BOONVILLE — When you're known as a Civil War buff, it’s a little strange to declare, “War is wrong.”
But Chris Edwards has been studying the past in order to shape a peaceful future for a long time: He’s an anti-war war historian.
What: "Bloody Bill Rides: Music and Tales of the Civil War — Concert"
When: 7:30 p.m., Friday
Where: Thespian Hall, Boonville
What else: Chris Edwards and the Blood Brother Band, in conjunction with Kathy Barton and Dave Para, will present a 90-minute concert.
This concert, which features both contemporary and and traditional music, focuses on the life of Bloody Bill Anderson and his role in the Civil War and is being presented as part of the Sesquicentennial observance of the Civil War in Missouri.
Edwards’ unique perspective on the Civil War in Missouri will come to life in a multimedia concert called “Bloody Bill Rides” on Friday evening at Thespian Hall at 522 Main St., as part of the The Battle of Boonville 150th Commemorative Festivities.
“I started working on this in probably 1978,” Edwards said. “It took a lot of research.”
The show tells the story of a Confederate sympathizing guerrilla, “Bloody” Bill Anderson, who killed at least 12 men in the Lawrence Massacre and other notorious killing sprees before and throughout the Civil War in Kansas and Missouri.
“We didn’t have the stand-up armies versus armies,” Edwards said. “Most of the troops were in the East. The activity that was still here resorted to guerrilla warfare. They were very vicious.”
The show combines Edwards’ love of music and 19th-century history. The show features two folk singers, a five-piece rock band, videos of re-enactments and narration of Bill Anderson's story. The musicians play both traditional music and contemporary pieces written by Edwards, all with informative lyrics.
One of the show’s narrators and promoters, Mark Farnen, has always been impressed with Edwards’ musical skill.
“He’s trained on both classical and acoustic guitar,” Farnen said. “The music is wonderful, but it’s also really telling a story.”
Edwards played in the Hickman High School marching band when he was a teenager and then played in various rock bands around town during and after college.
“I was in a house band where Club Vogue is,” Edwards said. “That used to be the Brief Encounter and then The Blue Note. We’d play there on Wednesdays and weekend nights, too.”
After traveling for a year to play music, Edwards returned home, got married and had two kids.
“I gave up music for 13 years,” Edwards said. “I put my guitar in the closet and said ‘bye.’”
But in 1999, he released a CD of Civil War-themed rock music called "Blood on the Border." It includes all of the songs that will be in the show Friday.
One ballad, told from the perspective of Confederate Missourians, includes the lyrics “We’re gonna stop Jayhawkin’ right now, we’re gonna burn Lawrence down to the ground” over strumming guitars and a snare drum beat.
That song did not go over well with event organizers in Lawrence, Kan., where Edwards considered putting on an outdoor performance of his show in August.
“I don’t think we get to reconciliation by ignoring things,” Edwards said. “I still think we ought to be able to talk about it.”
Edwards paired the lyrics of his songs with historical images and re-enactment footage by working with Wide Awake Films in Kansas City.
“I gave them the script and the recorded music, and I wrote down visually what I saw (to go with them),” Edwards said. “They went through their library and tried to match what they had with what the lyric was saying.”
The result will be live music paired with relevant film. During the narration, one of the only known photos of Bill Anderson will take up the screen, reminding viewers of his importance to the story.
Edwards chose to focus his story on Anderson because he was involved in so much of Civil War history in this area. He was the quintessential guerrilla, resourceful and vengeful, Edwards said.
“They would take jackets off of dead Union soldiers and put them on, meet up with cavalry units in the road and say ‘hey, how are you doing?’” Edwards said. “Then they would take their pistols out and shoot them down.”
Edwards believes Confederate and Union guerrillas scalped, slashed throats and removed noses and ears of their enemies because of psychological pressures from the war.
“The guerrillas came from some of the wealthiest families in Missouri," Edwards said. "They were interested in protecting their wives, their families, their farms. They did things during the war that they would have normally never done; we even see that today from some of our troops.”
This is the point of Edwards’ show. His hands and arms motioned along with ideas that link the past and present.
“The last song we do is 'War' by Edwin Starr,” Edwards said, getting ready to sing the anti-war refrain, “War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!”