Austerlitz History Center Salutes “Pop” Sweet
New Exhibit Opens July 9
The Austerlitz History Center in Spencertown will open a new exhibit on the life and career of George R. “Pop” Sweet, the Famed Fiddler of Fog Hill, on Saturday July 9 from 9 am-2 pm. The Sweet exhibit will remain on view for the remainder of 2022.
In 1930, from the remote Fog Hill section of Austerlitz, Pop Sweet launched a career as an old-time fiddler and square dance caller that brought him wide renown in Columbia, Dutchess and Berkshire counties. There was hardly a hamlet where Pop Sweet and his Huckleberry Pickers did not play during the 1930s into the 1950s. Granges, fraternal lodges, dance halls, restaurants, taverns, campgrounds and even barns all resonated with the joyful sounds of Pop’s fiddling and calling.
Sweet’s fame extended beyond the local region. He was called by the founder of the National Folk Festival “the best caller in the United States,” a title he earned at the Philadelphia Festival in 1943 when he was selected as the best square dance caller out of a nationwide field of more than 130.
The Austerlitz History Center’s exhibit traces Sweet’s musical career and features a soundtrack that includes recordings of Pop’s fiddling and calling from 1947 that are now housed in the Library of Congress. Explored as well is Sweet’s colorful persona as a genuine backwoods character: a hunter and trapper, pursuer of the “Black Beast of the Berkshires,” and long-time Groundhog Day forecaster.
The exhibit also plays tribute to the Sweet family: six generations of musicians dating back to the 1830s. Sixth-generation musician Bobby Sweet, a well-known Berkshire singer, songwriter and bandleader, will perform with his band at Spencertown Academy’s Community Day, also on Saturday, July 9, 2 pm at Spencertown park. Community Day celebrates the 175th anniversary of the Academy’s historic home and the 50th anniversary of the Academy as an arts center.
Accompanying the exhibit is a richly researched book on Sweet’s life written by Tom Moreland, Austerlitz Town Historian. It includes a detailed chronological review of Pop’s square dances, listing more than 300 appearances in more than 150 venues scattered among some 70 localities.