‘All my rivers run back South’: Musician Jonas Friddle’s Tale of Two Cities
By Beth Newberry
At the Appalachian Studies Association conference last year, I was talking to a student from Berea College, and I told him I was from Louisville. He asked, “How do you like it there?” which is how many conversations involving ex-Apps go—finding out where the others live and if it’s a viable place to live beyond the hills.
“I love it, it’s great little community.”
“It’s too flat there for me,” he said.
“Yes, but it’s on the Ohio River and that makes me feel grounded,” I gushed—trying to explain how to survive on flatter land: Find a water feature. “I always know where I am in relation to the river.”
So when I first heard Jonas Friddle and the Majority’s song “Belle de Louisville” while driving home earlier this winter, about four miles south of the Ohio River, I was drawn in by the song’s looping banjo riff and lyrics, “I searched the river from the top of the hill, looking for the Belle de Louisville, There on the River I love so well, roles the Belle de Louisville. All my rivers they run back south…” I was hooked two-fold: As an Appalachian, art and music capturing a sense of homesickness resonates with me. As a Lousivillian—luhvulyun—I have a strong sense of place, as do most of my fellow citizens, and a connection with the city where I have lived for ten years.
A native of western North Carolina, now an urban-App calling Chicago home, Friddle is a 2004 graduate of Berea College. In 2005, he won a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship that enabled him to study music and performing arts in communities in Ireland, Scotland, Canada, and Australia, according to an article on BereaCollege.com. Friddle met the members of the Majority, at the Old Town School of Folk School in Chicago, a hot bed of folk arts education and performance. The song “Belle de Louisville” won the top prize in the folk category of the 2011 John Lennon Songwriting Contest.
Check out this video from the Square Roots Festival in Chicago last year, and ignore the crowd noise, and listen to the lyrics and the music of the seven piece band, who describe their sound as “old-time style banjo from [Friddle’s] native North Carolina leads to rhythmic and rolling compositions.” Friddle’s lyrics capture a glimpse of a story of a narrator caught between the love of a city and river and the love of a lady in Chicago. At the end of the song, he finds solace in the shores of Lake Michigan. “Sometimes I stare at Lake Michigan, dreaming that I’m back home again,” Friddle sings. And that line embodies the pull of home and away that is constant tension for many ex-Apps.
And that’s why this sweet little song, which I play on repeat when I’m overwhelmed with a generalized homesickness, is as startling as it is comforting.
Beth Newberry is co-publisher of The Hillville. Jonas Friddle and the Majority are working on a new album, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, but until its release this summer, check out their music at http://www.jonasfriddle.com.