Those who agreed to participate included veteran musicians, up-and-coming performers, solo singers, church choirs, down home bands and internationally acclaimed groups — all who claim roots in Jackson County, whether by birth or after moving to the region and being inspired to create here.
Together these musicians represented the wide-spectrum, and truly unique blend of talent found in Jackson County ranging from Americana to jazz, blues to classical, contemporary to gospel.
Blues singer Karen (a.k.a. “Sugar”) Barnes first came to Jackson County in 1981 to do a made-for-TV movie called “The Mating Show.” She met her husband, Brant, here and learned to be a potter. Both run Riverwood Pottery in Dillsboro.
“I’m a potter by marriage,” she joked.
As a performer, she sings and plays the ukulele, guitar and bottleneck slide guitar. She’s been student of music since she was 6 years old, singing in a church choir in Washington, D.C.
“I’ve sung the blues for a long, long time,” she said, having done extensive research into old-time blues and especially women’s blues of the ‘20s and ‘30s. “It’s been a constant education for me.”
Americana band The Pirates of the Tuckaseigee have been performing at local festivals, schools, churches, nursing homes and political rallies for the past 15 years.
“We’ve done it all,” said Jay Coward, guitarist and one of the founding members of the Pirates.
The band was originally a duo called “Papa and the Creature” with Coward and guitarist Ed Beddingfield, who was formerly the pastor of First Baptist Church in Sylva. After the two performed in church one day, Jay Coward’s 3-year-old daughter declared, “Papa, you and the creature sounded really good.” Coward knew the “creature” was her cute mispronunciation of “preacher.” He’s not sure how the name “Pirates of the Tuckaseigee” came about, but the name stuck.
In 1998, the Pirates made a rough recording on a CD, but its lead singer, Alan Johnson, tragically died soon after, so the group tabled the project until three years later and produced Rough Cut, which honors Johnson’s recordings.
The Pirates have cycled through a handful of banjo players, bass players, mandolin players and singers, but they’ve learned to adapt over the years to maintain an Americana sound that includes covers, traditional songs and originals. The current line-up includes Coward, Coward’s brother Bill on banjo and dobro, Beddingfield, Bennie Queen on mandolin, Kim Shuler on vocals, and Joe Fowler on upright bass.
Chris Cooper and Ashley Chambliss, of Cullowhee, form a jazzy pop duo that melds the best of both performers’ styles. Cooper, a guitarist, traces his influences to British pop, the Beatles, and Elvis Costello, while Chambliss, a soulful singer/songwriter and piano player, is inspired by Billy Joel, Bruce Hornsby, Sade and Marc Cohn.
Cooper met Chambliss while working as a bartender at The Evening Muse in Charlotte, where Chambliss would perform. Cooper had done some session work in Charlotte and played in various bands since the early 1990s, and collaborated with Chambliss on many of the tracks on her second album, In This Ocean (2003). The two decided to move to Boston, where Chambliss studied at the prestigious Berklee College of Music for a year. They moved back to Jackson County in 2004, and after some time off from music, they found a new groove in 2005.
“We’re trying to make pop music in the best sense of the word,” says Cooper. “I think the results are very cool.”
Chambliss says that her earlier work centered on darker themes in the thick of a storm where she seemed to be drowning, but her newest songs have more breathing room where she’s weathered the storm and enjoying the ride. There are new chords and a new maturity in her work, she explains.
“Ashley is the writer,” Cooper says. “I just pretty much hang on for the ride.”
Also featured on the Sounds of Jackson County are:
• Christian Harmony Singing, organized by Will Peebles, uses a 200-year-old American tradition, which is now primarily preserved in the Southeast. Also known as “shaped note singing,” this type of singing uses Italian syllables from the musical scale (do re mi fa sol la ti do) to learn a song. Each syllable has a corresponding geometric shape (a trapezoid or triangle, for example) in the hymnal. The singers sing the various syllables first and then sing the words. The Webster shaped note singers meet each year at the United Methodist Church in Webster.
• The Heaven Bound Quartet — which includes Larry and Glenda Anthony, Sam and Judy Parker, and guitarist Larry Anthony — sings traditional Southern Gospel and old time Mountain Gospel selections, as well as some new material that members have written. The Heaven Bound Quartet travels to churches and benefits throughout Western North Carolina and surrounding states. All members began their singing experience in mountain country churches, and their music reflects a Southern and mountain heritage.
• Bound by Grace is a progressive Southern gospel trio made up of April Bryson (soprano), Pam Cabe (alto) and Lisa Wilson (high harmony). Bound by Grace first formed in 2000. These three ladies all have Jackson County roots and rich backgrounds in gospel or choir music.
• The Liberty Baptist Church Choir, led by director Ellerna Cannon and president Barbara Austin, sings at various churches and also performs for concerts and programs including tours to Ohio and eastern North Carolina. Organized in 1995, the group sings praises and joyful hymns on the second and third Sundays of the month.
• Matt Stillwell, a singer/songwriter from Sylva, plays acoustic country and bluegrass at venues across the Southeast including Nashville and Atlanta. Stillwell’s latest recording is Take It All In, and one of his regular performing locales is O’Malley’s in Sylva.
• The Fiddling Dills Sisters — Amanda Dills Stewart and Sharon Dills — have become musical mainstays on the local scene. The two began playing the violin at an early age, and now play traditional Appalachian music. Amanda, a music teacher at Fairview Elementary, and Sharon, a student at Western Carolina University, are accompanied by Trevor Burns on guitar and banjo, Charlie Burns on guitar and banjo, and Bobby Burns on the upright bass.
• Timber Rattlers, an acoustic blues band, is comprised of Marshall Ballew (guitar), Chris Minick (guitar and trumpet), Ed Kelley (mandolin) and Mark Stevenson (bass). The band formed several years ago to play original and traditional music. All members play multiple instruments. They perform at local festivals and coffeehouses throughout the region.
• Classical Meets Jazz fuses two pianists from the Czech Republic — Andrea Wlosokova Adamcova and Pavel Wlozok. Adamcova pulls from a broad range of piano literature, especially Czech and Polish composers, while Wlozok draws from jazz greats such as Duke Ellington, Theolonious Monk and his own original compositions.
• The Smoky Mountain Brass Quintet has performed throughout the Southeast and tours internationally. The Quintet is made up of five performers — Brad Ulrich and David Ginn on trumpets, Alan Mattingly on the French horn, Dan Cherry on trombone and Mike Schallock on tuba. Since its founding in 1993, the Quintet has brought audiences a wide variety of brass music ranging from Early Renaissance to swing tunes and Broadway favorites to rock ‘n’ roll. The group, which serves as the Quintet-in-Residence at Western Carolina University, takes time to share its musical talents with public school performances, master classes and workshops.