradshaw, seated on porch, and others watch.
In a scene from 'The Mountain Minor' film, Warren and Judy Waldron (left) play music as Amy Cogan Clay and Jonathan Bradshaw, seated on porch, and others watch. Photo: Dale Farmer

Film about Appalachian life and music has Miami connections

By Margo Kissell, university news and communications

Warren and Judy Waldron love performing traditional Appalachian folk music.

The Oxford area couple is known throughout Butler County for their bands — Jericho Old Time Band, Rabbit Hash String Band and Full Moon.

They bring locals to their feet during square dances at the Oxford Community Arts Center and entertain children at the Farmers Market uptown.

Soon, they’ll have a wider audience for their old-time music when they appear in Dale Farmer’s “Mountain Minor,” a film the Preble County man wrote and directed based on his family’s migration from the hills of Eastern Kentucky to Southern Ohio.

Watch the Waldrons' musical explanation of what mountain minor means (video by Margo Kissell).

The film starts in 1932 and also has scenes from 1985, 2006 and the present. It is Farmer’s tribute to “urban Appalachian folks,” whom he said are often stereotyped as poor hillbillies. When he thinks back, he remembers hardworking people who became the heart of the middle class with good paying jobs.

“And we brought some neat things from our heritage, especially the music,” he said. “The whole country music industry evolved from that.”

When it came to casting the low-budget film, Farmer, who plays guitar, fiddle and banjo in the Jericho band, turned to the Waldrons and other fellow musicians because he wanted the sound to be authentic.

“It’s cool Dale chose musicians to tell the story,” said Judy (Miami MS ’69), retired director of the Western College Alumnae Association.

Farmer didn’t have to teach them to appreciate the mountains, the music and Appalachian culture because “we already had it in our hearts,” said Judy, who plays guitar in the film that’s expected to be released some time next year.

She plays Granny Ida Whit, a spirit person who handled birthing and used herbs to heal people in the mountains. Farmer based the character on his grandmother.

Warren (Miami ’78), a clerical assistant in Miami’s general accounting office, became interested in old-time music after he inherited his great-grandmother’s five-string banjo in high school. After college, he dabbled in community theater, but this was his first professional acting gig.

Warren’s character, Tom Abner, plays the fiddle. He is grandfather to the central character, Charlie, who grows up in the film. In the trailer, he tells young Charlie, who is moving northward, “These old-time tunes will take you back home.”Warren Waldron with film crew

Warren Waldron (Miami '78) with the film crew (photo courtesy of Dale Farmer).

“I was a theatre major at Miami, so it was fun for me to get involved in this although I never pursued an acting career,” he said. “Music was really the driving force in my life.”

The Waldrons took vacation during the 10 days of filming in North Carolina. The crew also filmed in Ohio at Eaton Place and Wilson Hardware store in Eaton and one scene at a house in Oxford.

In the trailer, the Waldrons are seen putting on a porch square dance, with him fiddling away and her strumming her guitar and serving as the caller.

Warren said six of the actors had to learn to play an obscure fiddle tune, “Hickory Jack,” by a certain date because it is a musical thread through the film.

“And we did it. You’ll hear us all play it,” he said.

He describes it as a “mountain minor kind of tune.” The mountain minor key is known for its mysterious, mystical sound, which Farmer said is different than the sad sound of a normal minor key and more upbeat tunes in the major key.

Warren grabbed his banjo to offer a musical explanation during the interview. (Watch the video above.)

Two other musicians with Miami connections also appear in the film: Jonathan Bradshaw, (Miami PhD ’16) and Amy Cogan Clay (Miami ’87). They also happen to be members of Jericho, along with Bradshaw’s wife, Susan Pepper, who co-produced the film with Farmer. After Farmer retires later this year, he and Pepper hope to show the film at schools throughout the region.

In the film, Judy plays in a group song called “Don’t Be Weary, Children,” but Warren said, “You have to wait for the credits if you want to see that. Don’t get up and leave because there’s a treat at the end of the film.”Amy Cogan Clay with Judy Waldron

Amy Cogan Clay and Judy Waldron from a scene in the film (photo courtesy of Dale Farmer). Watch The Mountain Minor film trailer.

Farmer said the film will first be shown at the National Appalachian Studies conference in Cincinnati in April, and he’s already had discussions about showing it at the Oxford Community Arts Center.

They are in the editing process, still trying to raise the remaining $20,000 of their $120,000 film budget, which has included contributions from two foundations as well as donors. Tax-deductible donations may be made through the website, Farmer said.

The Waldrons each had their own takeaway from the film.

“One thing that struck me about the film was the timelessness and universality of migration for people,” Warren said. “Everybody has come from somewhere and is on their way to somewhere.”

For Judy, it was the power of music.“Music brings out more connections you can’t label with words, so when you share the music together as a community, that brings you close with your family, with your neighbors and —

“Total strangers,” Warren added.