During the Civil War, music held a prominent place with soldiers in both armies. A conscript with a banjo or a fiddle earned instant respect in his unit, especially if he could play a bouncy jig, an old childhood lullaby once heard on a mother's knee, or the strains of a popular song heard in a minstrel show.
Music reminded the men of home and happier times. It could also inspire them to go into battle with a sense of impending victory.
Such are the origins of the enthusiasm for the music of the era shared by Brian Darsey, Joe Kurtright, Craig Wolford and Jackson Field. Collectively know as the 7 lbs. of Bacon Mess Band, the group is slated to provide the melodic soundtrack to this weekend's Brooksville Raid Re-enactment.
"To me, most of the music from that period speaks to the heart," said Kurtright, who plays guitar and banjo. "Songs like Dixie, Old Folks at Home and My Old Kentucky Home all have a sentimentality to them that connects with people."
Performing at re-enactments around the South, the quartet dates back to 2000, when Kurtright and Wolford, both multi-generational Floridians and avid re-enactors with the 4th Florida Infantry, began playing together around the camps.
"We both loved Stephen Foster's songs because so many of them were about Florida," Kurtright said. "After a while, we started to think about actually forming a little band someday."
With Wolford — who is also a member of the 97th Regimental String Band — on mandolin and fiddle, Field on guitar and Darsey on bass, the group began developing a unique repertoire that doesn't date any later than 1865.
Indeed, while many Civil War-era songs on both sides were patriotic in nature, perhaps the most well-known, Dixie, began as a comedic novelty song. It was only after the war started that it became a rallying cry for the Confederate cause.
Kurtright said that while the band strives to be as authentic as possible (even playing instruments made from wooden boxes), sticking to song lyrics as originally written occasionally calls for audiences to consider that many songs of that era lacked modern-day sensibilities.
"On some songs, we issue a disclaimer that there are some mild racial references that would be out of place today," Kurtright said. "But anything that is overtly racist we don't play."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.