George R. “Pop” Sweet (1883-1965), from the remote Fog Hill section of Austerlitz, launched a career as a fiddler and caller of square dances in 1930 which brought him wide renown. From 1930s into the 1950s Pop Sweet and his Huckleberry Pickers played square dances in almost every hamlet in Columbia County and the Berkshires. Sweet’s fame spread well beyond the local region. He played for the Roosevelts at Hyde Park in 1940, and in 1943 was selected as the best caller, among over 130 appearing, at the National Folk Festival in Philadephia.
The exhibit explores Sweet’s performing career in depth, and also his other persona as a backwoods outdoorsman, hunter and trapper, pursuer of the “Black Beast of the Berkshires,” and long-time Groundhog Day forecaster.
The exhibit also salutes the Sweet family, which includes six generations of musicians dating back to the 1830s. The sixth generation is Bobby Sweet, well-known Berkshire singer, songwriter and bandleader, who performs with his band at the Spencertown Academy’s Community Day on July 9.
There is a soundtrack as part of the exhibit which features 1947 recordings of Pop Sweet fiddling and calling that were located by Town Historian Tom Moreland in the Library of Congress, Folklife Division. The soundtrack also includes commercial recordings by Pop’s grandson Bob (1937-2016), with his Sweet Country Wine band, and by Bobby Sweet. Pop’s son Dan (1909-91), who played guitar briefly in Pop’s band, is present reading from a Robert W. Service poem, “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” (1907).