By Brandei Clifton
October 11, 2023
Danny Eakin isn’t ready to think about his final performance with the Homestead Pickers later this month. He knows when he plucks those strings, his heartstrings will break a bit.
While his passion to keep playing is stronger than ever, his body tells him it’s time to slow down.
“I have to listen to what it’s telling me even though I don’t like what it says,” Danny smiles. “Arthritis in my hands is getting worse and I have some major surgeries coming up. It’s time to take care of me.”
That’s a pretty honest outlook coming from a tough guy who served his country in Vietnam and only ever had a needle stick.
“I’ve never been cut on in my life, so this floored me,” he says. “I want to get this medical stuff behind me so I can start my next chapter.”
But, we wanted to revisit his “old” chapters first. After some front porch pickin’, we did some back porch sittin’ over coffee to reflect on what Danny calls “his greatest days” at Silver Dollar City.
He began playing shows in the park’s gazebo back in 1985. He cherished those days “singin’ stuff” for folks, but his life took a tuneful turn in 1992 when he met a feisty fiddler named Vern.
“Grandpa Vern only had a fiddle at the time and called me over for a visit. Silver Dollar City was developing a homestead ‘family’ at the time and Fiddlin’ Vern thought I’d be a good fit. We sat down that day, dreaming about what we could do.”
By the end of the conversation, the idea for Homestead Pickers was put into place. Danny and Vern added a few guys to the group and set out to make simple memories.
“We didn’t want a set of any kind,” he explains. “We wanted guests to feel like they pulled up to a random porch in the Ozarks and are listening in on a family’s jam session.”
That was a big change for Danny who had always performed on a stage.
“Vern and I decided we never wanted to look down on our audience. We want to be on eye-level with our crowd and make them feel like part of our family,” he says. “If they wanna talk, we’ll stop the show and talk! If they want to tell a joke, we let them tell a joke.”
Grandpa Vern would only get to see the Homestead Pickers carve their path for four years. He passed away in 1996, but the unique foundation he and Danny set that day in 1992 will linger on.
“The legacy is solid as a rock,” he says. “Even after my last show on October 24th, I know these guys will keep the candle lit. They understand what this is all about.”
What it’s “all about” has never been fancy or high tech. For Danny, it’s simple. It’s about a porch…and his people.
“Playing with the guys and poking fun at each other is where the memories are made,” he smiles with a pause. “I’m proof of that old saying about if you do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. This has never been a job. It’s been my joy!”
He’s shared that joy with fellow friends Walter Morrison, Greg Becker and Greg Baily. The four have performed countless shows together pickin’ instruments and pickin’ on each other like brothers. They’ll welcome Emmalee Flatness to the group on November 4 and have no doubt she’ll fit right in.
Now that he knows the group is in good hands, Danny plans to spend his retirement years doing things he always literally passed by.
“I’d leave so many fun things in the rear-view mirror as I traveled for shows,” he says. “I’m gonna go back to those places I drove past and see our country! Our company has properties all over the U.S. and Canada, so it’s time to be a tourist!”
Before the retirement road trips though, there’s a little bit of pickin’ left to do. You can catch the Homestead Pickers at Silver Dollar City daily at 10:30, 11:30, 1:30 and 3:30 on the Homestead’s front porch, adjacent to the Wilderness Church.
“I’ll give it everything I have on October 24, just as I always have,” he says. “Then it’ll be time to go home and sit on my own porch. There’s incredible peace knowing I have done everything God wanted me to do.”