Salt and Pepper Roots Showcases what is at the Heart of Florence

Ellen McDonald Staff Writer [email protected]

There is always something going on in downtown Florence and this past Thursday was no exception. In the campus owned venue, “The Mane Room,” the kickstart to the Salt and Pepper Roots Celebration began.

The series of music showcases was made possible by Russell Gulley in partnership with UNA’s Department of Entertainment Industries, The Alabama Folklife Association and The Music Preservation Society/W.C.Handy Music Festival. There were two groups that performed, the first one being the Reverend Jerry Reeves Quartet. 

When Reeves walked on stage, I did not expect to hear what I did. His performance was unlike any gospel music I have ever heard before. 

I could not help but tap my foot and clap my hands. I was captivated by the stage presence of this group and I could not look away.

As a person who is not a big fan of gospel hymns, I was pleasantly surprised. Reverend Reeves turned the songs into something new and lively. I could feel the soul and passion in his voice all the way from the back of the venue. 

Furthermore, Reeves was not the only one on stage who my attention gravitated towards. His lead guitarist would often play with his instrument behind his head, which made my mouth drop upon first sight.

This group was like no gospel group I have previously seen. They were extremely entertaining and dynamically talented. 

After Reeves finished, the stage was set for the main entertainment: Rattlebone. In the words of Rev. Reeves, “…they’ll really rattle your bones.”

The band included Dennis Gulley on bass and vocals, lead guitarist Chris Anderson and Daniel Burgess on drums. This group was very different from their opener. 

The Rev. Jerry Reeves and the Quartet were dressed in black shirts, dress coats and tweed jackets. The members of Rattlebone came out in flared jeans, acid washed t-shirts, cowboy hats and long hair. I knew I was in for something different. 

Russel Gulley, the brother of the bass player, introduced them and said that Dennis was the best guitarist he had ever heard; and, he was not wrong. 

They started with an instrumental song, which really showed the audience the sound of the band. The music was soulful and had a blues sound to it. 

After the first song ended, Gulley explained that all of their songs are originals and that they are “…based on the true stories of someone.” This comment got quite a laugh from the audience as they went into the next song. 

Their song told vivid stories. The one that stuck out the most was about a woman who Gulley begged to be with him instead of another. While he sang the lyrics, I could imagine it all taking place before me. 

One thing that stood out to me the most during this showcase was the audience. I was the youngest in the room by a few generations and yet this event was made possible through UNA. 

When I showed my ticket to the vendor, he asked if I was a student of the university. After I said that I was, he explained that he hoped to see more students come to future Salt and Pepper Roots events. UNA is one of the things that makes Florence, Alabama the wonderful city that it is. There is something about the presence of its students that make the town lively and bustling. 

The showcase took place in a campus owned venue and yet there were no students present. While that may be due to the music selection that was played, students of the university need to support the deep rooted musical history of their city. 

Gulley explained that they keep their tickets low priced, in hopes that the students of UNA can afford to enjoy all that downtown Florence has to offer. 

Gulley encouraged the audience to reach out to him at [email protected] and to visit their FaceBook page, “Salt and Pepper Music Series.” He said that he is more than open to receiving suggestions for artist for futures shows within the series.