Fiddlers on Display at Caldwell Showcase July 31

The spotlight is on the rebirth of fiddle playing at the Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase

Note: This is the second of two articles about the upcoming 23rd Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase. The first article can be read here. And, when first posted, Caldwell was misspelled in the headline. The responsible party has been sacked.

Sarah Ogletree Ritter and William Ritter. Photo credit: Terri Clarke

LENOIR, N.C. — The evening of Saturday, July 31 will be a historic day in Caldwell County, as a gathering of fiddle players at the 23rd Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase will be the first such gathering in the county in decades.

Western North Carolina, and in particular Caldwell County, has been famous for being a center of Bluegrass, Americana, Folk and Traditional music from the time the first European settlers put down stakes and picked up the instruments they had carried from home, including the fiddle. As local musician Patrick Crouch —  the fellow who every year cobbles together the county’s best musicians for the annual event — explains, “You couldn’t haul your piano across the ocean.”

Though they could haul the fiddle, in time, it fell out of favor. So, about 20 years ago, he decided a Showcase needed to put the spotlight on fiddle players. His patience has paid off, as at least nine fiddle players and their bandmates will appear on the stage at the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center. They include the Brushy Mountain Buddies, consisting of Linda Cabe, Richard Cockerham, Robbie Herman, and Chad Ritchie; Sarah Ogletree Ritter and William Ritter; Bob Kogut and Down the Hall, comprised of Denise Baxter-Yoder, Roberta Kogut, Suzanne Williams, and Michael Willis; the Butterbeans, with Mary Ervin, Robert Gucwa, and David Williams; Matt Davis and Tony Soldati; Bob Sinclair and the Big Deals, featuring Molly Barrett, Tim Gallagher, and Aaron Ramsey; Strictly Clean and Decent; and Emcee, Nancy Posey. 

Brushy Mountain Buddies

The Brushy Mountain Buddies are an award winning, driving, rhythmic old-time dance band. The group plays at square dances, festivals, fiddle conventions, farmers markets, porch pickings, hoedowns, shindigs, hootenannys, goat ropings, and the list goes on. They will play anywhere folks want a good-time dance band.The group is: Richard Cockerham — upright bass; Robbie Herman — guitar; Linda Cabe — clawhammer banjo; Chad Ritchie — old-time fiddle.

Sarah Ogletree Ritter and William Ritter

Sarah and William are a married couple that met in graduate school.William has served as the music director for the Happy Valley Fiddlers Convention since 2019. In the same year, he received the inaugural “In These Mountains” Folklife Apprenticeship Grant from the NC Arts Council and the South Arts organization to study ballad singing and other mountain folk traditions with Caldwell legend Bobby McMillon.  Many of the songs William has learned as a part of the apprenticeship were collected in Caldwell County. The couple played at Merlefest and William has performed for the Library of Congress. Sarah is a Jackson County native, who grew up in a musical family. Sarah started learning fiddle at a young age and spent a considerable amount of time with Larry Barnett of Bryson City.

Bob Kogut and Down the Hall

Bob Kogut

Fiddle maker and player Bob Kogut has been on the hunt for the perfect sounding fiddle since falling in love with the instrument in his late 30s, and that quest has led him to make 250 instruments. In addition to building violins, Bob is known in the area as an accomplished fiddler and trusty sideman. Bob moved to western North Carolina around 1999, after playing several gigs at Merlefest and falling in love with the area. Bob has played fiddle with many area bands, including The Neighbors, The Kruger Brothers, Wild Goose Chase, Musica Nostra, and Down the Hall. Bob especially likes playing fiddle for contradances.  He uses performing and playing engagements as opportunities to test out his newest instruments.Bob has taught violin set-up and repair classes and workshops. He has demonstrated and displayed his work at various local and regional events, including the Appalachian State Fiddlers Convention, Happy Valley Fiddlers Convention, and Merlefest.  Bob is a sponsor of Merlefest, which auctions off one of his violins each year.

Michael Willis discovered an early interest in a musical career as a percussionist with the award winning Lenoir High School Band.  He studied at Brevard and at Appalachian State University. He has extensive experience playing professionally with a variety of musical groups. He played percussion with the New York Quartet and with the Jerry Lambert Trio in Charlotte, Raleigh and Atlanta. His unique style of jazz piano developed while working with Milton Clapp with the New York Quartet. In addition to playing in the Celtic group Puddingstone, Mike is part of a new Celtic trio—Soula.


Butterbeans is a folk trio from Morganton composed of pickin’ buddies Mary Ervin, David Williams, and Robert Gucwa. A product of their experiences and musical influences, they like to call their style “toe-tapping porch music.” Bringing down-home vocal harmonies, fiddle, banjo, bass, guitar and harmonica, the Butterbeans play a broad variety of Americana styles, original music, and traditional tunes. David Williams began his fascination with music when his mother gave him an AM clock-radio in the third grade. During high school and college he learned to play the guitar and sing with a little help from his friends and a Beatles song book. An elementary school teacher, he continues to enjoy collaborating and making music with his friends. Mary Ervin became interested in traditional/ old-time music after hearing the music featured in the movie, Cold Mountain. Since then, she has spent much of her time learning to play fiddle and banjo and writing and arranging songs with the help of her bandmate, David Williams. She enjoys teaching children about traditional music and how to play the fiddle in local programs including Morganton and Caldwell JAM (Junior Appalachian Musicians). Robert Gucwa enjoys playing guitar, bass, and fiddle, and works as a luthier and music teacher in Charlotte, Boone, and out of his shop, the Morganton Music Patch, located in downtown Morganton.

Bob Sinclair and the Big Deals

You can see them on YouTube here.

If you use Facebook, learn more here.

Strictly Clean and Decent

According to the Blue Ridge Music Trails website, “Strictly Clean and Decent, an acoustic trio based in Caldwell County, features husband and wife duo Patrick and Kay Crouch on various instruments and Ron Shuffler on bass. The group has been performing with the current line-up since 1991 blending tight vocal harmonies with solid instrumental accompaniment. …Patrick Crouch plays 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 started playing country music with a band called Long Time Gone in the 1980s. Along with Ron Shuffler and Reggie Harris, Patrick created Strictly Clean and Decent in 1989. Patrick’s intense instrumental skills are a highlight of Strictly Clean and Decent shows.

Kay Crouch plays 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, musical theatre, county, and bluegrass music. Kay has introduced a variety of harmony singing interpretations to the groups’ performances. Strictly Clean and Decent has performed in Ireland eight times at various festivals, but the trio performs primarily in western North Carolina. 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.”

Nancy Posey. Photo credit: David Courtner

Emcee, Nancy Posey

Click on the above link to learn more about Nancy’s wit and humor, and why she’s a hit at the Showcase.

No information was available for Matt Davis and Tony Soldati.

The Showcase will be on Saturday, July 31 at 7:30 pm at the J. E. Broyhill Civic Center. Advance tickets can be purchased at the Civic Center or by calling the box office at 828-726-2407.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2021. Feature photo of William Ritter by Terri Clarke. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of Grassroots Appalachia. Learn more here.


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