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If there’s one singular force truly keeping the flame of Bill Monroe alive and kicking well into the 21st century, it would be Del McCoury.

Since 1958, McCoury has traversed the world over, hitting the stage each and every time with the same zest and passion at age 78 that he did as a teenager in search of his big break some 60 years ago.

“It’s exciting to think about what Haywood County could be. The desire is there.”

— Buddy Melton, fiddler/singer, Balsam Range

It’s inspiring when you come across people who have both a vision and the wherewithal to turn it into reality. It makes me want to climb on board with them and be a part of that success. That’s what I see happening with local bluegrass supergroup Balsam Range and its “Art of Music Festival.”

I’ve lived in Haywood County 1,931 days. It’s also the exact number of days I’ve known Balsam Range.

Within the first hour of my first day in these mountains, I befriended the members of this Western North Carolina bluegrass act. The engine of my truck was still hot due to a nonstop 16-hour/1,000-mile overnight drive from my native Upstate New York to my new gig as the arts and entertainment editor of The Smoky Mountain News in Waynesville.

Why not?

Why not include Greensky Bluegrass in the sacred — sometimes stale and stuffy — pantheon that is bluegrass music? Why not include the Michigan group in the annual celebrations of string and acoustic music, which mainly originated in Western North Carolina and greater Southern Appalachia? Why not consider the quintet a direct descendent (a rebellious one albeit) of the original rebel himself — Bill Monroe?

Western Carolina University’s Mountain Heritage Day, a free family oriented festival that celebrates Southern Appalachian culture through concerts, living-history demonstrations, competitions and awards programs, will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30, on the WCU campus in Cullowhee.

Named one of the top 20 festivals in the Southeast by the Southeast Tourism Society, this year’s event will include additional musical acts, vendors and an expectation of more visitors, organizers said.

What defines bluegrass music would have to be the banjo played “The Earl Scruggs Way” with the three-finger roll. If it’s played clawhammer style, it would have to be classified “Old Time.” Now, bluegrass music, as a genre, grew out of this. As to musicianship, the chief — Bill Monroe — said if you could play bluegrass music right you could play anything else. What I’ve found is that bluegrass music, like jazz, is built around tight timing. It’s not loose. If you understand that, you can apply it to other types of music.

Ugh.

The moment my girlfriend handed over my soaking wet smart phone, a shiver of isolation ran up my spine. That’s the last time I try to sneak a water bottle of cheap domestic beer in her purse into a bluegrass show, let alone have my phone also in said purse for “safe keeping.”

In the bluegrass world, it doesn’t get much bigger than Rob Ickes.

Fifteen-time “Dobro Player of the Year” by the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA), Ickes was a founding member of Blue Highway, a group as innovative to the genre as they were successful.

It gets to the point without distraction.

Folk music — the intersection of the human heart and the greater world — lies at the foundation of American culture. From the folk traditions and musicians of the British Isles that eventually made their way to the high peaks and low valleys of Southern Appalachia centuries ago, folk music is a timeless sound nurturing urgent lyrics.

In the annals of bluegrass history, the chapter on multi-instrumentalist Tim O’Brien is not only long and bountiful, it’s also ongoing — a continual evolution of string music and melodic exploration. O’Brien hails from Wheeling, West Virginia, home of the WWVA Jamboree, which — since 1933 — is one of the most popular country and variety radio programs, second in longevity after the “Grand Ole Opry.”

As a teenager, O’Brien dropped out of college in 1973 and hit the road with dreams of becoming a professional musician. By the late 1970s, he ended up in Colorado, forming the groundbreaking newgrass act Hot Rize (which won the first International Bluegrass Music Association award for “Entertainer of the Year” in 1990).

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