Ever heard of the JAM program for kids? Our local Elementary School has participated in the program for several years. I first heard about JAM when Guitar Man and Mandolin Man-my nephews-signed up for the free after school music lessons.
Over on the JAM website-they sum up what they're about better than I can-their Mission is stated as being: "Junior Appalachian Musicians, Inc. helps communities provide opportunities for children to participate in the old-time and bluegrass music and dance traditions of the Southern Appalachians."
A few months ago I the pleasure of interviewing JAM's founder, Helen White, about the program.
How long has JAM been around?
I was a Guidance Counselor for Sparta in Allegheny County in the spring of 2000. One day I went into a 3rd grade classroom to do a guidance session. The teacher was holding photos of instruments up telling the kids what they were. Sparta did not have a music program, so the only way the students could learn about the instruments was by looking at pictures. I offered to bring in my instruments for the children to see and the teacher agreed. The students enthusiasm about seeing real instruments gave me the idea to write a proposal for funding for a music program. The very next night I ran into a friend who was a folklorist and after I spoke to her about the proposal, my friend took the idea to the National Endowment for the Arts. It was like the program was meant to be from the start.
How many different communities take part in JAM?
Western NC has the lion's share of the programs mostly because the NC Arts Council took a real interest in the program. The Arts Council was able to acquire a grant that paid for 7 Counties in Western NC to fund a JAM Program in their area. Blueridge National Heritage also provided for 3 NC counties. A group from SC has started a YAM-Young Appalachian Musician program that is affiliated with JAM. There are also JAM Programs in Galax, VA and Grayson VA.
So it sounds like JAM continues to expand in all directions?
Yes, next year we will partner with The Crooked Road Music Trail in Southwest VA. They will give us the opportunity to introduce JAM to 19 counties across VA.
I know our local JAM Program 'loaned' the instruments to students at no charge-is that how it's usually done?
Each county handles the instrument issue in a way that best fits their area. Some charge a small rental fee while others don't.
Since our local JAM Program only has music lessons-I didn't realize traditional dance could also be part of the program until I poked around your website. Is the music more common in the program than dance?
Yes there are more instrument/music JAM Participants than there are traditional dance. We started offering traditional dance instruction as an enrichment program. As the young musicians progressed in their ability it became obvious we needed 2 different levels of lessons. We needed something for the group level who wasn't in class at the moment to do. It was a natural thing to add dance and folk songs to the program.
Do most JAM Programs meet on school grounds?
More programs meet in an after-school setting on campus than not. Some meet at art councils. Most schools are receptive to the JAM Program being part of their extra curricular activities. And some schools even provide buses to get kids from the school to where their JAM session takes place if it is off campus.
JAM has a great website-full of information, videos, and links. I encourage you to jump over and check it out. When my nephews were in JAM-I was pleased that our local community was encouraging our youth to value the traditional music of Appalachia-but once I realized the JAM Program existed beyond my county-even beyond my state I was totally blown away.
Not everyone is fortunate to grow up in a musical family like I did-and in today's tough economic times-most parents can barely afford the basics much less provide music lessons. I believe Helen and the rest of the JAM Gang are providing a valuable service to both the children and to the whole of the region by ensuring the music of Appalachia continues to thrive by exposing our youth to it.
p.s. If you do jump over to the JAM site be sure to watch my nephews along with Pap and Paul pick out Buffalo Gals-which was one of the first songs their instructors, JD and Ted, taught them to play at JAM. The video is at the bottom of the JAM home page and is titled John C. Campbell Folk School, Brasstown.Subscribe for free to Blind Pig & The Acorn by Email
Photo provided by Polk County News
Fiddling George Barnes, Last of the Copper Haulers
A considerable amount of romance (meaning legend, mystery, adventure) is tied to the days of early mining and copper exchange in the Copper Basin. This is especially true of the men who were known as the copper haulers along the Old Copper Road. Perhaps none of them were as well known or had as many admirers as George B. Barnes.
We have perhaps heard stories of him, and if we have visited the Ducktown Basin Museum, we have seen displayed there the fine old fiddle that once belonged to this copper hauler, citizen and fiddle-player, George Barnes.
James Barnes (June 13, 1811-August 9, 1859) and his wife, Susan (maiden name unknown – September 23, 1813 – October 14, 1886) had five known children. Daughter Emaline (August, 1836 – July 9, 1885) married first, Enoch Farmer about 1854, and after he was killed in the Civil War, she married, second, John W. Headrick. George B. Barnes (March 20, 1840 – November 5, 1919) married Sarah Gassaway about 1860. They had a daughter, Amanda, who married William Leander Dalton. Nancy was born about 1842, but whether she lived to adulthood is not known. Martha Ann was born about 1844 and married Samuel J. Moore, Jr. in 1869. William C. Barnes, known as Billy, was born January 21, 1872. This younger brother worked with George in the copper mines and as a hauler.
Captain Julius Raht, who had a great influence on the economic growth of the Ducktown Basin area, purchased a fine violin on his travels to Cincinnati or elsewhere and made a gift of the violin to George B. Barnes. Endowed with a natural talent with music, and with the mountain gift of making the strings sing, George was much in demand as an entertainer and a fiddler at various parties throughout the Basin area.
Photo provided by Polk County News
The copper haulers would often stop off at what was known as the Halfway House, about mid-way between Ducktown and Cleveland, Tennessee on their journey along the Old Copper Road. Mr. Roy G. Lillard, historian, in his book, Polk County, Tennessee, 1839-1999, gives a list of the men employed as copper haulers. There may have been more, but these were documented: George Barnes, I. A. Gassaway, James Rymer, W. C. Barnes (George’s brother), R. Boyd, W. P. Barker, A. J. Cloud, J. H. Williams, R. M. Cole, James Lingerfelt, John Lowry, William Center and W. A. Center. From time to time others joined in the hauls: Major J. C. Duff, Taylor Duff, Parker Duff, Pen Jones, Jim Ingram, Asbury Blankenship, Joe Dunn, Joe Hasking, Reuben Carver, Samp Orr, Ephraim Woody, Jim Hughes, Jay Fry, Tom Bates, William Williamson, Quint Gilliland, John Hutchins, Posey Parker, Rev. W. H. Rymer, John Moody, Joe Cain and a Greer boy who lost his life along the route. (See Lillard, page 166). These surnames read like a roster of present-day citizens still in the Copper Basin.
The load limit, strictly enforced, was no more than 500 pounds of copper per draft animal in the team. If a hauler had two mules, his cargo could weigh at 1,000 pounds. But four, six and eight mule teams were not uncommon, and give an idea of the weight of copper these haulers moved. The road was through rough terrain and of poor quality. It was not unusual for the wagon to sink into a rut, and with the grade difficult anyway, the poor mules would stall.
Some of the copper haulers, not as gentle and humane as George Barnes, would use a black snake whip to coerce the mules to move. Mr. Barnes was noted for getting out his violin to play music to soothe the mules. Legend holds that his method for getting the stalled team to pull the load out of the ditch and to get back onto the road worked every time.
At the Halfway House, guests never seemed too tired to hear George Barnes play his fiddle. A little hoe-down never hurt anyone, and especially the copper haulers. Their spirits were lifted and the music made their stop-over more enjoyable. Captain Julius Raht himself purchased the Halfway House after the Civil War in 1866. He made it into a fashionable place to stop for overnight stays, to eat and to be entertained. Who knows but that it was during his period of ownership of this boarding house along the Copper Road that he gave the violin to Fiddler George Barnes.
The Greer boy who assisted the copper haulers, probably as a groomsman for the mules or a general helper, met his death while he was working as a hauler’s helper. He requested that he be buried along the road so he could see and hear the haulers as they passed by. Is it any wonder that legends evolved about this lad whose likeness could sometimes be seen at twilight, keeping his vigil along the mile-long stretch where his grave overlooked the Copper Road?
During or immediately after the Civil War, George B. Barnes met misfortune at the hands of the notorious John Gatewood, leader of the infamous gang of bushwhackers. Gatewood shot at Uncle George Barnes, hitting him in the eye area and permanently damaging his sight. But Mr. Barnes was not killed by the blast. In fact, he was able to live for several more years, dying in 1919.
I recently had a delightful call from Mr. Pat Terry, former citizen of the Copper Basin and now a resident of Atlanta. He commented about Captain Julius Raht, and we went from that to talking about Fiddler George Barnes, his wife’s uncle. He knew the violin came as a gift from Captain Raht. Mr. Terry told me that the violin was damaged, its neck broken badly. Mr. Barnes got cherry wood and carved a new neck to attach to the old violin. The workmanship was so perfect and the mend so flawless that the violin looked as though it had never been damaged.
Fiddling George Barnes had the distinction of taking the last load of copper from Ducktown to Cleveland just prior to the change from mule-drawn freight to railroad shipping.
I wonder, during the cold December hauls, did Fiddling George Barnes play Christmas carols to soothe his mules stranded in the ruts of the Old Copper Road? Were the evenings near Christmas at Halfway House filled with strains of “Silent Night” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem”? I like to think so. I can almost hear him now, making that violin talk.
I hope you enjoyed Ethelene's post as much as I did. A fiddle player that could sooth the mules-pretty neat uh?
Paul first introduced me to the music of Kathy Chiavola about 7 or 8 years ago. From the beginning I loved her voice-loved her music. But once I heard her sing The Harvest-which immediately become one of my all time favorite songs-I became smitten with her for life.
After I successfully nabbed an interview with David Grier-I thought what the heck I'll ask her for an interview-and guess what she said yes too.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Chicago and raised in Kansas City.
Did you grow up in a musical family?
Yes, Mom played piano and violin and viola and Dad still sings very well. My three sisters play various instruments and sing.
How long have you been making music for a living?
Since I was 15.
How young were you when you started singing/playing/?
I began piano lessons at age 7 or 8, and began teaching myself guitar at age 12. I've always sung.
What was the first song you learned to play?
Probably Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
Over the years, have you seen a decline in the popularity of old time, traditional, or bluegrass music?
No. Quite the contrary. The availability of the music via movies and the internet has popularized the music.
It seems folks who enjoy traditional, old time, bluegrass music are die hard fans-do you think the music speaks to them in a way other genres don't?
Yes, it's real music for real people.
Where can folks find your music?
Is there anything you'd like to let your fans know about?
I was awarded the prestigious Ragusani nel Mondo Prize in Ragusa, Sicily last September 4 in recognition of my musical career. You can see it on youtube: YouTube - Kathy Chiavola receives Ragusani nel Mondo award.
What is the funniest thing that ever happened at one of your performances?
Can't tell it!
When you think of music in relation to Appalachia what comes to mind?
Dance tunes, ballads, fiddle tunes, the melding of Celtic/English traditions with African music...The music tells a story, oral history, makes us dance, play and sing; the music expresses all emotion; and is the soundtrack to life; there is a timeless appeal of traditional music stemming from the heart and soul.
Hope you enjoyed the interview. Kathy generously donated 2 cds for a giveaway. Leave a comment and you'll get a chance to win some of her fantastic music for yourself. Giveaway ends on Saturday the 14th. (don't forget a comment also gives you another entry in the guitar giveaway)
TipperSubscribe for free to Blind Pig & The Acorn by Email
I discovered World Wide Bluegrass shortly after I started the Blind Pig. From the start I was mesmerized by their streaming music-but once I got brave enough to enter their chat room and find out more about the organization I was totally blown away by their combined dedication to Bluegrass music-and to the artists who play it. The music itself is reason enough to be a fan of World Wide Bluegrass-but once you realize the djs playing the music are all volunteers who are spread out across the world-it takes on such a close knit family feeling that you cannot resit it.
Once the idea of having a series of posts on music in Appalachia started running around in my head-I knew World Wide Bluegrass should for sure play a role in the series. Gracie Muldoon, founder of WWB, suggested I interview Vicki Abbott-who has been with the organization from the start. The interview turned out great-hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Vicki can you tell us a little about WWB-how it started-what it represents-how it works?
WorldwideBluegrass.com has had quite a journey to where we are today. It didn’t start as the WWB, but was one of several stations, which was the brainchild of a fellow who created one website with separate on-line radio stations of different genres consisting of shows that were broadcast live. After leaving one of our local terrestrial stations in the Cincinnati area, Gracie Muldoon discovered this newly forming network of on-line stations, became familiar with the owner, and he put her in charge of the bluegrass station. Being the sole DJ of this new bluegrass station, she immediately put out e-mails looking to recruit more volunteer DJs. To me, this all was still a very new concept. I remember the website owner used to tell us how, in the very near future, our on-line station would be available on cell phones and eventually on car radios. Each DJ broadcasts from their own home studio using their own computer. Getting the software set-up for broadcasting and trying to work out the bugs was very frustrating. Things didn’t work identically on every computer and stepping through the whole thing via telephone made it difficult not being able to visually see how things were supposed to look and act. I wasn’t the only DJ who nearly quit in the process. Most of us weren’t computer gurus, but we persevered, discovering and understanding things together as we went along. And every new DJ that came on board was able to contribute to our efforts, helping to make the workload of the station operations a little easier on the rest of us. After a very rocky, roller coaster year or so, the website started to fold, but the bluegrass station was thriving. We had several DJs and faithful listeners by this time and none of us wanted to see it lost. Since its inception, The WWB has always been volunteer-driven and listener supported. We’re grateful for the full support of the record labels and the artists. And we’re especially proud of the fact that we’ve been able to introduce to the world many regional bands who otherwise would never have had the opportunity to be heard by such a widespread audience.
How long have you worked for them?
I’ve been DJing for 4.5 years now. Gracie Muldoon was the station manager of the bluegrass radio station and was recruiting DJs. I didn’t have any DJ experience but she convinced me it was just like sitting in your living room and talking to folks and spinning your favorite bluegrass tunes. I was something like the third or fourth DJ coming on right about the same time as Uncle Billy Dunbar.
Did you grow up in a family where music was important?
Actually playing music was not a part of my childhood, but my parents listened to the radio and albums and watched the Cincinnati TV program, "Midwestern Hayride" every weekend. So the music was always around us. Names like Bill Monroe and Jimmy Martin were familiar to me. When I was in 4th grade, we took a vacation and went down to the Grand Ole Opry. I remember seeing String Bean perform. Just recently, as we were helping my mother move, I found a cardboard fan with a picture of Jesus and sheep on it that my parents had bought for me on that trip. It had lines on the back of it for writing in the name of the performers. My mother had written the names of who we saw. I couldn't believe it included Bill Monroe! I'm really embarrassed to admit that I don't remember seeing Bill Monroe! But I guess at 9 years old, String Bean's outfit made more of an impression on me! LOL I do remember being in about the fourth grade and hearing my classmates talk about current rock and roll music and I had no clue what songs they were talking about because we never listened to rock music at home. So for my birthday, I asked for my own radio to put in my room and I began listening to rock. It felt strange but soon became my music of choice. And that’s about my earliest memories of listening to something other than country or bluegrass. But I still heard plenty of that anytime I rode in the car with my parents or as dad tinkered around the house. I don’t think I started listening to bluegrass again until the late 1990s when I happened to stumble upon a small, local public station that played all genres of music. The bluegrass/classic country shows were scheduled Monday through Saturday from 8:00am till noon, so that’s what I started tuning in to every day after getting the kids off to school. And that’s what really brought me back to bluegrass. So I’m still playing catch-up on all those years I missed out on, all of the history of the artists and the music.
Do you feel the popularity of old time-traditional-bluegrass music is on the rise or decline?
Well, judging from the amount of music we receive at WorldwideBluegrass.com, bluegrass is alive and well! I think like most genres of music, it has its niche. But to me, there’s an ability across generations to share the old time-traditional-bluegrass music that you don’t see so much other genres. There’s also a freedom in the playing of acoustic instruments vs. electric. It’s a music that invites the young and the old, the new and the experienced players to come together and share in the joy of playing together. So that sharing and passing on the tradition keeps it alive. Since I missed out on it during the time I was raising my kids, I’m hoping I’ll have an influence on my grandkids! I’m already wondering which one might do well at playing which instrument! I’m hoping we might even have a fiddle player.
It seems to me-that old bluegrass standards continue to be performed and recorded by the bluegrass artists of today-while other genres of music concentrate on newly written material. Do you agree? If so-why do you think this is true-I mean do the words of those old songs speak to us in a way that lasts through the changes of time?
Yes, there are lots and lots of old tunes that continue to be performed and recorded, but there’s a bunch of songwriters and artists out there who continue to crank out some really great new material. And that’s exciting. But if you attend very many bluegrass jams, it’s those older tunes that everyone is so familiar with that you’ll hear at every one of them. And since I started playing bass a couple of years ago and attending jams, I've become even more aware of that. And that’s what enables folks who have never played together before to jam all night long. Plus, the fact that most bluegrass tunes consist of three chords makes it much easier to play with no written music. And that part amazes me, that you can create so many different songs that only use three chords and that folks can come together and play so many songs and sing so many words, all from memory. Totally amazing! And for those of us who are old enough to have experienced a simpler time, or who have had stories told to us by our parents or grandparents about their lives in a simpler, but yet harder way of life, yes, I think those older songs remind us of a different time, either personally or in knowing someone who remembers.
When you think of music in relation to Appalachia what comes to mind?
In my mind, I always see folks who didn’t have many of the finer things in life. I always think of folks who relied heavily on providing for themselves, because they had to. Lots of hard work to make sure food was on the table, and then spending the evening sharing in family time and music. Not that the music was a part of my family’s history, but for many, it was. And a lot of that music was about the life they knew so well. It’s a great history lesson and also a great reminder of how far we’ve come. And I think there’s a sense of pride and inheritance for those of us who know that so many of these songs are about things that touched the lives of our own ancestors, if not ourselves.
Are there any up coming programs or news from WWB you'd like to tell us about?
Yes! We're very excited about a new program you can catch every month on World Wide Bluegrass. We're partnering with Bluegrass Music Profiles to present their monthly Top 30 Hot Singles. A different DJ will broadcast that about the third week of every month. Be sure to watch the home page for which DJ will be presenting the Top 30 program for that month. Also, check the “Interview” page. Several of our DJs do live and pre-recorded interviews. And while you’re there, stop into our family-friendly chat room. We have a fantastic group of frequent WWB listeners and chatters. So many of them have become like family. And you never know which bluegrass artists you might find there, too! Also, mark your calendar for August 12, 13 and 14 for our Fourth annual Grass Stock 2010 which will be held at Terrapin Hill Farm in Harrodsburg, KY, www.GrassStock.com.
WorldwideBluegrass.com is listener supported and this is our major fundraiser for the year. Our entire staff is volunteer but we do have operating costs such as our internet streaming and hosting and our royalty fees. We already have 30 bands scheduled to appear at this year’s festival. And we’re really excited about this year’s raffle of a brand new Martin D-28 guitar, courtesy of Old National Bluegrass and TheMandolinStore.com raffle tickets are only 10$ a chance. This guitar is valued at $3,000 and will be awarded Saturday, August 14th at Grass Stock. The winner does not need to be present to win. Check with one of our DJs or you can print off a ticket and mail it along with your check to Old National Bluegrass at the address listed on the ticket. Print ticket here: http://www.grassstock.com/
The programs at WorldWideBluegrass.com are as unique as their hosts. We're bluegrass 24/7, but we currently have 26 international hosts doing 30 shows and 68 hours of live programming each week. We hope everyone will take a moment to check the schedule and tune in some time soon!
I hope you'll jump over and visit World Wide Bluegrass sometime-and be sure to tell all your bluegrass loving friends about them too. It's free to listen-you don't even have to subscribe-just click and open your ears to the great bluegrass sounds.
Don't forget a comment on this post gives you another entry in the Blind Pig & the Acorn's Guitar Giveaway.
TipperSubscribe for free to Blind Pig & The Acorn by Email
Today I have a treat for you- Award winning Appalachian Author and Historian Shirley Stewart Burns has written a guest post about her musical history especially for the Blind Pig's Spotlight on Music in Appalachia.
Matthew, Shirley's husband, and I met because of our shared determination to preserve and celebrate our rich Appalachian Culture-it didn't take me long to realize Shirley held the same passion for our homeland.
It would take a while to list all of Shirley's accomplishments-both in the literary world and in the music world-instead I'll send you to her website where you can palpably feel the love she has for the Coalfields of Appalachia as well as see the rewards of her labor and hear a few of her songs to boot.
Shirley has recently had 2 cd releases-one her critically acclaimed Coalfield A Cappela cd the 2nd Coal Country Music where she graciously added her song Leave Those Mountains Down (Ode To The Mountains) to contributions of other artists such as: Ralph Stanley, Gillian Welch, John Prine, Kathy Mattea, Willie Nelson, Tom T. Hall, Jeanie Ritchie and others-to make a companion cd to the movie Coal Country. (Shirley has donated each cd for a giveaway here on the Blind Pig-read below to see the details)
Musical Journey of the Coalfields by Shirley Stewart Burns
Greetings from the coalfields of southern West Virginia, the place I call home. I want to thank Tipper for inviting me to contribute a guest blog here on “The Blind Pig and the Acorn,” and thanks to all of you for taking the time to read my personal story about the music of Appalachia as seen from the heart of the coalfields. Appalachia is a place steeped in rich history and culture. Nestled into each corner of the region are wonderful stories and traditions that have been generations in the making. Singing and the passing of songs from one generation to another is one important part of our culture. I was lucky enough to be born into a family of storytellers and singers.
For as long as I can remember, music has been an important part of my life. My daddy was a first rate, top-of-the-line Southern Gospel singer. As soon as I could talk, I began singing along with Daddy’s gospel songs, old-time country and classic R&B, all of which were his favorites. My daddy sang in various gospel groups and toured all over our home state of West Virginia, as well as in all of the surrounding states and further south. I recall traveling along with my Daddy and Mom with the gospel groups, and would clap and sing along whenever they would rehearse or whenever they played in front of an audience. I remember at the age of 3, going with my Daddy, Mom, paternal grandmother and daddy’s gospel group to a huge singing convention down in South Carolina. It was reputed that only the best southern gospel singers would be there, and my daddy had been invited to be among them. His clear, strong voice had the crowd clapping along, jumping to their feet and shouting “hallelujahs.” Many a soul found their way to the Lord while listening to my daddy’s beautiful voice sing stories of Jesus, home and heaven. Around this same time, I honed my own showmanship by entertaining people when I would stand up in the middle of a room or sit on the laps of family friends and sing “This Little Light of Mine,” “Joy in the Morning,” or one of numerous gospel songs that I had committed to memory.
About a year after our South Carolina trip, we were at a gospel sing at an old time church way up in a holler in West Virginia. I don’t exactly remember the location, but I do recall it was far off from home and was out of the coalfields. I especially remember this trip not because of the music that was being performed there, but because of something I hadn’t before witnessed. You see, the old time church didn’t have indoor plumbing and furthermore, for refreshments they had a water bucket with a lone dipper in it. If a person got thirsty at the church, then you just walked up, got a dipper of water and drank it right out of the dipper. There was well over a hundred people there that evening, so you can imagine how many people shared the dipper. I remember it was a long trip from our home and it took quite a bit of time to arrive there. When we did arrive, I was very thirsty. I wanted some of that water. Mommy told me before we got out of the car not to ask for any of that water because “we do not drink after others.” Nothing would do me. To me, it looked like great fun so the first thing I did after getting out of the car was run straight for that water dipper. Mom saw me heading for the water bucket and caught up with me just as I was about to take a drink from that cool dipper. After that, Mommy kept a very close watch on me the rest of the evening and kept me close by her side. Traveling from place to place, watching and listening to my daddy and others sing, was how I spent most of my weekends for the first eight years of my life.
When daddy wasn’t performing with his gospel groups, weekends at home often revolved around our extended family visiting and gathering around the piano where we would sing old hymns and other southern gospel favorites. I grew up singing and listening to others sing – and sing well. I was ten years old before I realized that not everyone could sing. While spending the night with a friend, a very strange and onerous sound escaped from her mouth. I looked at her in a puzzled manner and asked her what she was doing, I was just sure that she was carrying on like some sort of animal. Imagine my surprise when she told me that she was singing. I was still not sure that she wasn’t carrying on, so I innocently said, “No you’re not. That’s not singing.” I was shocked when she looked at me indignantly and told me that she was, indeed, singing. I just couldn’t believe it. I very nearly had an emotional crisis when I discovered that, indeed, not everyone could sing! Before that time, I had never heard someone sing that could not, at the very least, “carry a tune.” I went home and told my Daddy and Mommy about the horrible sounds that came from my friend, and how she actually said she was singing. Well, they both burst out laughing until mommy finally confirmed for me, “Honey, not everyone can sing.” As I got older, and my circle of friends grew, it became very revealing about how special those family sing-alongs really were.
My Daddy was a coal miner by vocation, he worked as a brakeman on the motor and he would sing while he worked. He would regale his co-workers with all of his favorites and take requests from them. I have had men that worked with my daddy come up to me and tell me how much they enjoyed working with him, especially his singing, and how he brightened the working conditions in the mines with his voice. Years later, after my Daddy came out of the mines, my brother found himself working alongside some of the men that used to work with Daddy. They recognized him because he looked like a more youthful version of our daddy. These men would tell my brother how much they enjoyed hearing our daddy sing and they figured that my brother had inherited Daddy’s gift, so they asked him to sing for them. Well, as my brother puts it, a first few verses out of his mouth soon alerted them that he had not inherited Daddy’s gift. To be fair, though my brother cannot sing as well as Daddy, I can honestly say that both he and my other brother can in fact, “carry a tune.”
My Daddy’s family grew up singing together. It was a way that the struggling family could be entertained for free. Blessed with an abundance of good voices, the entertainment could last into the wee hours of the night. It is how they coped and entertained themselves, and it was something that my Daddy willingly passed on to his children. Daddy would sing to us the stories of “Barbara Ellen,” “Rose Connely,” and how it was “Dark as a Dungeon way down in the mine.” Then there were the spirituals. Stories of “Old Noah” and “Run on” -- “Let me tell you God almighty’s gonna cut you down.” Daddy would sing songs of faith, hope, redemption and warning. I always sat back in amazement at the crystal clearness of his voice and the various emotions it could convey.
When my Daddy joined the Army in the 1950s, it was popular for soldiers to record messages for family back home on a phonograph recording. This was during a time when anyone could record a song or a letter on an LP. On one side of the album, my dad had recorded a letter telling his family when he would be in on furlough. On the other side he had recorded my grandmother’s favorite song, “Roomful of Roses.” The family enjoyed hearing the message that Daddy had recorded for them, but everyone loved hearing Daddy’s beautiful voice again, and they played the recording of him singing “Roomful of Roses.” They sang along with him, just like he was home with them. I still have that recording, and it is among my most prized possessions.
I remember Daddy spending years trying to teach me how to harmonize with him. In fact, in the days leading up to his final open heart surgery, Daddy was still trying to teach me the intricacies of that fine art. I always seemed to fall for the same trap when it came to harmonizing; I always kept going into the same key as the other singer. To help me along, Daddy told me that he would harmonize with me, rather than me trying to harmonize with him. But of course, I went right into singing in the same key as him, again and again. After a few hours of this, daddy just patted me on the back and told me to keep at it and eventually it would come to me. Years later, when I finally mastered the art of harmonizing, I remembered those countless hours of practicing with Daddy. I just knew that he would be very proud of my accomplishing that feat.
After high school, when I went off to college in Morgantown, West Virginia, I discovered that the churches up there were different than the ones we had at home. Until that time, I just didn’t know that the culture in the coalfields wasn’t the same as everywhere else in the country. The way church members worshiped was less demonstrative than the churches of home, and the way they sang hymns was far, far more reserved. Even though Morgantown is still in West Virginia, there were stark differences with the churches up there and the churches of home. Now, there wasn’t a thing wrong with the Morgantown churches, I just found them to be different than what I was used to. For example, even the way they sang “Amazing Grace” was different. That was probably the thing that stood out to me the most. In Morgantown, “Amazing Grace,” I later realized, actually sounded like the way it was transcribed in the hymn books. The “Amazing Grace” that I had grown up with had a bending of the notes and a swelling of the chorus that was just not present in the Morgantown churches. Years later, I would find myself recording an acapella version of the song the way I had always sang it. When I sang the first line of the song, the producer of my CD thought I had started the song too low and asked me to begin again. I did. Twice. He kept saying I was starting out too low. Finally, I asked him to just let me sing the first verse of the song, and see how it sounded. When I began to sing the song, he shrugged his shoulders, looked a bit shocked, and with a smile on his face, motioned for me to continue. We finished it with one take!
Continuing Daddy’s rich musical legacy, I myself began writing songs at the age of 10. Those first few songs I wrote were about the people who were closest to me. As with most writers, I wrote what I knew. My gift of songwriting came in especially handy one year when I was attending college. That year I found myself in a situation where I couldn’t afford to buy Mommy a Mother’s Day gift. I really wanted to give Mommy a gift to show how much she meant to me and how much I appreciated her. Since Daddy had died, I had grown especially close to Mommy, and it really weighed heavy upon my mind that this would be the first year that I wouldn’t be able to give her a gift. Then one evening, about a week before Mother’s Day, while I was still trying to figure out a way to get mommy a gift, a tune came into my head, followed by some words. The words quickly came and kept coming, so I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote them all down. In short time, I had written my mom a Mother’s Day song. I had some connections with a fellow who owned a local music studio, so I went in recorded it for her. Although I couldn’t play an instrument, when I wrote the song I could clearly hear the instrumentation in my head, so I knew how I wanted it to sound. The end result was quickly accomplished, and it was complete with a haunting mandolin, acoustic guitar and some drums. “I Thank God for Mamas” was loved by my mother and all who heard it. Folks particularly like the chorus,
“I thank God for Mamas. God’s gentle helping hands.
The love He stores inside their hearts is hard to comprehend.
But, I thank God for Mamas, A precious gift to see.
But most of all I thank Him for the mom He gave to me.”
Even today, I get requests to sing that song at church nearly every Mother’s Day. It still holds special meaning to both me and Mommy, as it represents the love we have for each other and our special connection.
On another occasion, I wrote a song about my Grandmaw Minnie, who was my Daddy’s mother. Grandmaw Minnie passed away about a year before Daddy did, and I titled this song, “I Remember Grandmaw.” The entire family truly enjoyed the song, and I was especially happy when they told me that it really captured her warm spirit. The chorus says:
She could light up a room and make the day worthwhile.
I remember Grandmaw and now I understand that love
Was the most important thing to Grandmaw.”
In the mid-1990s, I began writing songs about what was happening in my beloved home in the coalfields of southern West Virginia. I also wrote ballads based on family stories that I had heard throughout my life. Today, many people would say my songs are activist or protest songs, and I suppose some of them could be depicted that way; however, they are quite simply songs about what I have seen and how me and my family have lived and continue to live. It just so happens that the most pressing issue in the coalfields today deals with mountaintop removal coal mining, so many of my songs represent what I have seen firsthand and what my family has experienced.
One night I was awakened from a sound sleep with words and a melody in my head. I quickly jotted down the words to “Leave Those Mountains Down (Ode to the Mountains),” sang a few words into the tape recorder I kept beside of my bed, and as quick as that, I fell back to sleep. The next morning, I thought it was a dream and wished I could remember the words. However, there by my bedside was a piece of paper with the scribbled out words on it, and when I listened back to the tape recorder, there was the tune. I began the song with the chorus, and followed it with the first verse that goes:
Don’t tear up what the heavens bore, and leave those mountains down.”
“My Daddy was a miner, and my Granddad’s too,
They crawled inside the bowels of Earth
Digging coal and paying Union dues
They’ve long since died for King Coal,
Lay buried in the ground.
But if they were here they’d tell you
Leave those mountains down.”
To this day, I consider that song a direct gift from above. Years later, I was receiving an award at Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for my academic work. The emcee at the function was a friend of mine who knew of my musical passion. So, as I finished my acceptance speech, he asked me to sing a song for the audience. With the sparkling marble and gilded opulence of the music hall surrounding me and a larger than life statue of Andrew Carnegie behind me, I sang “Leave Those Mountains Down”. I could literally feel the presence of my daddy with me as I sang that song in a building built by an industrial baron. Several dreams were realized that day. The dreams of two parents who told their baby girl who grew up in the coalfields that she could be anything that she wanted to be, and the dream that a coal miner’s daughter could perform a song about destructive coal mining practices in one of the most respected musical venues in the country. The audience gave me a standing ovation, and that experience remains one of the highlights of my life.
Other songs that I have written reflect the hard realities that my family has experienced in the rugged mountains of home. “Ode to a Miner (Song for my Father)” and “Ode to a Miner’s Wife (Song for my Mother)” were both inspired by my parents. In “Ode to a Miner” I asked myself what my daddy – and really, so many men like him -- would say if he could talk to us again. It took around 5 minutes for me to write the answer in the lyrics of my song. The chorus to it goes:
“Black lung, black lung, black lung’s took my life.
Now I leave behind my children and wife.
I tell all you young ones don’t go underground,
‘Cause if the minin’ don’t kill you black lung’s still around.”Each verse of the song tells his story. From his youth and early marriage to the time he first became sick and to the time he died. It is really a story song, let me share with you the first and last verses of the song to further illustrate that:
“When I was a young man, seems just yesterday,
Two choices I had were to leave or to stay.
My kin lived and died here, left one choice for me,
To go underground, coal mining it would be.”
(chorus)This is followed by the last verse, which shows the progression of Daddy’s life after working in the mines:
“I can’t walk in the valley, the mountain is too high,
Every breath that I take seems to be a goodbye,
My life’s all but over, and what do I show,
But 30 years of hard labor and this Hell that I know as.”Around this same time, I decided it was only fitting that I write a song where I attempted to see things from my mother’s point of view. When I first sang “Ode to a Miner’s Wife” for my mom, I was very nervous. I didn’t want her to think that I thought her life was entirely melancholy. She understood what I was trying to do and really loved the song. “Ode to a Miner’s Wife” remains a favorite to many who have heard it. Please allow me to share a few verses with you.
“I came to this valley forty years ago,
a young miner’s bride to have and to hold.
I was barely 16 so scared was I,
To leave Mommy and Daddy, my family behind.”
“It’s a lonely life, to be a miner’s wife
Such a lonely life, to have and to hold goodnight.”
“I watched as my Neely gasped for his breath,
His lungs were infested, the pain in his chest.
We’d grow old together he told me once,
But the mining did kill him, dead at 51.”
As most people are aware, coal is an integral part of the reality in central Appalachia. So naturally, it would be the songs of the coalfields and the coal culture of home that I would record for my latest CD, “Coalfield Acappela.” My music has continued to tell the stories of what I see around me and the stories I grew up hearing. For example, though my mother’s daddy, my Grandpaw Dave, worked in the mines his whole life, it was known in the family that his lifelong dream was to be a farmer. I was lucky to capture the story of Grandpaw Dave in my song, “Long Time On This Mountain,” which begins,
“I’ve been a long time, on this mountain,
“I’ve been a long time, on this mountain,
And the dreams, I once did have them,
But they grow dim, as time goes by.”
Though Grandpaw Dave was never able to fully realize his dream of being a farmer, he was able to keep a few horses and they were his passion. His responsibility to his family prevented full-time farming, as the song says in the lines, “but mining paid when farming didn’t, so my dreams began to fade.” The song progresses as Grandpaw Dave grew older, and looked back upon his life in the next verse.
“Now, I’m old and I’m through with mining,
“Now, I’m old and I’m through with mining,
Those faded dreams, they still can haunt me,
These choices made, by which I stand.”
Appalachian songwriters – and the best storytellers -- find their inspiration in what they know best. For me, that is family and home.
Rooted in the musical heritage of my Daddy, my songwriting and singing are merely a continuation of the tradition of writing and singing about what you know best and what you have experienced. These traditions have been passed down to me through generations of my family who have lived and died in these rugged mountains of the southern West Virginia coalfields. Putting stories to song is what I have always done and is what I will continue to do for as long as I am able. For me, this naturally means my musical legacy will be one of home, of faith and of family. Through music, we have the ability not only to entertain, but to tell the stories of the people, places and events that have meant so much to us. Just as my Daddy gave me the gift of music, a gift that he got from his mother, and a gift she got from ancestors long since passed into the hills of yesterday, I hope to someday continue this rich heritage by giving these gifts to my children and grandchildren. And, if along the path of my musical journey, I’m able to share with some folks the stories and unique culture of the people and places of home, then that is just icing on the cake.
I hope you enjoyed Shirley's post as much as I did. Coming from the Southern Highlands of Appalachia-I know nothing about the coalfields of WV-but through Shirley's work I've learned much about the hardships the area faced in the past-and continues to face today. Don't forget to visit her website-http://www.shirleystewartburns.com/home for more information about Shirley-both her literary and musical works.
If you'd like a chance to win one of her cds-leave a comment on this post. The giveaway ends on Saturday July 17th. (don't forget a comment on this post also gives you another entry in the guitar giveaway)
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Today's guest post was written by John Trout. John hosts an outstanding radio show-Traditional Ties on WYEP FM 91.3 Pittsburgh PA (you can even listen online-go here to find out the details) John started his great show way back in 1985, and it's been a huge hit ever since.
When I first approached John about writing a guest post for me, I told him to pick his topic-since I was sure he knew more about the history and importance of music in Appalachia than I did. A few days later, John told me he'd like to write about one of the most remarkable men he knew-Hoyt "Slim" Bryant-and the importance his amazing musical career had on traditional country and bluegrass music. When John wrote the piece below-Slim Bryant was 101 years old-sadly he died 2 days after John sent me the piece.
(photo by Vintage Guitar)
Hoyt "Slim" Bryant by John Trout
The musical heritage of the western Pennsylvania area has been greatly influenced by traditional country and bluegrass artists. During my formative years, the late 1940s and 1950s it was typical for county and community fairs as well as area amusement parks to feature artists from the nearby, Worlds Original Jamboree in Wheeling West Virginia.
During that period you might see Hawkshaw Hawkins, The Osborne Brothers, Jimmy Martin, Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper or Doc & Chickie Williams at at your local event.
One such entertainer Hoyt "Slim" Bryant, came to Pittsburgh in 1940 to do a daily show for KDKA radio. Unlike many artists, who would move on after the demand for public appearances faded in a year or two, Slim's radio show continued until 1959 at KDKA. The early morning show was music sandwiched between news and farm reports.
Slim and his band, The Wildcats appeared on Pittsburgh's first live TV broadcast in 1949. The station was WDTV, later to become KDKA TV.
Slim, an Atlanta native had a distinguished musical career before arriving in Pittsburgh. He was originally a member of Clayton McMichen and the Georgia Wildcats, leaving in 1940 to come to Pittsburgh.
Also a songwriter his “Mother the Queen of My Heart,” was recorded by Jimmy Rodgers in 1932, Slim played on that recording and is the last surviving artist to have recorded with Rodgers.
Slim's music was progressive for it's time taking the music in a jazzy direction. “Music with a beat” is Bryant's description. Band members in addition to Slim on lead vocal and his 1936 Gibson L5 guitar included; Ken Newton, fiddle; Jerry Wallace, banjo; Al Azzaro, accordion; and brother Raymond 'Loppy' Bryant, bass and vocals. All but Slim are deceased.
Due to arthritis he doesn't play much any more, but only gave up teaching guitar a few years ago. In 2007, Slim issued his first CD, 31 of his vintage recordings. At the age of 100 in 2008, he renewed his driver's license, he limits his driving to his neighborhood during daylight hours.
Asked to comment on today's country music, he's been quoted as saying, “It's all Rock and Roll, no guitar player in his right mind would buy a guitar with three pickups.”
After reading John's interesting post-one can see both the influence and the longevity of Slim Bryant's musical career. I like his quote about today's country music-cause it's very similar to Pap's view on the subject.
To find out more about John Trout-check out his blog John Trout's Bluegrass World. And if you can find the time-I highly encourage you to check out his radio show Traditional Ties-I know you'll be glad you did.
p.s. Don't forget-a comment on this post gives you another entry in the guitar giveaway-click here for more details.
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The Blind Pig gang usually hangs out at Paul's every Sunday afternoon. Along with the pickin' and grinnin' there's lots of talking and sometimes lots of laughter-especially when we take time to laugh at our mistakes and mess-ups.
We all joke-that we can pick any song and play it straight through the first time-and even do a pretty good job on it-unless the camera is running. Some how when we know that camera is filming us we all get a little goofy-as you can see from the video below. (don't forget to stop the music player in top right of this page before you start the video)
I hope you enjoyed our silliness! Today's post is a Spotlight on Music in Appalachia post.
If you'd like to see what we do when we're really silly-click here.
p.s. To leave a comment look just below this post-below the 3 small pictures in a row. You'll see Posted At.... in Black then a bunch of other words in orange-click on the word 'comments' and fill in the info-all you need is a name and an email (no one will be able to see your email-except me). Or if you landed here through a direct link-the comment form will already be open-just scroll down till you see Post A Comment.
A big thank you to everyone who entered the David Grier cd Giveaway. The first winner was number 11 who is Rachelle.
Nancy-and Rachelle-please send your addresses to me at email@example.com and I'll send you each a David Grier cd.
More music related giveaways are on the way-so be on the look out for them!
I suppose in the array of musical instruments traditionally used in Appalachia-I'm most partial to the guitar. I'm positive it's cause I was raised by a guitar picker-Pap. He was playing the guitar even before I was born-actually even before him and Granny met.
Del McCoury came out with a song a few years back that struck a chord with me-Nashville Cats. The gist of the song-there's lots of guitar pickers in Nashville. When I was growing up-I totally assumed everyone had pickin' and grinnin' going on in their kitchen too-you know that every house had a resident guitar picker sitting on the couch playing the same song over and over while you tried to watch your favorite tv show. The guitar pickers weren't just relegated to Pap's house-they morphed out into the other houses of my family too. If I was a betting woman-I'd bet if you took a count of the guitars residing in the houses in my mountain holler today-you'd come close to 20. There's 3 in my house alone.
After I was grown-one of my cousins remarked to me-"you know it's like no matter what happens around here somebody's got to get the guitar and sing-I mean it could come a tornado and somebody would say Did you bring your guitar?" He was right-that's how common making music is to all of us-I can't imagine not having a few guitar pickers around picking the background music to my life.
Of course growing up with guitar pickers galore-there was (and is) often spirited debate on the subject of who is the best guitar picker around. People like Chet Atkins, David Grier, and Tony Rice are always at the top of the list no matter who's doing the arguing. Several months ago I contacted David Grier about interviewing him for my Spotlight on Music in Appalachia-even after all these month's I still can't believe he said yes-still can't believe I talked to him on the phone. All the Blind Pig gang are huge fans of his-those of you have been with me from the start may remember Guitar Man tackling 2 of David's original songs-Porkchops and Applesauce and Engagement Waltz.
Interview with David Grier:
Do you think traditional music's popularity is as high as it's always been?
I believe traditional music will always be around. I have no fear that it's going away-ever.
Do you make any efforts to ensure traditional music does stick around?
No, I really don't worry about keeping my music traditional-cause there are so many others already playing traditional, bluegrass, and old time music that I play what ever I want too.
As you travel around the country performing do you see the younger generation taking part in traditional music?
Yes, there are tons of talented kids making traditional music out there who have amazing talents.
Why do you think the guitar seems to be the most popular instrument played in traditional/bluegrass music?
The guitar is versatile by nature. The sounds a guitar makes fits whether you're playing bluegrass, jazz, the blues or rock. Where as something like the banjo fits perfectly for old time string bands.
Is there anything you'd like to share with my readers or your fans?
Yes I'd like to tell them about my 2 latest cds. Evocative has 10 of my original songs on it. And Live At The Linda a solo cd was recorded live in Albany New York they can purchase both of them on my website DavidGrier.com.
Not only did David Grier talk to me about music-he also sent me 2 of his cds to giveaway-the 2 he mentioned during the interview. Evocative-so perfectly named-cause it is evocative of all sorts of music-all with David's superb picking influencing the flow. Hard for me to name a favorite-but I love Road to Hope, Two Turns Home, As Easy As Falling Off A Log, and Four Dogs Jogging-see I told you it was hard to choose a favorite.
Live At The Linda has outstanding music too. As a solo cd-you can hear every note of the song as David's amazing musical ability brings it to life. Since it was recorded live-it also has David talking to the audience about his music. I always like hearing the give and take between a performer and their audience-it gives you a peek into the performer as a person.
While listening to Live At The Linda-I found out I had something in common with David Grier. I knew-David came from a musical family-just like I did. But hearing him tell the audience about growing up with music being played around his house on a regular basis-about being at other people's houses where all the grown ups where inside pickin' and grinnin' while the kids ran wild outside-sounded exactly like my childhood memories (well except none of my pickers and singers were famous).
Hope you enjoyed my interview-jump over to David's website by clicking David Grier to find out more about his music and his up coming events.
If you'd like to win one of his cds-all you got to do is leave me a comment on this post-the giveaway closes on Thursday-June 17 2010. (remember each comment on a music post-also gives you another entry in the guitar giveaway)
Today's Guest Post is written by Pam Warren. I first met Pam a little over a year ago-and I believe we clicked immediately because of our love of Traditional Music. It didn't take me long to realize Pam was the biggest Bluegrass fan I'd ever met. She and her husband criss cross the country to visit concerts and festivals on an almost weekly basis. While I can't say Pam loves the music any more than I do-I can without a doubt say she supports Bluegrass and Old-time Music more than anyone I know-including me.
When Tipper honored me by asking me to write a guest post about Appalachian music, that song started running through my head, earworm fashion, and hasn’t stopped yet. How does a girl from northern Michigan become familiar enough with the music of Appalachia to write about it?
Traditional music and arts have flowed like a river across the United States and Canada from east to west, and north to south, leaving no section untouched. I first heard string band, old time and bluegrass music at a festival near my little hometown in the late 1970’s. The rhythm and sound, especially the sound of the banjo, stuck in my head and have influenced my musical tastes ever since. A move to the Detroit suburbs twenty years ago brought new friends and neighbors transplanted from the South and further immersed me in traditional music, especially bluegrass.
There are many examples of families passing their musical talent and preferences down to succeeding generations. Most of us have heard stories of neighborhood night jam sessions, playing on the back porch, and sons growing up to play as well as, or better than their elders. Indeed, many of the great Michigan bluegrass players trace their family to areas where Appalachian music also has its roots. But there is more to it than just that. Organizations like the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA), the Bluegrass Museum, and others have programs which give instruction in, and provide information about, bluegrass music.
I asked two gentlemen who have a history in the music, and in the Appalachians, to discuss their involvement in keeping traditional music alive.
I asked some questions of Dr. Everett Lilly, of the Songcatchers, Beckley, West Virginia.
Q You come from a family with a long history of playing and singing. In what way or ways is music important to you?
Music is life to me. It was handed to me in my early childhood in terms of listening to the Carter Family, Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers, and others on the radio. I also witnessed The Lilly Brothers playing (practice and shows) any number of times which made a deep and lasting impression. I also watched my Dad play several times with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Since then it is so intimately connected to my life and my Appalachian culture that it is simply part of my being. It helps me get through life, cope with many aspects of life, and enables me to help others.
Q The Songcatchers were an outgrowth of a bluegrass class you taught at Mountain State University, is that correct?
Yes, The Songcatchers began at Mountain State University. We are a multi-generational Carter Family/bluegrass traditional music group
This all began when I started a class called Introduction to Bluegrass Music. Following the class two of my students asked for instrument classes and I organized those where I taught guitar and my father, Everett Lilly Sr. taught mandolin and fiddle. Then they wanted singing classes and evening jam sessions. So I accommodated those requests and discovered that two of the students, Tiffany Underwood and Bill Atkinson and I had something special together re the harmony singing. They didn't know any of the songs but they were quick learners. I soon had them practicing on a stage and they quickly learned how to handle themselves on the stage as well. Then we were joined in the jam sessions by students, Ron Moran and Daniel Gravely on guitars and Jordan Young, who was around age 12 or 13 on mandolin and Blaine Johnson who was around age 9 on banjo. Also joining us on acoustic was my cousin, Brian Taylor. All of these musicians needed a lot of development and the jam sessions served that purpose. Then we began to perform at some local venues and the harmony singing was our strong point but the young ones were progressing quickly. Within a year we were beginning to perform on larger venues and became sought after. The singing, development of the young people, and our stage presence all began to be at a higher level. We have now been together for a little less than five years.
Our latest member to join The Songcatchers is my 10 year old daughter, Ashley Lilly. The Songcatchers continue to develop and improve and this is a celebration and a labor of love for all of us.
Q Most students who are not music majors who take a music class, get the credit and move on quickly. What was different about the students in the bluegrass class? Or was it the material? Or was it the willingness of the adults involved, including you, that kept the ball rolling?
The key class members were Tiffany Underwood and Bill Atkinson. Both had musical talent and Tiffany was singing as a young child. Bill had experience singing in church and had a strong interest in learning to play the mandolin as did Tiffany. I think the class brought the three of us together and we became the core of what would later become The Songcatchers. If it weren't for these two students The Songcatchers may never have happened. We have an unusual ability to sing together, chemistry, and a personal commitment to the music and to each other that is rare.
Q Are the members of the group from musical families?
Except for me the members of the group are not from musical families in the sense of fathers, mothers, etc. playing professionally. Our bass player, Brian Taylor who is my second cousin, also is related to my father, Everett Lilly, Sr.
Q What factors affect the continuation of the group?
The main factor affecting the continuation of the group at the present time is Tiffany Underwood who now lives and works three hours away. She, Bill Atkinson, and I are the nucleus of The Songcatchers and so long as the three of us can be together the group can continue.
Q Multi-generational is a word often used in connection with the Songcatchers, and, it does describe the member's whose ages fall in a wide range. Is multi-generational used to distinguish the band from college or university sponsored groups which usually consist of students in a music program or is there another reason?
The use of the term multi-generational was mine. I did it because I enjoy doing professional workshops with the music included. I wanted to emphasize the intergenerational nature of this music as reflected in the makeup of The Songcatchers. At the same time we also claim an affiliation with Mountain State University because I work there and connect the group to the work I do there in terms of fund raisers in the community and workshops on music and culture that I do at conferences.
Q How important is having all age ranges involved in the Songcatchers?
Well, it is very important to me personally because of the intergenerational nature of the group and my interest in passing this wonderful music along. Then on a deeply personal level I was ever so pleasantly surprised when my daughter, Ashley who is age 10, asked to join the group. Now the MAJOR importance to me is the original reason the group began: Bill, Tiffany, and I discovered we loved to sing together and had something rare. That still is a very major motivation.
Q You emphasized to me how important this music is to you and other Songcatcher members. Can you describe that feeling with a word other than important?
In a word the music is joyful. Other single words that come to mind are meaningful and spiritual. The last word that comes to mind is life--this music is life itself in all of its beauty and challenges if one pays attention to it.
Q You come from a family with a long history of playing and singing. In what way or ways is music important to you?
The funny part is that I do come from a family with a long musical history, to a certain extent.
The Ramseys have been known as singers though it's not from a bluegrass standpoint. Their primary areas have been in quartet singing, choir leaders, mostly church oriented music. I really only have knowledge of this going back 2 generations, including my Daddy and his Daddy (and siblings). There still is a yearly reunion which always involves singing.
My Momma's side, the Powells, came from the old-time group with several banjo players. Even my Grandpaw, Glenn Powell, tried to play banjo, as did his Daddy. It used to thrill him to no end as I began my musical journey with the banjo when I was about 20 years old. Paw Paw said he'd worn out 2 or 3 old banjos trying to learn how to play, but according to him, never did succeed.
Aaron, my son, makes his living from performing and recording music. He plays probably 5-6 instruments very well. My daughter, Katie, has played several instruments and now primarily plays guitar and bass. She has also played piano, clarinet and saxophone. They both sing lead and harmony parts. Personally, for me, music is my escape from the day-to-day responsibilities of the world. All aspects of music, production, band management, recording, distributing, are interesting to me. I try to always make time for music, in some form, everyday.
Q What is the nature of your affiliation with the Red, White and Bluegrass Festival?
I'm co-producer, stage manager, website manager and general town crier of this festival. It actually happened by accident. I was asked if our band, The Linville Ridge Band, would like to participate in the inaugural event in 2004. At that point Gary [Leonhardt, festival producer] had pursued a couple of major groups and then failed to follow up in the booking process, which lead him to look at other groups. I got on board with a few suggestions I tell folks who ask about what I do, that I do a bunch of the "legwork" to help keep this event going.
Q Why did the Festival elect to host a kid’s bluegrass camp? Has it always been a feature of the festival? When did it start? What are the goals for the camp?
The camp was established to help grow a new generation of pickers and lovers of the music. It's family-friendly and I think families doing things together can be beneficial to the family unit as a whole. The kid’s camp sort of evolved after the first couple of festivals, during 2006, I think. It began with few local kids who were attending the festival and were taking a lessons from Gary. He has taught beginner lessons on guitar, banjo and mandolin, through the recreation department for years. I think the kid’s camp just became an extension of that connection he already had in place
Q What are the benefits to the participants in the camp? To the Festival? To the instructors?
I think I've already answered the first two parts of this question, so I'll focus on the third part. It is a three-day event which helps us to help the instructing band to have three extra days worth of work (which lasts about 6 hours or so each day) with minimal traveling. I'll include one very rewarding story from two years ago. That was the first year that Chris Jones (and his band) hosted the camp. Chris hired Greg Luck (local NC guy) to take care of the fiddle chores of the camp. Greg told me he had a small boy come to the camp that had never touched a fiddle. This kid had never even opened the case of his small fiddle when he waked into the room. After the first day, Greg had the child vamping solid rhythm on the 2 and 4 beats of bluegrass rhythm. After 2 more days, he had the kid playing a decent beginner version of Boil Them Cabbage Down. Greg told he hoped that in about twenty more years that kid would have the ability to replace Stuart Duncan. That's bluegrass in a nutshell, sharing it and seeing it continue.
Q Is there anything about the demographic of the camp participants which is interesting? Are participants from musical families? Local? From a great distance?
At this point, I can't give you any documented demographics of the kid’s camp participants. I do know that either last year or the year before (2008) we had a brother and sister whose parents brought them to the camp from the Philadelphia, PA, area. I'm sure some kids come from musical families and some come from non-musical families. There are a few local boys who have been in the camp every year. They're getting ready to graduate high school and are still playing together in various forms. I think that gathering a bit more info about these folks, in order to study demographics, could be greatly beneficial to us for the future events.
Q The camp participants appear on stage on the final day of the festival. Why have you made this effort? What are the benefits to the kids? To the festival?
Some of those aforementioned local guys have appeared onstage at local bluegrass concerts, getting up with folks like Mountain Heart and IIIrd Tyme Out.
Ken Whitesides, a banjo player among the camp participants watched Barry Abernathy play the banjo without any fingers on his left hand, and told his Daddy that he thought he could do that, if Pop would get him a banjo. David (his dad) got a banjo and Ken took off. Since that time he has went on to win several other youth banjo contests, hosted by folks like Raymond Fairchild and others in this region. He also became the youngest player ever to win the Merlefest banjo contest at the ripe old age of 14-15, in 2008.
I think when kids are given the chance to participate in anything, they're not afraid of making mistakes, as sometimes adults are. They just want to try. They hit some wrong notes and then analyze and correct themselves. Their brains just want to absorb information. We feel that having good instructors to steer them right will help them to continue to grow and improve into better musicians. When we start walking, we're cheered for our first stumbling efforts and we, as children, reach for our parents, who are encouraging us. Gradually, we get to the point of not having to rely on that parental or instructional help and walk on our own. We feel that this camp does the same thing, musically, for these interested kids.
The festivalfeels this camp is beneficial to the festival due to growing a new core audience of listeners and pickers. When new attendees come to the fest, they see that there is a way for THEIR kids to participate (should they choose to do so) and to actually perform on the stage. That's a proud moment for parents, furthering the family bond. Most of today's festivals are family-friendly. I'd wager that there are very few attendees of the festival who do not enjoy seeing the kids onstage, further enduring them to our festival.
No wonder a small town girl from Michigan became involved in the music, the stream of traditional and bluegrass music flows on, thanks to the dedication to keeping the music alive and relevant Dr. Lily and Mr. Ramsey have.