Photos courtesy of Shelbyville Times Gazette / Jason Reynolds
Courtney Williams and Austin Derryberry have been dating for over three years, but they have known each other since they were only two years old.
“We pretty much saw each other every single weekend,” Derryberry said.
They both have attended Rover Baptist Church since they were children and explained that going to church is what brought them together. They look back on their lives and even though they weren’t in a relationship yet, they bring up past events that went on within their church. They’ve often found that they happened to be in the same place at the same time without them even realizing it all throughout their lives.
“You just don’t see that anymore, you know? I mean, in the 1950’s or 60’s people grew up together all the time,” Derryberry said.
“You kind of had to marry your next door neighbor or whoever you could walk to,” Williams said.
“Now transportation is a little bit better and if you don’t like your neighbor you can go somewhere else, but luckily I really liked my neighbor a lot. I figure we’ll probably get married in the next year or two,” Derryberry said.
Right before they started dating, their families formed a band called Uncle Shuffelo and His Haint Hollow Hootenanny that was formed on June 23, 2012. The band is comprised of Williams and Derryberry, Williams’ father, mother and sister and Derryberry’s father and brother.
“What we started out doing was just going to festivals. They have competitions and we would play there, but we kind of ran our circuit doing that,” Williams said.
“Yeah, we won everything,” Derryberry added, laughing.
They explained that once a band starts to win every competition, they run their welcome out a bit. Now, they plan on hosting some events of their own like square dances within their communities and performing shows rather than competing.
When asked what it is they love about music, their answers were simple.
“One of the things that I really love about music is singing harmony,” Williams said. “That’s how I learned, singing at church and singing with my sister. There is no harmony like sister harmony and so I really love that.”
“Yeah, she’s a great harmony singer,” Derryberry said. “She can sing a harmony line without a melody line, which is really hard.”
Derryberry just likes the freedom of music and how there are no set rules; you don’t have to play a certain way and you can make it your own.
Second to church, they said that music is what brought them even closer to each other.
Now, Williams has an apprenticeship with renowned buck dancer, Thomas Maupin. Williams explained that others may know of buck dancing as clogging or flat footing.
“He is a legend for anybody who is into dancing, so it’s a big honor to dance with him,” Williams said.
Ever since she was little, Williams has been going to festivals in Murfreesboro and in Smithville where they hold dance competitions regularly. She explained this is what got her into dancing, along with there being a group in Unionville that dances near her home where she happened to know a girl from the group that gave her a pair of clogging shoes.
“We met Bradley Hanson. He is the director at the Tennessee Folk Life, and I think they just started the program this year. We kind of already knew him, and he let us know about the application,” Williams said about the apprenticeship.
Once she is done with her apprenticeship, she plans on doing a few showcases of the dance.
“She has this style of dancing down,” Derryberry said. “Other than Thomas Maupin I don’t think I’ve seen anybody else that has gotten it faster or down as good as he does.”
Derryberry also has a fiddle-making apprenticeship with Jean Horner in Rockwood, TN.
Derryberry knew that Horner was the person from whom he wanted to learn. He doesn’t really know what called him to want to become a fiddle maker. He stated that he was never truly satisfied with the fiddles that he had but felt that he could make one on his own that he liked more.
“I’ve played fiddle since I was about five. I’ve always been interested in how it works. It’s so loud for being such a small instrument,” Derryberry said.
There’s an old store in Unionville that Williams’ great uncle used to run. It happened to slip out of her family’s hands, and Derryberry wants to try to get it back and open up a fiddle shop in the future.
Derryberry explained that he always liked collecting instruments more than playing them, despite the fact that he knows how to play the fiddle, banjo, guitar and “pretty much anything with strings.”
“Piano is kind of bad because I can’t see the strings but anything I can put my fingers on, you know, it’s all one in the same,” Derryberry said. “If you can play one, you can play other ones.”
When asked to name a good thing that they love about each other, their answers were as simple as their love for music.
“Austin, he just has such a good mindset of what works musically. I mean he’s a performer, he’s shy, but on the stage, he can do anything,” Williams said.
“She’s got a heart of gold. She’ll do anything for you. She’s probably the best person that I know. Maybe other than my mom,” Derryberry jokingly said.