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Tornado relief effort gives out musical instruments in impacted Kentucky communities

A crowd of Graves County and Mayfield residences wait to receive instruments at the WoodSongs Old Time Radio Hour tornado relief event at the Graves County Public Library.
Lily Burris
A crowd of Graves County and Mayfield residences wait to receive instruments at the WoodSongs Old Time Radio Hour tornado relief event at the Graves County Public Library.

Seventeen-year-old Jacob Puckett was one of hundreds of Graves County residents who lined up outside the Graves County Public Library Friday to receive a free instrument as part of one music group’s tornado relief effort.

Puckett plays the viola with the Graves County High School Orchestra. He heard about the event through his orchestra director. He didn’t lose his instrument in the tornado outbreak, but he has been playing on the same one since he started and this effort – organized by folk singer Michael Johnathon, the host of the internationally syndicated WoodSongs Old Time Radio Hour – was an opportunity for him to get a new one.

The effort collected hundreds of instruments in the wake of December’s tornado outbreak in western and central Kentucky. This weekend saw the distribution of those instruments in Mayfield, Dawson Springs and Owensboro.

“I think it's a really good idea for the musicians in here or for people who just want an instrument,” Puckett said. “It's really good for boosting morale and helping replace those instruments that might have been lost in a tornado.”

Once Puckett and his family got to the front of the line, the WoodSongs group was out of violas for the Mayfield event. Instead, he walked away with a ukulele.

“I feel like learning a stringed instrument would be easier than learning a woodwind or a brass instrument,” Puckett said.

Johnathon said he knew he couldn’t help lay water lines or rewire cities in the aftermath of the tornado outbreak, but he could help restore music to communities.

“Music and art is the soundtrack of every hometown,” Johnathon said. “It's the soundtrack of America's front porch and in Mayfield and Dawson Springs and the surrounding areas, all those front porches were gone.”

Despite not getting the instrument he wanted, Puckett’s glad the event happened.

“I feel like it's a very good opportunity for people who have lost things and that it was really good for boosting morale for people who've been badly affected by tornadoes,” the Graves County High School student said.

Others that attended the event included a worker at a local rehabilitation center and substance abuse program that had come to see if he might get some instruments for his patients that they requested and a great aunt who had come with her great niece to get a violin since they’ve been renting one for her since she started playing.

For this event, people could just show up and request instruments or go online to the WoodSongs website and request instruments in advance. The group held back about 200 instruments for the Dawson Springs event to have requests placed there.

“It was painful to hold back because there were so many that wanted instruments that I knew were in the truck, but they’re for Dawson Springs and to be fair to Dawson Springs we got to bring them some,” Johnathon said.

Johnathon wasn’t worried about giving all the instruments out over the weekend, and even if they didn’t give them all out, he knew there were other charities that could give the instruments to those in need.

“Love is the greatest transaction of the arts, and that’s what we’re doing,” Johnathon said.

Investigative Reporter Lily Burris is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Email Lily at lburris@lpm.org.