Music is a family affair for the Dempseys
When Heather McFall and Chris Dempsey met, Chris mentioned that he occasionally played in a band. Great, thought Heather, because she also liked music. She had no idea what Chris and that band he “occasionally” played in would bring to her life.

When Heather started accompanying Chris to his weekend bookings, she learned she had been slightly misled by the word “occasional.” It didn’t matter though, because by then she was smitten by the guy dressed in 19th century attire playing the fiddle.

Heather is now part of that band, Un-Reconstructed, in which Chris also plays the mandolin and cello. She sings, plays the tambourine and calls dances.

Slideshow: John Pelham Commemoration

Un-Reconstructed’s most recent performance took place over the weekend when they performed on the square at the 150th commemoration of Maj. John Pelham, a Confederate soldier, who was dubbed “the Gallant Pelham” by Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Heather and Chris attended the same schools – Pleasant Valley and Jacksonville State University – but never really knew each other. He was four years older than her so their paths never crossed. She was familiar with his name at JSU because he was president of the Student Government Association. At JSU, Heather sang in A cappella choir and even traveled with them one summer to perform concerts in cathedrals throughout Europe.

They met one fourth of July at the First Baptist Church of Williams, where Heather is a member. Her uncle, Doyle Green, who plays the bass guitar, invited several musicians to play with him, and Chris came to play his fiddle. Heather sang that day.

Heather was not only impressed with his talent, she also liked the fact that he came with his parents and grandparents.

They were both looking for a job teaching English at that time. Chris had just received his master’s and Heather her undergraduate at JSU. They wanted to teach and were both concerned about when and where they would find a job.

Now, they both teach at Pleasant Valley High School. Chris teaches American literature and English in 10th and 11th grades, and Heather teaches English and literature in eighth and ninth grades.

“We can incorporate our travel experiences and things we see into the lessons we teach,” said Chris. “We love music and teaching and we love history, not just the War Between the States era, but the Revolutionary War and the past in general.”

Both Chris and Heather say they are so pleasantly surprised at how friendly and receptive everyone is when they perform.

Un-Reconstructed has played in almost all the southern states and has traveled as far north as Delaware. In 2008 the band won an Emmy for musical composition and arrangement for the Georgia Public Television documentary, The Last Ditch. In the near future they’re going to be the official dance band for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. They specialize in music from the War Between the States era, but they also play a lot of Celtic music.

They have done years of research to find their songs.

“We find copies of old sheet music in libraries and then do our own take on them,” said Chris. “I guess you have a way of finding it when you have a love of it. We’ve found of lot of Stephen Foster’s music in old books. People are familiar with most of his songs.”

Also making up Un-Reconstructed, which was formed 18 years ago, are Doug Jennings who plays banjo, guitar and mandolin; Susie Stephenson, who plays the hammered and lap dulcimers, jaw harp and Irish drum; Dave Edwards, who plays harmonica, guitar and penny whistle and Jacob Moody on upright base.

“I learned to call by listening to their music and watching,” said Heather. “There was a time Doug wasn’t in the band and I kind of stepped in at that point. I knew the steps and the calls. Now Doug doesn’t have to leave the band to call the dances. We can share the responsibility when necessary. We’re not losing an instrument any more.”

Chris said the Victorian dances “aren’t stuffy. It’s just a laid-back atmosphere and people really have a good time.”

Chris, Heather and their 4-year-old daughter, Ada, live at Fiddler’s Green, 30 acres in the Roy Webb community. Chris said they refer to their home as “a new old home.”

The Lockett-Gidley house, built in 1855, sat on a lot on Church Street, behind Hardee’s, and belonged to the Lockett family during the 1870’s. The house was scheduled for demolition, but before that happened Chris and his father, Gary, were able to acquire all of the architectural elements, inside and out, from the house.

“We had the good fortune of being able to incorporate all of the old bones of the ante bellum home,” said Chris. “We have the heart pine floors, all the doors and window trim, windows, the staircase, beadboard and rosettes. We have the front door with the wavy hand blown glass. We had to disassemble, repaint and refurbish everything, and then put everything back together.”

It took about four months to disassemble and gather all of the architectural elements and two years to complete construction of their new home. They and some of their family members did most of the work.

The first weekend of May, they host a two-day re-enactment at Fiddler’s Green of a battle. This year it will be May 4-5.

“We even build a small house for the soldiers to burn as part of the battle,” said Chris. “That’s a big hit with the kids. We even have soldiers fighting around the house.”

Guests are invited to take a tour of their home at that time.

“We like to share our home with others,” said Chris. “We researched old homes for many years to find out what it is about them that was so alluring to us and what made them have that special feel.”

Heather said although they didn’t realize it at the time, they were “going green” before it became popular.

“We salvaged and reused everything,” she said. “We didn’t put a whole lot of thought into it at the time, we just wanted to get our home to another level by using all those old architectural items.”

Heather’s parents are Peggy McAlister and Sidney McFall. Chris is the son of Gary and Pat Dempsey. Pat and her sister, Terri Harris, make all of the period dresses worn by the band members and have made several coats for the men. None of the clothing has zippers or Velcro. They’re all hand-sewn from old patterns and are laced with ribbon and have hand-sewn button holes, hooks and eyes.

Chris and Heather have been married 11 years. Early on, his passion became her passion.

“She had no idea I’d be taking her all over the Southeast,” said Chris. “It’s more fun traveling when she’s with us.”

However, since Ada’s arrival, Heather chooses to stay home more often. Most of her performances with the band are local. It’s not the kind of life she would have ever thought she would have, but she’s having a lot of fun – and they’re trying to make it a lot of fun for Ada as well.
© 2013