Gathering ‘Round the Open Mic

Wednesday night at Liquid Roots about building community

By Michael M. Barrick

LENOIR, N.C. – Since the first European settlers put down roots in Lenoir and other areas of Caldwell County, music has been part of daily life. Neighbors have, do and will continue to gather on front porches with string instruments handed down through the generations.

However, musicians have always also been part of the community’s arts scene. With the opening of the Liquid Roots Brewing Project at 1048 Harper Ave. NW in Lenoir, a vibrant new venue has been established for this rich tradition to grow.

The Benson, a jazz/rock duo from Western North Carolina – consisting of A.J. Herrick and Daniel Reece – host the Wednesday evening open mic. Herrick is excited about the brewery’s future. “I recently moved from Houston where I was performing in the Houston music scene for four years. Having been away from North Carolina, I grew to miss my home and am now beyond excited to be able to do what I love in the state that I love, specifically Lenoir.” He continued, “I do have a vision and so do the other local musicians in Lenoir, and we want to help grow Lenoir through our music, and bring folks in. Since being back, I have a huge passion for seeing the potential that Lenoir has become a reality.”

He continued, “The open mic is a platform that Daniel and I are very fortunate to have, and we want to use it to bring in more talent from all over. We also encourage all age groups and all types of art, whether music, poetry, storytelling, comedy, etc. We just want people to come together and make the arts in general and build a community.”

It seems to be working. Below are photos from some of the musicians that were at last week’s open mic. At least one other person took time for story-telling.

The Benson open the evening with a short set, then open the mic to others.

A.J. plays.

Daniel demonstrates his intensity.

Dwight McGlynn plays one of his original tunes.

William Ritter, self-taught on the fiddle, came in from Patterson for the fun.

Patrick Crouch, seemingly everywhere, dropped by to share a tune or two.

The open mic is every Wednesday from 7 – 10 p.m.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2019. Note: This is part 2 of a 2-part story. Part 1, a feature about the owners of Liquid Roots Brewing Project, can be read here.


Choosing Lenoir

Indiana natives find Lenoir ‘A Very Welcoming Town,’ move here, and establish Liquid Roots Brewing Project

By Michael M. Barrick

LENOIR, N.C. – During the summers of 2002 and 2003, Taylor Brummett, then a college student, drove the Blue Ridge Parkway. He immediately fell in love with the North Carolina mountains and resolved then to someday settle somewhere along the Parkway in the Tar Heel State.

From left: Taylor and Katie Brummett; Jamie and Tommy Brubaker

It took a while, but Brummett has realized his dream. Taylor, along with his wife Katie, and Katie’s brother and sister-in-law, Tommy and Jamie Brubaker, moved to Lenoir late last year and opened Liquid Roots Brewing Project at 1048 Harper Ave. NW.

In a recent interview, the four Indiana natives cited Lenoir’s people, energy and natural beauty as reasons for choosing the town to raise their families and launch their business. Katie is 38, Taylor 37, Tommy 36, and Jamie 33.

While their Grand Opening is scheduled for March 30-31, the family business has already earned quite a following and has become a gathering spot to enjoy a great beer while listening to live music and the spoken word during Wednesday’s open mic night; listening to some of the region’s best musicians on Friday and Saturday night; playing family games on Tuesday evening; or, see what “Kick the Keg” specials are available on Thursday evenings. They’re closed on Sunday and Monday.

While they don’t serve food, there is a food truck – A Taste of Culture owned by Seth Nash – that is parked on their property on their busiest nights.

Sharing his thoughts about why the business is off to a solid start, Taylor said, “Life’s all about relationships. Lenoir’s people are awesome.”

Katie added, “With music, it’s been crazy. There are so many musicians.” Consequently, between booked acts on Friday and Saturday, and those that meander in on open mic night, there is a wide variety of music available for everyone. Virtually every form of American Roots music, as well as some world music, has already been heard on the small stage occupying a corner near the front door.

Taylor added, “There is an insane amount of talent here. That is something we are very proud to be part of.” He continued, “People are coming to us. The energy is building. The town has given us energy, and we are cycling it back out. We have already made lots of friends.”

Jamie echoed that sentiment, sharing, “In three months of living here we made more friends than while living in Tennessee for two years.” Tommy added, “You can’t go anywhere without running into people you know.” Taylor summarized, “Lenoir is a very welcoming town. Everybody’s been welcoming.”

Still, the decision to choose Lenoir was not inevitable. Every attempt at starting a business in Indiana fell through for one reason or another shared Taylor. “So, I started hunting around on the internet for towns along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.” After watching a UNC-TV program featuring nationally acclaimed Lenoir-based folk artist Charlie Frye and seeing how close Lenoir is to the Blue Ridge Parkway, they decided a visit to Lenoir was in order.

Taylor said, “We were trying to decide if Lenoir was a place we’d want to live and raise our children.” The first day they visited was a Sunday. “We thought no one lived here. Then we learned that Lenoir is just quiet on Sunday,” recalled Taylor. So, they hung around, visited local businesses and attractions during the week. Impressed by Lenoir’s energy and welcoming people – and a suitable location – they made an offer on the building they now occupy and moved their families here.

It wasn’t a tough call. Jamie shared, “We all love the mountains. We’re all small-town people too. It just works.”

As much as there is to enjoy in and around Lenoir, right now they’re all a bit busy, as the Liquid Roots Brewing Project is an “all hands on deck” endeavor.

Taylor Brummett

Taylor is the brewer, or the “beer nerd.” He shared, “I’ve been a jack of all trades. But brewing is the rabbit hole I went down. I like making things from scratch and things that people enjoy.” He first tried brewing about 15 years ago, set it aside for a season, then picked it back up about 6 years ago and has consistently worked on learning the trade. Though he is self-taught, he credited a brewery in Sparta, Tenn. with allowing him to learn all he could from them. Jamie said, “We call him a mad scientist.” Tommy added, “Taylor’s beer is so good, it would be crazy not to do it.”

Katie handles special events, marketing, music, office duties and whatever else is required. Most recently a stay-at-home mom, she said adjusting to a busy business has been a challenge.

Jamie, a nurse in a local hospital, says, “I just show up and say I’m here. What project needs my work?”

Tommy is the self-described utility man. Technically the bar manager, he shared, “Anything I can do to get Taylor’s beer off and running is what I’m all about.” Katie, nodding towards Tommy, said, “Look at that face. That’s the face you want behind a bar.” Jamie added, “He never gets angry.”

Tommy Brubaker

The business, said Taylor, “Allows us to express who we are. There is energy and community built into the brewery scene. It’s a legitimate gathering spot for the people in Lenoir to enjoy.” He noted that they are fortunate to be able to build on what is already here. He said, “We want to supplement what’s here.”

Katie called it an extension of home and Tommy said that, “It’s cool to see people establish friendships over beer and conversation.”

Though they started the business to brew their own beer, they have started out as a taproom while they were awaiting all the appropriate licenses, which they’ve gotten. Taylor said, of the business name, “One of our friends suggested we not use the name because it sounds like we’re not finished. Well, we’re not. We’re always growing.”

Indeed, though they had a soft opening getting to know the community, their Grand Opening is scheduled for March 30-31. Several food trucks and bands are scheduled for the two-day event. Their families will also be in town to help.

First, though, a St. Patrick’s Day celebration will be held this Saturday, March 16. Mark Galleshaw will be performing traditional Irish music, and J.J. Hipps and Darren Bryant will also be performing. There will also be a foot truck rodeo with three food trucks.

Opening as a taproom has proven beneficial, shared Jamie, “We are getting to know the beer that people enjoy. There are a lot of craft beer fans.” Taylor added that the knowledge they’ve gained will help them in the transition of replacing some of the guest taps with their own brews.

So, while they still have a way to go, they are also pleased with where they are. “We’ve heard it’s a lot like Cheers, and that’s exactly what we want to hear. We want it to be like sitting around the kitchen table,” said Jamie.

Want to know more?

To learn more about Liquid Roots Brewing Company, visit them on Facebook, email, or call 828-572-1106.

Note: This is part 1 of a 2-part article. Part 2, about Open Mic night at Liquid Roots, will be published tomorrow.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2019.

‘A Good Roots Man’

J.J. Hipps working to stay true to the blues

Note: This article is the fifth in a series about the 21st Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase, coming up on Sat., March 9. Read the first four here.– MMB

LENOIR, N.C. – The 21st Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase set for this Saturday promises a wide range of American Roots music. The title for this year’s Showcase – “From the Hollows to the Honky-Tonks,” – reinforces that notion. And for the “Honky-Tonk” set, blues musician Jacob (J.J.) Hipps will do his best to provide that honky-tonk sound and feel, even as he remains true to the roots of the blues.

Founders and hosts of the Showcase, Strictly Clean and Decent, is a local band made up of Kay Crouch, Patrick Crouch, and Ron Shuffler.

Patrick Crouch, in explaining why he was pleased to have Hipps play this year, said simply, “He’s a good roots man.” A performer that says very little during his sets, his music does his talking, though he did agree to an interview recently to talk about playing in the Showcase and the direction he is hoping to take his music.

Shared Hipps, “Any musician takes a lot from what they love. For me, blues music is a tradition, so I don’t stray from it. It’s stealing small bits from other musicians, make it your own, but pay homage to them.”

Hipps performs as a three-piece trio featuring Hipps on guitar and vocals, Mark “Bump” Bumgarner on bass, and Ben Pannenbacker on drums. Crouch said, “All you have to do is close your eyes when you hear this music and you will be transported to a different place. It’s a place where the elevation is lower, and the water is higher. It’s a place where they don’t complain about the heat, they call it sultry. Yes indeed, Jacob Johnson Hipps plays the blues.”

His musical influences include the likely suspects, such as Stevie Ray Vaughn, Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix and others. However, his dad’s favorite band is Led Zeppelin. “My dad being a musician, he was into classic rock. Once I discovered their early music was blues, I locked into them. They played with raw emotion and were not conventional.”

Yet, he added, “My number one guy is Freddie King. I feel like he had it all – guitar playing, vocals, charisma and stage presence.”

Hipps credits his father with not only exposing him to music but encouraging him to take it up. “I started playing when I was 16. At the time, I had a group of friends. We did everything together.” Still, his dad wanted him to expand his horizons. “Dad taught me to play the drums, but I didn’t like it. So, dad bought me a guitar next.”

It was then that he discovered Led Zeppelin. “I’d try and impress dad with Led Zeppelin songs.” He added, “After a year, I took it seriously. I wanted to be as good as Jimmy Page.” He soon began practicing eight hours a day over a three-year period. He shared, “For me, guitar playing has always been soothing for me. It is therapeutic and helps deal with anxiety and depression.”

About the time he was 20, his dad started pushing him more, said Hipps. Soon, he was playing gigs. His dad played drums for about seven years with him.

Now, though, he is ready to move beyond covering the songs of others to writing his own. “I’ve always come up with things I’ve enjoyed. But you can go only so far playing cover music. I want to get out from behind that shield and be vulnerable. I don’t know exactly what is going to happen, but it’s time.”

The Showcase couldn’t be a better time. Hipps admits that he is working to brand himself through marketing. Ultimately though, he said, “I’ve got to write and play original material.” That, he said, is the best marketing.

“I’m very excited about playing in the Showcase. It’s an opportunity to get in front of local folks and others that haven’t heard me yet.” While he plays regularly at numerous locations an hour or two from Lenoir, he is excited about playing where the space is designed specifically for listening. “It’s a cool place.” While playing in honky-tonks pays the bills, they’re not the best place to be heard. Still, said Hipps, “The most important thing it to play out. So, I’m pleased to have those opportunities.”

Yet, he hopes there is more to come. He wants to record an album soon. “That’s the top of my list. It’s the only way I’m going to keep growing.”

Learn More

Patrons of the show may choose to include dinner at 5:30 for an additional $15.  Reservations must be placed in advance. Entrees include a choice of roast pork or NC trout.

Tickets for the showcase are $11 and student and child tickets are available.  To purchase tickets, call the box office at 726-2407 or visit the website of the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center.

© Michael Mathers Barrick, 2019. A note to readers: I am aware of formatting design errors in the posts being sent to your email. I’m working to resolve the problem.

‘Keeping it Positive’ Through Music

A quarter century of learning from Kay and Patrick Crouch

Note: This article is the fourth in a series about the 21st Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase, coming up on Sat., March 9. Read the first three here.– MMB

LENOIR, N.C. – I first interviewed Patrick Crouch when he was teaching music at Granite Falls Middle School in southern Caldwell County.

It was 1995, perhaps 1996.

It was just the first of countless encounters with Patrick – and Kay, his bride and guide. Along with Ron Shuffler, they constitute Strictly Clean and Decent, hosts of the 21st Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase.

While they hadn’t yet started the Showcase the first time I met Patrick, it was clear that the seeds were already planted. That first interview – conducted in the library and band building – revealed a musician devoted to teaching and preserving the traditional music with which he grew up.

The interview, done for a local newspaper that I worked for then, was suggested by Patrick’s principal. I understood that the true stories about the schools in Caldwell County were not to be found at school board meetings; rather, they were – and are – to be found in the classrooms. So, I relished the opportunity.

Indeed, Patrick was such an easy fellow to interview, that the feature story made its way into my first book, “The Hillbilly Highway.” The chapter, titled, “An ‘Aural’ Tradition,” precedes a story about a then-student of his, Will Knight. Now, nearly a quarter century later, they’ll be taking the stage together Saturday night.

That’s what Kay and Patrick do. They teach; while Patrick was teaching at Granite Falls, Kay was running the music program at Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute for several years. They encourage, recognizing the best that each student or musician has to offer, but also expecting nothing less than their best. To accomplish the latter, they lead by example.

I am not a musician, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate music. I enjoy it for several reasons, but primarily because it is the universal language of people. It elevates humanity. It is the spark that ignites the spirit of peace. Still, I acknowledged to Patrick that he was dealing with a non-musician. As I’ve come to know about both Patrick and Kay, they can relate to any person wanting to know about music. So that day – that first interview – began an ongoing quarter century of learning about music, in particularly the people who make and preserve it in Caldwell County.

And Patrick, I knew, was one of them during that first interview. He said, “Not only do we have a natural beauty, we have a cultural beauty that is very rare here.” He added, “I prefer to work on the basics. It’s a great position for me to be in to preserve musical traditions.” Indeed, the caption in the book under Patrick’s photo states, “Middle School teacher and bluegrass musician Patrick Crouch where he is happiest: teaching others and preserving traditions.”

Since then, nothing has changed. He and Kay continue to honor that vocation, as best exemplified by the Showcase. Yet, it’s but just a small part of what they do.

In the most recent interview of Patrick and Kay, Patrick shared, about this year’s Showcase, “It’s a real joy for me to be able to play with two former students. It just doesn’t get any better than that.” In addition to Knight, Reath Jackson, who is playing with Hannah Grace, is also a former student. Interestingly, Patrick foreshadowed this enjoyment in that first interview. He said then, “The children … are highly motivated and have good attitudes. That’s a school teacher’s dream really. You can’t beat that. It’s as good as it gets.”

Patrick also pointed to the importance of family support. “I was very fortunate to grow up in a musical family. My kin people on my father’s and mother’s side were musicians. My dad is a guitar player. My parents supported all of my endeavors.” He added, “We’ve always had good community support here.”

Kay added, “One thing I’m just so pleased with is having Caldwell County recognized by the Blue Ridge Music Trails. Knowing that our county is seen as a destination for music lovers is wonderful.” That designation was earned around 2004, noted Kay.

Yet, even though more than 200 musicians with connections to Caldwell County have played in the Showcase during its first 20 years, Kay admits, “One of the things about this year, even though it’s the twenty-first year, it feels validated. The musicians on the stage feel validated. It instills a sense of pride in the county.”

Others might say the same about Kay and Patrick. Back during that first interview, Patrick shared, “I’m very fortunate to have met and married a woman who loves the mountains and natural beauty as I do.” Equally important it would seem – at least for hundreds of musicians, scores of students and thousands of listeners – is that both are talented teachers and determined preservationists of traditional music and Caldwell County’s rich and ongoing contribution to it.

It’s not hard to understand. As I finished my most recent visit with Patrick, we were discussing the role of music in our community. He said simply, “We just keep it positive, Michael. Let’s just keep it positive.”

That’s wise advice. And, why, in my view, musicians and other artists offer the best hope for our future. See for yourself. Watch as your friends and neighbors take the stage and validate not only the Showcase and themselves, but also what they stand for – “Keeping it positive.”

© Michael Mathers Barrick, 2019.

American Roots Music the Focus of ‘From the Hollows to the Honky-Tonks’

Influences, interests and ages of musicians vary; dedication to the craft does not

Note: This article is the third in a series about the 21st Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase, coming up on Sat., March 9. Read the first two here. – MMB

LENOIR, N.C. – The 21st Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase – “From the Hollows to the Honky-Tonks,” – will cover the spectrum of Americana music, with the influences, interests and ages of the musicians varying tremendously. What is most significant, however, is what they share in common – an exceptional dedication to the art and craft of writing, playing and singing music.

Founders and hosts of the Showcase, Strictly Clean and Decent, is a local band made up of Kay Crouch, Patrick Crouch, and Ron Shuffler. The Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase has included over 200 local performers throughout its history. Patrick shared, “The goal of the showcase is to promote local live music and increase awareness of live music as an important cultural resource.”

Strictly Clean and Decent will welcome to the stage Blackberry Jam, Will Knight, Home Brewed, Opal Moon, J.J. Hipps, Andy and Gary Trivette, and Hannah Grace. “They will be performing American roots music that is sure to get your toes tapping and your heartstrings stretching,” added Crouch, who provided the following information about the musicians.

Blackberry Jam is a six-piece band sponsored by the Caldwell Arts Council’s Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program. The band, Blackberry JAM, was formed out of the need to provide a performance outlet for talented members of the Caldwell JAM program. Ranging in age from 11 to 18 years, band members are:  brothers Dawson and Lincoln Clark; brother and sister Dalton and Averi Sigmon; Kymdyn Clement; and, Gideon White. Crouch shared, “The band has quickly gained experience performing at a variety of events, festivals, and venues over the past two years. While rooted in the rich musical traditions of our area, the musicians are open to many musical influences. We know you will enjoy Blackberry JAM-The future of tradition.”

Will Knight will be performing on the show as a special guest of Strictly Clean and Decent. Will’s grandparents played country music and his earliest childhood memories are of evenings spent listening to his grandfather playing bass and singing lead while his grandmother played guitar and sang harmony. Will studied piano at an early age and continued his studies with Ron Sinclair at St. Luke’s Methodist Church, Patrick Crouch at Granite Falls Middle School, Arden Carson at South Caldwell High, Rick Cline at Lenoir-Rhyne Percussion, and East Tennessee State University. He studied guitar with Reggie Harris and Andy Page. Will studied dobro with Jaret Carter and is obsessed with the 5-string banjo thanks to Bela Fleck. He worked for six months in the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, Scotland and has performed in Scotland, England, Wales, and Brazil. We welcome Will back to his hometown stage.

Home Brewed is trio featuring Laura Brewer on bass and vocals, Matt Brewer on guitar and vocals, and Wade Parker on banjo. Matt and Laura began performing in local venues about seven years ago and recently added Wade Parker to the group. Home Brewed performs for private events, 1841 Café, Lenoir Moose Lodge, Fyreside Bottles and Brews, and Granite Falls Brewery. They play a wide variety of music. While they are not a traditional bluegrass band, they put the banjo to rock-n-roll creating a unique sound. Home Brewed plays anything from Led Zeppelin to Patsy Cline, to the Rolling Stones and even Blue Oyster Cult!

Opal Moon is a local musician who plays guitar and sings straight from the heart. She does amazing versions of cover songs and she often performs original music on local songwriter nights. She is steeped in blues, soul, and rock traditions. Opal performs acoustic and electric music. You may hear her performing solo, as a duo with Anthony Pescatore, or with her band Opal Moon and the Dark Sides. She is appearing as a special guest of Strictly Clean and Decent.

J. J. Hipps plays the blues. J.J. performs as a three-piece power trio featuring J.J. on guitar and vocals, the legendary Mark “Bump” Bumgarner on bass, and Ben Pannenbacker on drums. Crouch said, “All you have to do is close your eyes when you hear this music and you will be transported to a different place. It’s a place where the elevation is lower, and the water is higher. It’s a place where they don’t complain about the heat, they call it sultry. But that ain’t all. Through the miracle of modern technology and a Stratocaster guitar, J.J. has not only carries the torch for Delta blues; he takes us to Memphis, Chicago, Muscle Shoals, and Detroit. Yes indeed, Jacob Johnson Hipps plays the blues.”

Andy Trivette is a multi-instrumentalist who has lived in Caldwell County for sixteen years and is a welcome addition to the local music scene. Andy was born in Watauga County the youngest of 11 children, 2 boys and 9 girls, into a very musical family. Andy’s dad played in several bluegrass bands Andy learned to play whatever instruments were laying around; mainly guitar, bass, dobro, and mandolin. Andy has played in several bands over the years most recently he has been playing solo gigs at family venues. Andy will be bringing his telecaster and his brother Gary Trivette will be playing bass as special guests of Strictly Clean and Decent. We are looking forward to hearing these boys “twang it up.”

Hannah Grace is well known in our area. She has amazing stage presence and authentic vocals. The essence of her music cannot be learned, it must be lived. Hannah grew up in our local music scene as part of musical family. Her roots are evident in her sound. She will be performing her brand of country music assisted by David Shumate on guitar, Paul Shumate on drums, Reath Jackson on guitar and vocals, and Randy Matheson on bass.

Nancy Posey will again serve as emcee. Crouch remarked, “Nancy is a high-powered poet, picker, prophet, and preacher who supports live art near and far. We are pleased to have her back!”

Learn More

Patrons of the show may choose to include dinner at 5:30 for an additional $15.  Reservations must be placed in advance. Entrees include a choice of roast pork or NC trout.

Tickets for the showcase are $11 and student and child tickets are available.  To purchase tickets, call the box office at 726-2407 or visit the website of the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center.

© Michael Mathers Barrick, 2019. Photos of Ron Shuffler and Nancy Posey courtesy photos.

Ambassadors of Traditional Music

Strictly Clean and Decent travels the world in search of songs and singers while staying strongly rooted in Western North Carolina

Note: This submission is the second article in a series about the 21st Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase, coming up on Sat., March 9. – MMB

LENOIR, N.C. – Since 1998, the Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase has allowed more than 200 musicians with Caldwell County roots to demonstrate their talents. The 21st Showcase is scheduled for March 9 with this year’s musicians playing tunes that are “From the Hollows to the Honky Tonks” of Caldwell County.

The founders and hosts for the event are Strictly Clean and Decent, an acoustic trio which features Patrick Crouch, Ron Shuffler, and Kay Crouch whose blend of brilliant vocal harmonies tops a solid instrumental foundation. They are dedicated to performing a variety of musical styles in an acoustic setting. Their eclectic repertoire includes modern folk songs by American, Canadian, and Irish songwriters, the fiery breakdowns and songs of family and home found in both traditional and contemporary bluegrass settings, and centuries-old Celtic airs and dance tunes. All of this is peppered with a healthy dose of popular jazz standards, swing and western swing music, and a few classic country tunes thrown in to provide a program certain to be enjoyed by all.

Ron Shuffler plays the upright bass with Strictly Clean and Decent. Ron is a veteran of the early Top 40 and beach music scene but also is well known in country and bluegrass circles. His solid bass playing and impeccable harmony vocals are without equal. Ron was raised in a musical family and his eldest brother, George, virtually created the cross-picking style of guitar playing while working with The Stanley Brothers, a first-generation bluegrass band, in the 1950s and 60s.

Kay Crouch performs on the guitar, flute, piano, and tin whistle with Strictly Clean and Decent.  Kay has a widely varied musical background that includes symphonic and solo percussion work and musical theatre as well as county and bluegrass music. Her interpretive vocals have been an asset to the trio since she joined in 1991.

Patrick Crouch handles the mandolin, banjo, dobro, fiddle, and guitar for the trio. Patrick has been performing acoustic music since 1977 when he founded New River Reign, a staple at Blowing Rock’s P.B. Scott’s Music Hall.  He turned to country music with Long Time Gone and, with Ron Shuffler and Reggie Harris, created Strictly Clean and Decent in 1989. Patrick’s intense, often pyrotechnic but always tasteful, instrumental skills are the highlight of every Strictly Clean and Decent show.

Area reviewers have been unanimous in their acclaim for the trio. The Hickory News claims that “what really sets this trio apart is the bluegrass/swing/pop/country influence of three musicians whose talents take them to virtually every style of music ever conceived!” The Morganton News-Herald states that “the music is quite lively and, while there are many intense selections, the band maintains a jovial rapport with the audience.” Of the trio, Focus says their “on-stage patter is refreshingly self-effacing and laid-back, and the band comes off as extremely likable… Don’t miss this band, because they are a truly unique listening experience.”

Since 1989, Strictly Clean and Decent has performed in Ireland eight times. They have appeared five times on the Cobh International Folk Music and Dance Festival, the Bluegrass and Olde Tyme Music Festival in Cork, and twice at the Irish Bluegrass Music Association’s festival in Athy as well as at venues throughout the country.  However, the trio performs primarily in North Carolina in places as varied as the Biltmore House, Duke Gardens, the NC Museum of Natural History, the NC Arboretum in Asheville, at the Sanford Pottery Festival, and for Winterfest in Blowing Rock. They are regular presenters on the Mountainhome Music Concert series in Boone.  Additionally, they have opened for noted performers such as Doc Watson, Ralph Stanley, J.D. Crowe, Vassar Clements, Tim O’Brien, Tony Rice, Lee Greenwood, John Cowan, Ricky Skaggs, and Jerry Clower.

Strictly Clean and Decent received an Emerging Artist Grant from the Caldwell Arts Council to produce a recording entitled Boomer Breakdown.  Of this project, Bluegrass Unlimited says the group is “precise and well-rehearsed, with a full sound for a trio.”  The trio’s third CD, Crazy Quilt, was released in March of 2003.

Strictly Clean and Decent released their fourth CD, How High the Moon, in 2007.

Since 1998, Strictly Clean and Decent has become active in recording and presenting the great number of traditional musicians in Caldwell County with a long-range goal of recording one hundred musicians in ten years.  To date, with the help of Grassroots Arts Project grants, 128 musicians have been recorded, with backing by the trio, on ten CDs: It Must Be Something in the Water (2001), I Do Re Mi (2002), and Caldwell Roots and Branches (2003), Playin’ Hooky (2004), and Good Ole Boys Like Me (2005), The Lights of Home (2006), Rear View Mirror (2007), A Story to Tell (2008), Winter Star (2009), Fresh Tracks (2010).

Kay, Ron, and Patrick performed Beautiful Star: An Appalachian Nativity with Foothills Performing Arts in December 2014.

Kay, Patrick, and Tom Kuhn toured Germany in July 2015 in conjunction with the Western Piedmont Sister Cities cultural exchange. They performed eighteen concerts in six different Germany cities including Berlin, Munich, Altenburg, Achern, Wernigerode, and Stegen.

Kay and Patrick toured Ireland in October 2015 performing concerts in the towns of Dingle, Cobh, and Cork City. This was Strictly Clean and Decent’s eleventh tour of Ireland.

Strictly Clean and Decent has performed for the International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass Wide Open Street Festival in 2016,2017, and 2018 in conjunction with PineCone-Piedmont Council of Traditional Music.

Strictly Clean and Decent is included in the Touring Artist Directory and The Blue Ridge Music Trails produced by the North Carolina Arts Council.Strictly Clean and Decent may be reached by e-mail at or at (828) 729-0853.

‘From the Hollows to the Honky-Tonks’

The 21st Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase to offer a wide range of musical styles 

Note: This is an article in our new series, “In Tune With.” Through this series, we will feature musicians from Caldwell County and beyond. It is only appropriate that we start the series with the 21st Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase, coming up on March 9. Additional articles about the Showcase will follow over the next week. – MMB

By Michael Mathers Barrick

LENOIR, N.C. – As it enters its third decade, the annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase continues to expand its definition of “traditional” while remaining true to its roots begun 21 years ago.

That’s evident in the title of this year’s Showcase, “From the Hollows to the Honky-Tonks.” And it’s also because the event’s founders and hosts, Kay and Patrick Crouch of Strictly Clean and Decent, are as excited about the Showcase as ever.

It will be presented on Saturday, March 9 at 7:30 p.m. in the J. E. Broyhill Civic Center. Designed to highlight the achievements of local musicians who keep the community’s rich history of traditional music alive, the series has presented more than 200 musicians since 1998. 

Strictly Clean and Decent, a local band whose members include Patrick, Kay, and Ron Shuffler, will host the event as it has each year. According to Patrick, the goal of the showcase is “to increase awareness of live music as an important cultural resource.”

Patrick explained the genesis of this year’s show. He said that as they selected performers for this year’s show, “It just came about that way. The first set is acoustic, the second set electric. Logically, that is what has happened to traditional music.” He explained that the folks that were playing old-timey music in the hollows and back porches of the county’s rolling landscape naturally merged their acoustic playing with electrical instruments and would eventually find themselves playing in bars – honky-tonks.

Lifelong musicians and teachers, Kay and Patrick are also lifelong learners, which is also reflected in this year’s showcase. “The other thing I like about this show is when we called it traditional, I never really thought of it.” By that, he explained that he knew that music is traditional because of its deep roots but hadn’t considered what instruments make it traditional. “It seems it’s the fiddle and banjo,” he said. He noted also that those influences are from two continents. “The fiddle comes from Europe, the banjo from Africa.” He added, “To me, traditional music encompasses all varieties of American music. Rhythm & Blues, Soul, Jazz and Rock & Roll are all American traditional music tied together.”

Kay expanded on Patrick’s insight, saying, “It’s not that every group in the last 20 years has had a fiddle and banjo, but they are traditional musicians in the sense that they’ve been taught in the oral tradition.” She continued, “Many didn’t go to school to study music. They have picked it up from their families, neighbors and other musicians in the community. It’s not for the money.”

The two completed the thought essentially with the same words – “It’s for the enjoyment, for the gathering of friends.”

This year’s enjoyment will be provided by the following gathering of musicians. (Note: Additional articles about the musicians will follow over the next week).

Blackberry Jam is a six-piece band sponsored by the Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program of the Caldwell Arts Council. The band was formed out of the need to provide a performance outlet for advanced students.  It is described as “the future of tradition.” Ranging in age from 11 to 18 years, band members include brothers Dawson and Lincoln Clark, brother and sister Dalton and Averi Sigmon, Kymdyn Clement, and Gideon White.  Blackberry Jam has been featured at many local festivals as well as at the International Bluegrass Music Association conference in Raleigh.

Will Knight studied in the Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Studies program at East Tennessee State University.  He also attended the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, Scotland and has performed in Scotland, England, and Wales, as well as in Brazil.  Will Knight will perform as a special guest of Strictly Clean and Decent. 

Home Brewed is a trio featuring Laura Brewer on bass, Matt Brewer on guitar, and Wade Parker on banjo.  Its unique sound is best described as countrified rock with a hint of bluegrass as its set list ranges from Patsy Cline to Blue Oyster Cult.

Opal Moon is steeped in blues, soul, and rock traditions.  She regularly performs on local songwriter nights.  Opal Moon will perform as a special guest of Strictly Clean and Decent. 

JJ Hipps is an electric blues band featuring J.J. Hipps on guitar, Mark “Bump” Bumgarner on bass, and Ben Pannenbacker on drums.  Their music covers the entire spectrum of the blues, including styles from the Mississippi Delta, Memphis, Chicago, Muscle Shoals, and Detroit.

Andy Trivette is a multi-instrumentalist who has lived in Caldwell County for sixteen years and is a welcome addition to the local music scene.  He will be joined by his brother Gary Trivette on bass and they will be backed by Strictly Clean and Decent.

Hannah Grace grew up as part of a musical family.  She has created a unique sound that appeals to a wide range of audiences.  She will be performing her brand of country music assisted by David Shumate on guitar, Paul Shumate on drums, Reath Jackson on guitar and vocals, and Randy Matheson on bass.

Nancy Posey returns from Nashville to act as emcee for the showcase.  A poet, blogger, and songwriter, she is a great supporter live music and musicians. A retired English teacher, Patrick says she’s the perfect emcee. “Nancy has immersed herself in the music scene.” He shared that she’s gone to the Swannanoa Gathering and other national and international gatherings of musicians. Patrick continued, “She said, ‘I want to learn to play the mandolin.’ And she did.” He added, in an email, “Nancy is a high powered poet, picker, prophet, and preacher who supports live art near and far.”

Patrons of the show may choose to include dinner at 5:30 for an additional $15.  Reservations must be placed in advance. Entrees include a choice of roast pork or NC trout.

Tickets for the showcase are $11 and student and child tickets are available.  To purchase tickets, call the box office at 726-2407 or visit

© Michael Mathers Barrick, 2019.  Photos of Strictly Clean and Decent and Nancy Posey are courtesy photos.

We Have Learned Nothing from Buffalo Creek

Fossil Fuel industry continues to extract riches from West Virginia as people suffer

LOGAN, W.Va. – Forty-seven years ago today, 125 West Virginians died when the Buffalo Creek Mining Company waste containment pond dam burst at the head of Buffalo Creek, releasing 135 million gallons of water, sludge and mud to form a 30-foot high wall of debris that rushed through the valley below. In addition to the dead, several thousand people were displaced and approximately 1,000 homes destroyed.

While I was only 15 at the time, I remember it well. That is because on the next day, a Sunday, the youngest priest in our parish – Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Clarksburg, W.Va. – did not mince words in his homily. He unapologetically launched into a stinging criticism of the coal industry and state officials, who he considered complicit in the tragedy. His homily drove a wedge not only in the parish, but in many families. As an idealistic teenager, I found myself at odds with my dad, who was not pleased that the priest had used Mass to speak to a current event – especially in Coal Country. He and my mom had quite a donnybrook that afternoon after Mass. That they did was not surprising; dad had a business perspective, mom a social justice point-of-view.

I remained quiet, but it was at that moment that I began to question the propaganda of the coal industry. I don’t question it anymore. I KNOW it is cowpatties.

Six or seven years after the tragedy, Sarah and I were visiting another priest and close family friend who was stationed in Logan at the time. He took us on a “tour” of the area. Evidence of the devastation remained, and old mining houses with families living in abject poverty lined the dirt roads. I recall thinking that once the TV cameras and reporters with their notepads left the scene, the area returned to business as usual.

That is still the case.

The death and destruction resulting from Mountaintop Removal is thoroughly documented here and elsewhere. I have written here about at least a dozen reasons that fracking is bad for all living things. Additionally the rush by energy companies such as Duke Energy, Dominion Resources, Consol Energy and others to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Mountain Valley Pipeline and several others is trampling upon individual rights, threatening endangered species and unspoiled forest land. It also poses a clear and present danger to human life, as there have literally been hundreds of pipeline explosions and other health problems since the turn of the century, such as the child pictured who suffers from nosebleeds and other ailments due to living in the midst of the fracking fields in northern West Virginia.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in all three states are displaying an appalling lack of historical awareness, gutting laws that protect people and the environment from the deadly practices of the industry.

In short, it is business as usual. As we learned from Buffalo Creek, that is a disaster waiting to happen.

© Michael Mathers Barrick, 2015-2019. Buffalo Creek photo credit: James Hagood Collection 2048 05. MTR and child photo courtesy of Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

Arts Council to Present Watercolor Exhibit

Watercolor Society of North Carolina Opening Reception is March 1

LENOIR, N.C. – The Caldwell Arts Council (CAC) is pleased to host a showcase of artwork by western region members of the Watercolor Society of North Carolina.

An opening reception will be held Friday evening, March 1 from 5 until 7. The reception will be hosted by the Caldwell County Schools Association of Educational Office Professionals (CCSAEOP). The exhibition will continue through March 30.

The exhibit is free and open to the public.

The Watercolor Society of North Carolina, Inc. (WSNC) is a non-profit art organization founded to encourage and recognize professional and artistic excellence through competitions and by elevating standards in water media to increase the visibility and stature of watercolor as an artistic medium.

WSNC strives to strengthen and promote watercolor throughout the state by hosting workshops featuring nationally recognized artists, by sponsoring juried exhibitions, and by educating artists, collectors, art enthusiasts, and the people of North Carolina through informational programs. Programs and activities provide stimulating interaction and technical information to watercolor artists from the novice to the professional.

The Caldwell Arts Council presents the arts in all its forms to the people of Caldwell County. Located at 601 College Avenue in Lenoir, the CAC is open Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. It is also open on Saturday from 10 a.m until 2 p.m. and other times for special events, such as Poetry Lenoir. Contact them at 828-754-2486 or on the web.

Courtesy Submission. Watercolor by Ann Visilik.

Appalachia’s Story in Photos

By Michael Mathers Barrick

The story of Appalachia is told best by ts rivers, lakes, streams, hills, mountains, valleys, trees, flowers, birds, wildlife and all else that consists of the natural world which supports our lives.

Nothing, I believe, speaks to the sacredness of Appalachia like the secrets found in its ancient forests. So, we’ve added a Photography page that I hope will cause you to consider our responsibility to be good stewards of the sacred earth which sustains us.

Blackwater Falls State Park, Davis, W.Va.

Water, as we know is the source of life. Below is Blackwater Falls, part of Blackwater Falls State Park in Davis, W.Va. It is in a region of the state where the headwaters of at least eight rivers originate.

Taking the time and energy to keep walking as close as allowable provided an opportunity to see this rainbow in the pool below the falls:

A walk along a narrow trail near the state park’s lodge in search of, well, whatever, led to this rhododendron:

And a mountain laurel:

A stunning sunset:

And a quiet, misty dawn in the Blackwater Canyon the next day:

© Michael Mathers Barrick, 2019.