Larkin Stanton, orphaned at birth in 1845, is raised by his cousin, Arty Norton. Larkin and Arty's younger brother Hackley grow up surrounded by music and are as close as brothers. Larkin sings before he can talk, and Hackley's fiddle makes all feet want to dance. As they become men, both lose their hearts to pretty, redheaded Mary. But through this complex love and the wrenching destruction of the Civil War, Larkin learns the true meaning of the mournful ballads he has known all his life.