‘Bluegrass at the Old Schoolhouse’ revives Mt. Airy City Hall’s rich musical history

The Edgar Loudermilk Band performs for about 50 people in the Mt. Airy City Hall auditorium on Jan. 19, 2024. (Photo by Adam Tullis)

Mount Airy’s old schoolhouse turned city hall revisited its rich musical history over the weekend when it came to life with the sounds of bluegrass music.

Two bluegrass bands performed Friday night, January 19, in the upstairs auditorium. The venue was used for concerts over 70 years ago, according to oral history and written accounts. Many up-and-coming performers passed through it on their way to the Grand Ole Opry, the stories go.

Local bluegrass artists, The Edgar Loudermilk Band, and Tugalo Holler, performed for nearly three hours Friday night in front of about 50 people. Both bands performed old bluegrass and gospel favorites as well as some of their original material. The concert was titled “Bluegrass at the Old Schoolhouse.”

Loudermilk is a Habersham County native with roots in Mt. Airy. His family still lives in and around the small town. Although Loudermilk now lives in Stephens County, he still considers Habersham County home. His grandfather went to school at the old schoolhouse in Mt. Airy.

From a phone call to the stage

Tugalo Holler performed at Mt. Airy City Hall Friday night. (Shelley Tullis)

Edgar Loudermilk has performed numerous times on the Grand Ole Opry stage with many notable bluegrass and country music artists over the years.

According to Loudermilk, the idea to play at the schoolhouse began last summer when he spoke with Shelley Tullis and her husband, Adam, about performing at the Chattahoochee Mountain Fair. That idea grew from those early conversations to a small concert, just to see if there was some interest.

Adam Tullis is a member of the Mt. Airy Town Council. He says the council decided to allow the performance to see if there would be any interest in the auditorium being used as a music venue like it was so many years ago.

Tullis says the council had discussed the possibility of the auditorium being used again for such events, but there is no commitment at this time.

A stop on the road to and from Nashville

According to Betty Sisk, author of the book “Once Upon a Time: Schools of Habersham County,” co-authored by Ellene Gowder, Sisk tells the story of hearing “the sounds of the Grand Old Opry celebrities on that stage: Minnie Pearl, Little Jimmy Dickens, James and Martha Carson and String Bean were among those who came to the school auditorium.”

Members of the Edgar Loudermilk Band and Tugalo Holler sign a wall behind the Mt. Airy stage after their performance. (Adam Tullis)

Local artist, the late John Kollock, mentioned it in his narrative accompanying one of his paintings of the old schoolhouse: “Touring shows also appeared on the stage, including stars from the Grand Ole Opry.”

There is a little-known tradition that many in the area are not aware of about those who perform on stage in the auditorium of the old schoolhouse. After they perform, they sign a wall backstage.

Mt. Airy Police Chief Jamie Bowden gave Now Habersham a quick tour showing those signatures. He says that whether it was a play or a concert, those who performed on stage signed the wall. Many of the signatures are signed in chalk, and time has made most unreadable.

Staying true to tradition, members of both bands signed and dated the wall Friday evening.

According to Kollock’s narrative, the schoolhouse opened on January 3, 1922, and closed at the end of the school term in 1955.

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