NATCHITOCHES, Louisiana – Reverend Charley’s Patent Medicine Show will be the featured entertainment for the 40th Annual Melrose Plantation Arts and Crafts Festival scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. The gates will open at 9:00 on Saturday, 10:00 Sunday.
The group is led by Charles “Reverend Charley” Ward who grew up in a musical family. At the age of 13 he started playing folk tunes on his guitar, but he didn’t start playing professionally until 30 years later. The Reverend’s folk music reflects his earliest music memories of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Leadbelly, and Bob Dylan, all of whom influenced his style. He has played in Rhythm and Blues bands and spent five years with a traditional Cahun French band. He has created a sound that reflects all of these influences.
He is joined by Frank Willis, who plays a left-handed five-string fiddle and a “claw hammer” banjo; Rick Adams on guitar, mandolin, and harmonica; Chris Wilson who plays bass, harmonica, dobro guitar, and banjo; and John Neal on banjo and guitar.
The Medicine Show band has played throughout Louisiana including gigs at The Blue Dog Café in Lafayette, Blooming Arts on the Bricks in Natchitoches, Oakland Plantation, the Olla Bluegrass Festival, Abita Springs, the Alexandria Museum of Arts, and the Wild Side of the Arts and Les fest at the Alexandria Zoo.
Reverend Charley’s band will join more than 100 artists and arts and crafts vendors at Melrose. Among the items available to visitors are original art works, stained glass, gourmet pickles and jellies, hand-made jewelry, clothing, photographs, plants, toys, woodworking products, pottery and other arts and crafts. Melrose Plantation, located on Highway 119 in southern Natchitoches Parish, is a National Historic Landmark featuring eight historic structures. Tours of two of the buildings, the “Big House” and the African House, will be available.
The Melrose Plantation served as a retreat for many artists during the early 20th century, a period often referred to as the “Southern Renaissance.” Many renowned writers and artists visited and lived at the plantation during those years, including Lyle Saxon who wrote his best-known novel, “Children of Strangers,” while living at Melrose. His story was based on the culture of Melrose and the Cane River area. Francois Mignon lived at Melrose for 32 years and wrote his “Plantation Memo” and several thousands of pages of journal entries during that time.
Probably the best known resident of Melrose was Clementine Hunter, who came to the plantation as a field hand and taught herself how to paint using paints and brushes discarded by an artist at Melrose. Hunter’s paintings have gained national and international notoriety, and some of her works hang in the Louvre in Paris. She is one of the most recognized primitive artists in Louisiana history, and her home is among the historic structures at Melrose.
The festival is sponsored by the Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches (APHN), and annually attracts more than 2,000 visitors during the two-day event. The Melrose Arts and crafts Festival will open at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday and at 10:00 on Sunday. Tickets are $5 for adults and $2 for children ages 6-12. Self-guided tours of the grounds and viewing of all the historic buildings are free. Additional information about Melrose Plantation and the annual Arts and Crafts Festival may be found at www.melroseplantation.org.