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Thumbpicking Organization Encourages Keeping Tradition Alive

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MUHLENBERG COUNTY (10/18/13) — A few months ago, several avid supporters of what is now known world over as "Muhlenberg thumbpicking" decided that a great way to promote the county's thumbpicking legacy would be to place "a guitar in every window".

The idea was inspired by Marilyn Kirtley and Marilyn Bedell along with the help of many other avid lovers of our Muhlenberg musical heritage.

Although some of the guitars are the real thing, most are simply made from wood, transformed into beautiful hand painted decorations. The sight of these was quite impressive to the hundreds of visitors who attended the September "Home of the Legends Thumbpicking Weekend" at the Merle Travis Music Center in Powderly, said Kirtley.

"After attending the 'Chet Atkins Appreciation Society' for 20 years, and finding out how much people from all over the world love Merle Travis and his music, we realized the people in Muhlenberg County are not aware of how much this music means to the world,” said Kirtley. “Marilyn Bedell and I decided we wanted to do something to educate the people of Muhlenberg County about our musical heritage.”

Kirtley said while there are thumbpicking events every month, they are poorly attended.

"Louisville and Lexington are known for horses, and they don't hide them away in the barn after the Kentucky Derby. So why can't we let visitors year round know that Muhlenberg County is where thumbpicking really started,” she said. “Our goal is to publicize the thumbpicking heritage of our county. Just because our big thumbpicking weekend is over, that's no reason to take the guitars down. When tourists to the area see all these guitars, they want to know why they are there, and this is the perfect chance for us to explain the exciting musical history of our county."

Kirtley said she was a bit disappointed when the September events ended and people began to take the guitars down.

"We really want people to be proud of our heritage. So we hope people will keep those guitars up in their windows, or use them as yard decorations,” she said. “Any way to let visitors know we are the thumbpicking capital of the world."

Kirtley said guitars are still available for purchase. To buy one, call 270-338-5961.

“We have sold at least 50 guitars, and more are being worked on now,” she said. “We can create just about any design on the guitars, for your business, or whatever you want."

The Muhlenberg High School art class was featured in a Surfky.com article in September.

"This has been an idea in the back of a lot of peoples' minds for a long time,” said Bedell. “The young people involved may not be familiar with Mose Rager or even Merle Travis, but these men are the roos of the Muhlenberg music legacy. The Muhlenberg thumbpicking style is popular all over the world."

SurfKY News
Paul McRee

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