Category Archives: Arts & Music

Gathering ‘Round the Open Mic

Wednesday night at Liquid Roots about building community

By Michael M. Barrick lenoirvoice@gmail.com

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.

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‘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 lenoirvoice@gmail.com

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 lenoirvoice@gmail.com

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 lenoirvoice@gmail.com

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 lenoirvoice@gmail.com

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 bookings@strictlycleananddecent.com 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 lenoirvoice@gmail.com

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 www.broyhillcenter.com

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




Transition Time

Expanding how I tell Appalachia’s story

At the beginning of 2019, I wrote that I would no longer be doing news reporting. I did warn, however, that I might be back.

Well, I am. To learn what I’m doing now to tell Appalachia’s story, visit the Art, Hillbilly Highway and Hillbilly Highway Chapter pages.

It is my intention to be far down the road of the transition by March 1. In fact, I’ve already begun by the addition of the art page. You can read more below. In any event, I’ve concluded it is time to transition to telling Appalachia’s story through Folk Art, storytelling, poetry and more. Of course, I will write about others doing it, including naturally the incredibly talented musicians that populate Caldwell County, Western North Carolina, and all of Southern and Central Appalachia.

To learn more about my workshops: “Community of Writers” and “Gathering a Family History,” or my story-telling and poetry reading, please contact me at lenoirvoice@gmail.com.

Now, about that art:

The Hillbilly Highway

The Hillbilly Highway

The word “hillbilly” is often used in less than flattering terms. However, as a West Virginia native and life-long Appalachian resident, I consider the Hillbilly as Hero.

To many, the term “Hillbilly Highway” refers to the roads Appalachians once used to leave for the industrial north and now the Sunbelt, looking for work. I, however, takes another view. Born and raised in the heart of the Mountain State, I have traveled tens of thousands of miles along the back roads of Central and Southern Appalachia chronicling the history and stories of Appalachia. This informs my view as the Hillbilly as heroic.

Try traveling it for yourself! Doing so will allow you to slow down, see some of the oldest and most beautiful forests in the world, and make some new friends.

© Michael Mathers Barrick, 2019

The #MeToo Movement is Tone Deaf

Demanding ban of Christmas classic is a disturbing display of censorship

Musings from the Curmudgeon-in-Chief
MeToo mihai-surdu-415698-unsplash

LENOIR, N.C. – It was inevitable I suppose. While I generally support the #MeToo movement, I knew it was only a matter of time before the intolerant extremists that are part of it would turn the movement into thought police.

They have. They have proven to be tone deaf in demanding that radio stations ban the Christmas classic, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” as reported by NPR. The demand is based on the belief that the song encourages date rape. You can listen to a cover of it by James Taylor and Natalie Cole.

I guess you hear what you want to hear.

The censorship must stop here. Before long, classical poems such as Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” (written in 1681) will be banned. Read it. You’ll find it incredibly offensive if this song bugs you.

So, I’ve got to oppose the #MeToo movement on this. Censorship seems totally inconsistent with the movement’s values. Perhaps not, but I am an ally because it is consistent with my values. Decades before the #MeToo movement was born – before most of those involved in it were born! – I was working hard in North Carolina in the second half of the 1970s to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed. If the #MeToo movement cares about keeping its allies, it needs to avoid ridiculous debates such as this.

Courting METoo

Finally, I wish to remind the #MeToo movement that there are sometimes attractions between members of the opposite sex and persistence doesn’t always lead to rape; sometimes it leads to a lifetime of commitment and maybe even a family. It’s called courting and I enjoyed the hell out of it.

I wouldn’t today. I’d just be a committed bachelor. There was once excitement and joy in courting. If the #MeToo movement has its way, you’ll have to read about it in the history books. Or, you could read Marvell’s poem above. But prepare to be scandalized. It seems that for centuries, this desire has always existed. There is nothing desirable about being metaphorically stiff-armed before you get a chance to say, “Nice to meet you.”

Yes, courting is a delicate dance. But it is a dance. Sometimes, when you dance, you get too close. Other times, you get pulled closer. What do you do then? Keep dancing and take your chances.

Such is the life of a curmudgeon.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Photos courtesy of Unsplash.

Wheeler’s Book a Colorful Appalachian Narrative

Many stories, but one theme – relationships are everything

LENOIR, N.C. – Recently, as I wrote, I had the opportunity to hear Billy Edd Wheeler of Swannanoa, N.C. tell one story after another, many which are straight out of his book, “Hotter Than a Pepper Sprout: A hillbilly’s poet’s journey from Appalachia to Yale to Writing hits for Elvis, Johnny Cash & more.”

Wheeler CoverThe title’s a mouthful, but it’s appropriate, because so is every page; one sometimes wants to take a breath for Mr. Wheeler as he – with the wide-eyed excitement of a child – takes you on his journeys. An excellent story-teller – whether through songs, poetry, plays, books or simply sitting on a stage – Wheeler’s tales and songs have universal appeal. Some for their humor, some for their somber reality, and some because of Wheeler’s genuinely positive outlook on life. It seems he has been determined – whether consciously or not – to learn from every traumatic life event how to survive, even persevere.

From his simple beginnings in the deep hollows of Highcoal, W.Va., to his journeys through Nashville, New York and other places near and far and then settling in Swannanoa, Mr. Wheeler teaches an important lesson – a successful life is relationship-based. Every story Wheeler tells of his next step of success, is also the story of the person(s) that helped make that step possible.

Though clearly a motivated, talented and determined individual, Mr. Wheeler’s story is not one of self-reliance; rather, it is an account of the importance of learning from elders and working to establish and maintain lifelong relationships. There are dozens of stories of his friendships with famous people, perhaps most notably Chet Atkins and Janis Ian. There are far too many too name, but Mr. Wheeler’s view of the Nashville music scene – whether from a golf course or recording studio – provides fascinating insight into how the artist’s work must always be balanced with marketability anxieties. Because of raw talent and a congenial personality, Mr. Wheeler has aptly negotiated both worlds. Hence, his book reads like a textbook for the musician aspiring to write or perform at the highest levels.

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Billy Edd Wheeler

It is also simply a narrative of a remarkable life. Mr. Wheeler’s artistic endeavors have often been interspersed with leadership positions with numerous organizations. His endless curiosity has ensured that he had multiple vocational experiences and opportunities. Those, in turn, informed the next steps in his life. In short, he has been a determined steward of his time and talents. He certainly values leisure, especially at 85, but throughout his life has never turned down a challenge.

Those interested in nearly century-old recollections of life in the coalfields of southern West Virginia will value Mr. Wheeler’s tales from his childhood, even the unpleasant ones. The challenge of bouncing from place to place during unstable periods in his childhood, and how he was determined to pave his own path through it all, is inspirational for readers of any age.

At the end, he thanks several people, including his wife Mary, “… for adding humor to the project by telling people I’m writing a book of fiction and calling it a memoir.” I suspect there is truth in both; that’s what makes for a great story-teller. Besides, one of the sweetest – and sometimes orneriest – thread through the book is the story of the lifelong love-affair between Billy Edd and Mary. They wouldn’t still be married after 55 years if either lacked a good sense of humor.

It’s worth a read to decide for yourself whether it’s fiction, a memoir, or something in between. You can get a copy at Black Mountain Books & Cases at 103 Cherry Street in Black Mountain, N.C.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018.

Sweet Serendipity

Up close and personal with Appalachian legends

Note: This is the seventh installment from “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.”  Learn more here.

By Michael M. Barrick

Wheeler Cover

Cover of Billy Edd Wheeler’s newest work

BLACK MOUNTAIN, N.C. – Considering the number of times that our family has seen Kathy Mattea in concert, it is a wonder that she does not have a restraining order against us. We behave, but we are enthusiastic. So, you can appreciate my delight at finding out that Ms. Mattea was going to be in Black Mountain this past Saturday at a legendary listening room, the White Horse Black Mountain.

My wife and I had a rare, impromptu opportunity to scoot out for a date, so I was snooping around on the web (it does have its value) and typed in her name. Up came up an event posting with this sign:

Wheeler Sign

White Horse Black Mountain marquee

Immediately, I realized this wasn’t “simply” a Kathy Mattea concert; in addition, there was going to be Appalachian story-telling. As the marquee said in shorthand, Ms. Mattea was going to be there to converse with Billy Edd Wheeler. Mr. Wheeler, 85, had written songs that Ms. Mattea used on her album “Coal,” released in 2008. Three of the eleven songs were written by Mr. Wheeler – “Red Winged Blackbird,” “Coal Tattoo,” and “The Coming of the Roads.” The lyrics to Wheelers’ songs (and the others) can be found here. You can listen to Ms. Mattea’s version of “Coal Tattoo.”

Indeed, when that album was released, we saw Ms. Mattea in concert. That is one of the joys of her albums and concerts. They are often thematic, but she doesn’t forget what other songs her fans love. In any event, when I looked at the lineup, I knew we were in for a treat even better than a concert. We were going to hear from Appalachian artistic legends – if I could get tickets.

So, I called and was fortunate enough to score two of the last tickets. Sweet serendipity was in play now, so I was beginning to have a peaceful, anticipatory sense of what awaited us.

My instincts or whatever you care to call them were spot on. Douglas Orr, the president emeritus of Warren Wilson College, moderated a conversation with Mr. Wheeler about his new book, “Hotter Than a Pepper Sprout: A hillbilly poet’s journey from Appalachia to Yale writing hits for Elvis, Johnny Cash & more.”

Mr. Wheeler attended Warren Wilson on his winding path to Yale and a lifetime of writing hits for Appalachian legends. A member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Mr. Wheeler has written hits for Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Judy Collins, Neil Young, The Kingston Trio, Kenny Rogers and others.

He now lives in Swannanoa, N.C., but like Ms. Mattea, is a West Virginia native. So, the conversation meandered between the history and music of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and the Allegheny Plateau that constitutes much of West Virginia. He and Ms. Mattea discussed with compassion and wisdom the complexity of singing about coal mining, alluding to the love/hate relationship that so many mountaineers have with coal. If you’d like more insight on that, read the “Coal” liner notes by Homer Hickam, another West Virginia native who grew up in coal country (Coalwood). He gained fame for his book, “Rocket Boys” about growing up in late 1950s West Virginia. It was made into the movie, “October Sky.”

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It was a lovely diversion, much like slowly chugging down a gravel road is from the insanity of interstate driving. In other words, it was a great stop along the Hillbilly Highway. I suspect that if during your travels you happen to run into any of the folks we saw Saturday night, you will understand why I consider being called a hillbilly a compliment and a term of endearment.

Mr. Wheeler was understated – humble – in his responses, but he was also typically blunt, a trait not uncommon to West Virginians. Ms. Mattea, meanwhile also exemplified Mountaineer humility, demonstrating once again why we love her so. She is releasing her newest album, “Pretty Bird” on Sept. 7, though she’ll be previewing it on Mountain State at the closing of the Augusta Heritage Festival in Elkins, W.Va on Aug. 11. She never once mentioned either the album or concert.

It was clear that she cared about one thing – letting the 200-plus folks in attendance know just what Billy Edd Wheeler meant to her and all of Appalachia.

High Coal WV

High Coal, W.Va. (top right hand corner) ©, 2015 DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer of West Virginia

So, all ears were perked as Mr. Wheeler talked about his youth in High Coal (or Highcoal, depending upon who is spelling it). Though now abandoned, it is seen on the map in Boone County, near the junction with Raleigh and Kanawha counties – the heart of the deep, dark coalfields of southern West Virginia. It is near here that the West Virginia Mine Wars occurred a century ago and where Bill Blizzard, Mother Jones and thousands of others risked their lives to unionize the mines.

Between stories, Ms. Mattea and the band Whitewater Bluegrass would play one of Mr. Wheeler’s tunes after he had shared the history of it.

Essentially, it was what was once a typical summer evening in Appalachia. No air conditioning, lots of tall tales, toe-tapping music on the front porch and – at our house anyway – Pabst Blue Ribbon.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. 

Note: I have no quotes from last Saturday, because I was there to enjoy time with my wife, listen to story-telling and music, and drink beer. At that, I succeeded. However, I’m not good at multi-tasking, so I couldn’t take notes. So, I will eventually write a review of Mr. Wheeler’s book – between PBRs. Or, if you prefer, you can get a copy at Black Mountain Books & Cases at 103 Cherry Street in Black Mountain.