Appalachia in the Bluegrass
Now in its ninth season, the 2013 Appalachia in the Bluegrass concert series is generously supported by the John Jacob Niles Center for American Music, the Appalachian Studies Program, and the Appalachian Center of the University of Kentucky. It is with great gratitude that the John Jacob Niles Center for American Music acknowledges the leadership and support of Dr. Skip Gray, Interim Director of the School of Music and Dr. Ann Kingsolver, Director of the Appalachian Center and the Appalachian Studies Program.
All concerts are in the Niles Gallery of the Lucille C. Little Fine Arts Library just off Rose Street at the University of Kentucky.
Concerts are on Fridays at noon and last one hour. Admission is free and open to the public. Contact email@example.com for further information.
September 13: Lee Boy Sexton and his son Johnny Sexton
A master of the drop-thumb and two-finger banjo style, Lee “Boy” Sexton has lived his whole life near his birthplace in Letcher County, KY. Born in 1927, he acquired his first banjo, a homemade wooden fretless model with a groundhog skin head, for a dollar when he was eight years old (he worked to clear a field for a week to earn that dollar), and with instruction from his father and uncles (one of whom was banjo player Morgan Sexton, winner of the National Heritage Award). Sexton soon mastered the instrument, and the fiddle, as well. As a young man he would work all week in the mines and then play music all weekend at house parties, bean stringings, and corn shuckings.
June Appal issued an LP of traditional material, Whoa Mule, in 1988, and an expanded CD version in 2004 with an additional 40 minutes of music. One of the most respected and revered folk musicians in East Kentucky, Sexton garnered a brief scene in the 1980 film Coal Miner's Daughter, where he appears playing at a square dance.
In 1999 he was presented with the Kentucky Governor's Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.
September 20: Jimmy and Ada McCown
Jimmy McCown grew up in a musical family on Pond Creek in Pike County, Ky. In the late 1940s the area was filled with accomplished banjo players, many of whom played the clawhammer style, a form that plays an important rhythm role in old-time music. Here he also learned to play banjo like his grandfather, Boyd Smith. After serving in the U.S. Air Force, Jimmy went on to master the three-finger bluegrass banjo style. Jimmy and Ada got married and Jimmy taught Ada to play guitar. They had their own Bluegrass band from 1968–2003 recording 6 albums and touring the U.S. and Canada. In 1977 Jimmy added an extra string to make his banjo a 6 string banjo. “During that time,” Jimmy says, “I never lost sight of the mountain music of my childhood.” Jimmy refocused his playing on the clawhammer style. Jimmy explored some unique methods within the clawhammer style—methods he recalled from his grandfather and learned from other old-time banjo legends—to develop his own distinguished sound.
“I also play fiddle, and I could never accept the fact that the banjo had to be a ‘back up’ instrument. So, I began trying to play the melody to the songs and realized this wasn’t possible without dropping my thumb into the scale.” He has become identified with this style of melodic drop-thumb playing, that his grandfather called “double note” banjo.
Jimmy has been on the faculty of Banjo Camp North, and he and Ada have taught at the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School in Whitesburg, Ky., and at the Hindman Settlement School, Hindman, Ky. Jimmy has a collection of ribbons and has 2 old time banjo CDs to his credit. Jimmy and Ada have also recorded a fiddle CD dedicated to masters of the old East Kentucky style.
They’ve performed at the Appalshop Banjo Days, the Carter Family Fold in Hilton’s, Va., and the Kentucky Folk Life Festival as well as the Old Songs Festival in Albany, N.Y., and the festival of American Fiddle Songs in Port Townsend, Wash.
Jimmy has been a master traditional artist in the Kentucky Arts Council, Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship program.
September 27: Horse Country Musical Mashup: The Red State Ramblers and the Horse Head Fiddle Ensemble of Inner Mongolia
The music of the Red State Ramblers features native and adopted Kentuckians playing Kentucky tunes and songs that resonate with the truth of life lived close to the font from which this music springs. Will and Jeff grew up in the Bluegrass State, while Nikos and Kevin were inevitably drawn to the Commonwealth years ago. This is old time music, a music that sings of the old ways in a new way that remains brilliantly alive. Old time music is the garden of delights that raised a progressive crop of genres that flowered as swing, bluegrass, rockabilly, and country. Old time music is the true vine that some folks continue to cherish, and pass on as precious heirlooms, a gift of the past to nourish us in the future.
The Ramblers, Will Bacon (banjo and kazoo), Kevin Kehrberg (bass, guitar), Jeff Keith (mandolin and guitar), Nikos Pappas (fiddle) recently released their second recording, Commonwealth based on traditional music of Kentucky and in 2008 the band was a finalist in the string band competition at Clifftop Old Time String Band Festival. Presently Jeff Keith and Kevin Kehrberg serve as professors at Warren Wilson College, Nikos Pappas is an Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Alabama. Will Bacon is the owner of the celebrated contracting firm, BaConstruction, and Ron Pen is a professor at the University of Kentucky where he also directs the John Jacob Niles Center for American Music.
This performance is a special reunion of the Ramblers who have traveled a “fur piece” to reunite at the Niles Gallery. In February, the Ramblers participated in a State Department sponsored cultural exchange with Ustatshakirt in Krygyzstan and this October the band was in Ecuador on a State Department sponsored cultural exchange.
The Horse Head Fiddle Ensemble of the Arts College at the University of Inner Mongolia is featured in a collaborative performance with the Ramblers as a part of the “Living Landscape” residency of this ensemble. Living Landscapes is an exploration of the people, lands, and livelihoods of Inner Mongolia and Kentucky. During this collaborative festival of art, music, and dance come discover what makes us unique and what brings us together through an exciting adventure of art and culture.
October 4: Rich and the Po' Folks
Rich and the Po' Folks dates to the spring of 2006 when a group of friends got together with a common goal....to build a band on their shared love for the traditional music of east Kentucky and southwest Virginia. Taking their inspiration from some of the jewels of Appalachian music--fiddlers, banjo players, singers, songwriters-- Rich and the Po' Folks take the work of Old Time giants such as Art Stamper, Ed Haley, Charlie Osborne, George Gibson, Addie Graham, and John Morgan Salyer and use fiddle, banjo, bass, mandolin and guitar to kick it up as only a string band can! Their recent CD When the Whistle Blew is one of the finest recordings to come from East Kentucky's coal fields in many a year.
October 11: The Rail Splitters
The Rail Splitters are an old time string band with deep roots in the musical traditions of Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky. Adrian Powell, a native of Crimora, Va., has won contests at fiddler's conventions all over the Southeast from Hillbilly Days at Pikeville, Ky., to The Old Time Fiddler’s Convention at Galax, Va. His fiddle style is straight forward with a hard drivin' bow and he currently plays with the Pea Ridge Ramblers, Matt Kinman's Old Time Serenaders, the Cabin Creek Boys, and the Railsplitters.
Julie Shepherd-Powell is an award-winning clawhammer banjo player and flatfoot dancer originally from North Carolina. Julie previously taught beginning and advanced old time banjo at Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap, Va. She has also played with Letcher County band Rich & the Poor Folks. Julie currently competes in flatfoot dance competitions at fiddlers' conventions all over the southeast and calls square dances anywhere from Knoxville to New York City. Julie is currently completing her Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of Kentucky.
Raised by a coal miner and teacher in Van Lear, Ky., Brett Ratliff grew up with a love for the mountains, its people, and its culture. As a youngster, Brett starting singing in church and sang along to recordings of Loretta Lynn and Hank Williams. As a teenager he began playing guitar for bluegrass bands. But when Brett met musical father and son Jamie and Jesse Wells he became hooked on the moving, emotionally charged mountain music of his home. Since then, Brett has learned banjo tunes and ballads from some of the masters of old time music, like knock-down banjo player George Gibson of Knott County or Pike County fiddle and banjo player Paul David Smith. Brett’s solo album, Cold Icy Mountain was released on June Appal Recordings. Brett is currently music director for WMMT Radio in Whitesburg, Ky.
October 18: Phil Jamison with Jesse Wells
Phil Jamison, Director of Warren Wilson's Appalachian Music Program, is nationally known as a dance caller, oldtime musician, and flatfoot dancer. For over 30 years he has been calling dances, performing, and teaching at music festivals and dance events throughout the US and overseas, including twelve years as a member of the Green Grass Cloggers. His flatfoot dancing was featured in the film, Songcatcher, for which he also served as Traditional Dance consultant. Since 1987, he has been a columnist for The Old-Time Herald contributing many articles on traditional dance. From 1982 until 2004, he played guitar with Tennessee fiddler, Ralph Blizard and the New Southern Ramblers, with performances throughout the US including the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and the Library of Congress. In addition to music, Phil also teaches mathematics at Warren Wilson and Coordinates the Old-Time Music and Dance Week at the Swannanoa Gathering, the college's summer program in traditional music.
Jesse Wells first learned fiddle from his father Jamie. He graduated with a degree in guitar performance from Morehead State University and now serves as education coordinator for MSU’s Center for Traditional Music. Jesse is a versatile multi-instrumentalist who has played in a number of old time, bluegrass and rock bands; currently he plays with the Clack Mountain Stringband and Kentucky Wild Horse. He hosts a Sunday afternoon program of old time and bluegrass music on WMKY 90.3 FM.
October 24th: The Atwater-Donnelly Trio with Cathy Clasper-Torch
The Atwater-Donnelly Trio performs a unique and thrilling blend of traditional American and Celtic folk music and percussive dance. Rhode Islanders Elwood Donnelly, Aubrey Atwater, and Cathy Clasper-Torch blend gorgeous and unusual vocals and play guitar, Appalachian mountain dulcimer, violin, cello, mandolin, tin whistle, harmonica, banjo, bones, spoons, limberjacks, and other surprises including Appalachian clog dancing and French Canadian footwork.
The performance is appealing to all ages and with a relaxed stage presence, Aubrey, Elwood, and Cathy, explain song, instrument, and dance origins to give more relevance to the material. Separately and together, these three performers have won numerous awards and produced many CDs, books, and DVDs which will be available at the performance. They have performed throughout the United States and beyond and their recordings receive international airplay. Join these three on a joyous foray into the old folk traditions and enjoy the comedic chemistry of good friends.
October 25: Sue Massek (Reel World String Band)
Sue Massek is a musician committed to using the music she writes and the songs she sings as tools for social justice. As a member of the Reel World String Band from its beginning in 1977, she has been heavily influenced by the Highlander Center, which has provided training for grassroots movements beginning in the 1930′s. It’s there that the spirit and purpose of her music took shape.
With Reel World String Band, Sue has toured throughout the USA, Canada, and Italy. They have created seven recording projects and play a variety of venues from community gatherings and picket lines in the heart of the Appalachian coalfields to the Lincoln Center in New York City. They have performed on numerous television and radio programs from local to international, and featured in magazines and newspapers throughout the country including MS and the New York Times.
Sue’s solo work has taken her to Guatemala and Nicaragua, but for three decades she worked in the schools using folk music, folk dance and folklife as methods of teaching core curriculum and diversity. She was a Circuit Rider for the Kentucky Arts Council for two years and has also worked for Kentucky as a “Community Scholar” in the “Folklife Program”. She participated in Appalshop’s “Voices From Home” cultural exchange in San Antonio and Alaska.
Sue just recently released a solo recording project, Brave is the Heart of a Singing Bird, which is a tribute to those people who influenced her music and activism. She worked as a Cultural Organizer for the Appalachian Women’s Alliance for three years and the Kentucky Foundation for Women supporting feminist artists who use their art for social justice for seven years.
Sue lives with her partner in Willisburg, Ky., on a small farm with 2 horses, 2 dogs and 1 cat. Her love for nature is the driving force and spiritual base for her life. She was born a “flatlander” in Kansas, but Sue embraces Kentucky and Appalachia as home for her heart and soul.
November 1: Larry Cordle
Larry Cordle was born and raised on a small family farm in eastern Kentucky. While a young child he was introduced to bluegrass, country, and gospel music, by his great grandfather Harry Bryant, an old time claw hammer banjo stylist, fiddle player and dancer. He recounts, “mom said I could sing “I’ll Fly Away,” all the way through when I was 2”! Cordle fondly remembers this early influence by pointing out, “we lived so far away from everything, that we had to make our own entertainment. Papaw would get the fiddle out in the evenings sometimes and play and dance for us. Just as soon as I was old enough to try to learn to play I did so & kinda seconded after him on the guitar. He ran an old country store and I spent many happy hours in there with him playing, talking about and listening to music. It was our escape into another world, something we grew up with and looked so forward to. I was always happiest when we were in a jam session."
After graduating from high school, Larry spent four years in the Navy and after being honorably discharged, attended Morehead State University, receiving a bachelor’s degree in accounting. “I just didn’t see how I could ever make a living doing only music,” he explains, so, I worked for a CPA firm during the day and played in clubs at night.” All the while, Larry desperately wanted to devote all of his time to music, but his commitments would remain divided until writing a song that changed everything for the aspiring young singer/songwriter.
East Kentucky was not only home for Larry, but also for his childhood friend and neighbor, musical prodigy, Ricky Skaggs. Upon hearing Larry’s new song, “Highway 40 Blues,” Ricky promised that he would one day record it. In the summer of 1983, it was the number one song in the nation, helping to launch Larry’s songwriting career and skyrocketing Skaggs’ already solid country music career. In 1985, at Ricky’s urging, Larry, by now out of the accounting business and back playing nightclubs again, gave up the security of a full time gig to move to Nashville and become a staff songwriter for Ricky’s new company, Amanda-Lin Music, with whom he (Ricky) had wisely partnered, with Lawrence Welk’s mega successful publishing company, Welk Music. “$200 bucks a week Cord laughs, that wouldn’t go far these days but I made myself a promise that if I ever got a chance, one foot inside the door, that I was gonna work my behind off, as hard as I could to stay inside of it. I met people there at Welk… Jim Rushing, Carl Jackson, Lionel Delmore, Johnny Russell, Dickey Lee, Bob McDill, countless others, and learned what it was gonna take to be a ‘real’ songwriter from them. They taught me the ropes and I had the talent God gave me, some incredible luck and much love, help and encouragement from my peers and my family."
At last count, Cordle’s songs had appeared on projects that had to date sold a combined total of more than 55 million records, by artists such as Skaggs, Alison Krauss, Rhonda Vincent, Garth Brooks, George Strait, Trisha Yearwood, Reba McEntire, Diamond Rio, Alan Jackson, Trace Adkins and many others.
Though songwriting took Larry to Nashville, his desire to perform never waned. With his band, Lonesome Standard Time, Cordle has the perfect platform to share his music with fans everywhere. The band has been awarded song of the year by the International Bluegrass Music Association on two separate occasions, garnered two Grammy nominations for best bluegrass album, received nominations for vocal group and instrumental group, landed #1 slots on the Bluegrass and Americana charts and gained the respect of their peers and had many accolades during their existence.
Lonesome Standard Time is comprised of seasoned, esteemed musicians in their own right, providing Larry with an outlet to feature his original material, trademark singing and his engaging personality, immediately connecting fans to his music.
In addition to his songwriting and role as a bandleader, Cordle is sometimes featured as a lead and/or background vocalist on some of Nashville’s most awarded and popular music. He’s provided harmony vocals for artists such as Garth Brooks, Blake Shelton, Bradley Walker, Billy Yates, Rebecca Lynn Howard and co-writing pal, Jerry Salley. His lead & harmony singing is featured on Livin, Lovin, Losin: A Tribute to the Louvin Brothers, which won a GRAMMY for Best Country Album in 2003 and was named recorded event of the year by IBMA in 2004. He’s also featured on two tracks of Moody Bluegrass, alongside artists such as Tim O’Brien, Alison Krauss, John Cowan, Harley Allen et al and is recently featured as lead vocalist again on Moody Bluegrass II.
Cord remains extremely active in all facets of his career. He regularly records, and tours in the US and occasionally abroad with Lonesome Standard Time. Larry is also still first and foremost a songwriter, now writing independently for his own company, Wandachord Music, BMI. Larry is a long time resident of Nashville suburb Hendersonville. He makes his home there with wife Wanda, and their daughter, Kelvey Christine but still enjoys the opportunity to make frequent trips back to his East Kentucky home place and his roots.
November 8: The UK String Ticklers
The UK String Ticklers began in 2011 as a class open to anyone interested in learning how to play bluegrass music. The ensemble has consisted of students from as far afield as Japan, being both music majors and non-music majors alike. The String Ticklers play a wide range of bluegrass and old-time repertoire and regularly perform in the Lexington area.
November 15: Skipjack
Skipjack rose out of the ashes of the Celtic band, Ten Penny Bit, taking a new direction in being more vocally oriented, playing Americana and old-time music. Their three- and fourpart harmonies and acoustic instruments create a distinctive sound with both traditional and contemporary material. All members sing, with Todd Morgan on fiddle, Robin Loeffler on hammered dulcimer, Deborah Thompson on banjo, guitar, and lap dulcimer, and Aviv Naamani on guitars, mandolin, and bouzouki. They have recently played for the Great American Dulcimer Convention, the Frazier History Museum timeline ball, and Civil War re-enactment balls throughout Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio. They just released their second album, Curtains of Night, in September 2013.
November 22: Stephen Wade
Growing up in Chicago in the 1950s and ‘60s, Stephen Wade was exposed to a number of vernacular musicians who had moved north to the city from the Mississippi Delta and the Southern Appalachians. Wade started playing blues guitar at age eleven and eventually switched to the banjo. In 1972, he began studying with Fleming Brown at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music. By the mid-‘70s, Brown passed his classes over to Wade to teach. In 1972, Wade also began an association with Brown’s teacher, old-time, Kentucky-born radio singer Doc Hopkins. Under the tutelage of these two mentors, Wade immersed himself in the banjo, traditional music, and American folklore. Later, he traveled across the United States to research American humor and folk tales and meet with folk musicians in the field. By the late ‘70s, he had developed a theatrical performance combining storytelling, traditional music, and percussive dance, entitled Banjo Dancing. The show opened in Chicago in May 1979 where it ran for 13 months, including a Labor Day performance at the White House. In January 1981,
Wade brought Banjo Dancing to Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage. Although he was initially booked for three weeks, his engagement there ran 10 years.
In 1986, Wade appeared in the public television documentary The Unquiet Library, a study of the Library of Congress’s music division. This led the following year to his writing and narrating Catching the Music, a celebration of the banjo and its learning.
On the Way Home, Wade’s second critically acclaimed theatre show, opened in 1989 in Washington, D.C. In the early ‘90s, he took both shows on the road. In 1993, Wade received the Joseph Jefferson award for his Chicago run of On the Way Home. A five-time Helen Hayes award nominee, in 2003, Wade received the Helen Hayes/Charles MacArthur award as composer, adaptor, and musical director for the world premiere of Zora Neale Hurston’s Polk County.
His essays, reviews, and articles have appeared in such publications as American Music, ARSC Journal, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Studies in Popular Culture, Encyclopedia of Chicago, Musical Quarterly, American Archivist, Southern Quarterly, Journal of Country Music, New Letters, Beloit Magazine, Folklife Center News, Chicago Tribune, and the Washington Post’s Book World.
Stephen Wade has also written a book, The Beautiful Music All Around Us: Field Recordings and the American Experience (which includes a companion CD), to be published in August 2012 by the University of Illinois Press. This 504-page study grows out of his 1997 Rounder collection, A Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings. In turn, that album gave rise to his folksong commentaries that have aired on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
In September 2012, Wade released Banjo Diary: Lessons from Tradition on Smithsonian Folkways. The album explores musical knowledge passed across the generations. Wade (accompanied by Mike Craver, Russ Hooper, Danny Knicely, James Leva, and Zan McLeod) calls upon various instruments and styles to mine new creative possibilities that tradition affords us all. The album was nominated in the Best Album Notes category for the 55th Annual Grammy Awards.
December 6: Empty Bottle String Band
The Empty Bottle String Band originally formed to play a one-time stint at a local farmers market, but have already reached new heights in popularity all over the Southeast US, appearing regionally at Bristol’s Rhythm & Roots Reunion, the nationally broadcast tv show Song of the Mountains on PBS, the WDVX Blue Plate Special, WETS Studio One, the International Biscuit Festival, and the Charleston Bluegrass Festival. This old-time string band is composed of energetic and artistic multi-instrumentalists and singers who met in the East Tennessee State University Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Country Music Studies program. They are dedicated to the preservation and performance of traditional Appalachian songs, ballads, and tunes and will treat the audience to fresh interpretations of standards in the old-time repertoire as well as lesser known songs they've dug up from the archives. The Bottles are made up of Stephanie Jeter on autoharp, Kristal Harman on guitar, Tyler Hughes on banjo, Alex Moore on bass, Ryan Nickerson on fiddle.
- Large Ensembles
- World Music
- Athletic Ensembles
- Events Calendar