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Fri July 1, 2011
Old-time music of the Blue Ridge
The music of the Blue Ridge is alive and well -- and homemade.
By Cleve Callison
Cleve Callison, producer
Mouth of Wilson, VA – Recently WHQR Station Manager Cleve Callison attended the Wayne Henderson Music Festival and Guitar Competition, held each June at Grayson Highlands State Park in southwest Virginia. He found the music of the Blue Ridge alive and well:
[AUDIO CLIP: Minor Swing]
That tune is "Minor Swing." It started out as jazz, a tune from the Roma guitarist Django Reinhardt for the Hot Club of France in the 1930's. But this recording was made with a group of Appalachian old-time string band musicians, gathered in the home of musician and guitar-maker Wayne Henderson near Mouth of Wilson, Virginia. It shows how this old music, based on fiddle tunes from Scotch-Irish ancestors, lives on in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina and Virginia.
Henderson's home is WAY back in the Blue Ridge, down a dirt road. But people come here from all over, drawn to Henderson's music and his guitars. Ah, those Henderson guitars - all the musicians gathered here either want one, or own one with pride. He once famously made Eric Clapton wait ten years for his to be delivered.
The gathering at Henderson's was the culmination of an intense weekend of music. It started with a concert by the legendary Doc Watson, who came up the Blue Ridge Parkway from his home in Deep Gap in Watauga county, North Carolina.
[AUDIO CLIP: Doc Watson, Deep River Blues]
Another big crowd showed up the next day for Henderson's festival. The festival has a mission for the young - to keep them making and performing music. All the proceeds support an organization called JAM (Junior Appalachian Musicians), which works in schools to nurture young talent. It started in Sparta, North Carolina and now operates in 18 communities in three states across the Blue Ridge.
[AUDIO CLIP in background: Sitting on Top of the World]
Jamming was very much the agenda at Henderson's house, after the festival. Here, everywhere you turned there were old-timers and young kids making music on fiddles, banjos and guitars. It could be in Henderson's shop, surrounded by lathes and saws, pieces of Brazilian rosewood, old cow bones and other tools of his trade. A pick-up group including a high-school fiddler had a bluegrass jam going:
[AUDIO CLIP: Cumberland River]
Or it could be back in the living room, where a baby slept soundly in his mothers arms near a photo of Henderson on A Prairie Home Companion while some old-timers and junior high school guitarists were tearing up old songs:
[AUDIO CLIP: East Tennessee Blues]
People up here live surrounded by music. After the Doc Watson performance, I spoke with Erynn Marshall, who works for the National Council for the Traditional Arts as Music Program Manager of the Blue Ridge Music Center. A native of Windsor, British Columbia, she came to the Blue Ridge to immerse herself in the music and the community.
[AUDIO CLIP: Erynn Marshall]
I'm an ethnomusicologist. I've spent a lot of time in the South learning about fiddle and song traditions ?and a lot of this music is oral tradition, you know, passed down through the families. But in this area, it really has stayed that way. ? And this is the strongest area I've ever seen for traditional music.
[AUDIO CLIP: Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor - under and out]
The traditions go on, sometimes in new ways. Many people at Henderson's house either have had a CD come out or are working on one. Mike McCullough, for example, is producing a CD with a musician in California. They've never actually met. They play songs to each other by Skype, and they send each other audio tracks over the internet for assembly into a song.
Still, nothing beats getting players together. The music finds ways to continue. Like the Blue Ridge mountains, it endures.
For WHQR, I'm Cleve Callison.
[AUDIO CLIP: Make me a Pallet on Your Floor continues]
Cleve Callison is station manager of WHQR. He came to the Henderson festival at the invitation of his sister Jean, an educator and old-time musician who lives near Mouth of Wilson, Virginia.