Category Archives: People

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.

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

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

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.”

White Horse Banner 938 b

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.

Music along the Hillbilly Highway is ‘Handmade & Heartfelt’

Kay and Patrick Crouch have taught and inspired thousands of students and others in the region; they are also premier promoters of the music of Caldwell County and Southern Appalachia

By Michael M. Barrick

Note: This is the sixth installment from “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.” It is an abridged version of an article originally published in 2017.  Learn more here.

6 Showcase Grand Finale

The Grand Finale of a Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase

LENOIR, N.C. – Before we ride the Hillbilly Highway out of Caldwell County for now, our first leg of our tour along the Hillbilly Highway would be incomplete without first acknowledging a couple that have worked tirelessly to preserve and pass along Appalachia’s musical heritage – from Blues to Bluegrass and everything in between.

Handmade & Heartfelt

When I interviewed Kay and Patrick Crouch in 2017, just a few of weeks before the 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase, they were relaxed – the kind of relaxed that is rooted in two decades of experience – as they discussed preparations for the concert during a visit to their home studio. (The 20th Annual Showcase was held in 2018, and the 21st is already scheduled for March 9, 2019).

Patrick explained the genesis of the theme for 2017, “Handmade & Heartfelt.” He said, “Some years I have the title in my brain and then get the musicians that fit. This year, however, I had this group of people who I love and admire as people and musicians that I’ve been wanting to get on the show. So, it will feature various styles of music – some is original, but all comes from the heart.”

Everybody truly loves music. It is the universal language … .” – Patrick Crouch

The 19th Showcase included eight groups or individuals, including Strictly Clean and Decent, which is Patrick and Kay’s collaboration with Ron Shuffler. The total of musicians performing was about two dozen, in addition to members of the Caldwell Junior Appalachian Musicians performing traditional string music.

Pointing out that 19 years of experience of preparing and hosting the showcase has made it easier for them, Patrick shared, “Now we have a tradition established. I already know what we’re going to do for the 20th.”

Showcase SC&D

Strictly Clean and Decent (Kay Crouch, Patrick Crouch, and Ron Shuffler) host the Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase

Patrick and Kay acknowledged that not every one of the more than 200 musicians that have appeared in the showcase as of this year are Caldwell County residents, but all have roots to the county. “It’s the traditional music that’s the connection,” offered Kay. She continued, “It’s good to connect with folks from outside Caldwell County. The real value is that these folks see what we’re so proud of.”

Patrick shared, “It is unfathomable to think that more than 200 musicians who live in or have ties to Caldwell County have performed. Our goal was 100. After 10 years, we had reached 128. When we started this, this was our stage that we wanted to share. It is incredible to think about how many musicians we have shared that stage with.” Smiling, and looking at Kay, he added, “It’s just the tip of the iceberg. We have such a community of musicians here. It’s going to just keep growing.”

He continued, “Music flows. It flows from the performer. It’s not something you think about. It’s what we do. The sign of an artist is playing whatever they want.”

Patrick Crouch by David Cortner

Musician Patrick Crouch of Lenoir, N.C. always takes plenty of time to share a story or two about the history and music of Appalachia © David Courtner

That’s exactly what happens at the Showcase. Patrick sends out a schedule to the musicians, tells them how much time they have and how many songs they can play, but does not tell them what to play. He explained why. “Everybody truly loves music. It is the universal language. The audience knows that. The biggest challenge is for the musicians to limit their selections.” He continued, “I don’t give a lot of direction. Early on, we met a lot. Now it’s better to just let things be as they may.”

Besides the quality of musicians that play at the Showcase, Patrick says another reason for its success is how the community of musicians support it. “Those who don’t play in it still come out. Some come during sound check just to see folks they haven’t seen in a while. And, of course, we’ve enjoyed the support of the people of Caldwell County from the beginning.”

Sitting in a room surrounded by CDs, musical memorabilia, instruments and a recording studio, Patrick sat up in his chair and shared, “I stick my chest out when I say I’m from Caldwell County and am talking about our music.”

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017-2018.


Hanging On

Holding on to one another is essential along the Hillbilly Highway

Note: Though originally published as a stand-alone essay, I am re-posting it as the third installment from “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.”  Learn more here.

By Michael M. Barrick

Holding on

Hanging on to my sister, Mickey, as we celebrate her birthday.

LENOIR, N.C. – On June 20, 1952, Minetta Flint married William Barrick in Morgantown, W.Va. A year later, on June 12, their first child, Michelle, was born to the newlyweds, who were known among their friends by their nicknames – “Mike” and “Sparky.”

Michelle, who eventually earned the nickname “Mickey,” was followed by yours truly just under three years later, on April 22, 1956. Nearly six years later, our family was completed, as our little sister, April, was born on January 10, 1962. All three of us were born in St. Mary’s Hospital across from our garage apartment in Clarksburg, W.Va.

As Catholics, we were a relatively small family. Yet, with our grandmothers, aunts, uncles and great aunts and uncles, we had plenty of family close by and others scattered across West Virginia.

Then, the three of us grew up, moved away and started our own families. Every year we would take our two children to West Virginia and enjoy a freeloading vacation of great food, great company and never enough time to visit all the family and friends we wanted to see. And each Christmas was the family reunion.

But alas, a visit to West Virginia now is nothing more than a visit to four cemeteries in three counties to place flowers at the graves of all those people we used to share meals and laughs with.

Hanging on 2

Pondering something important, like what to drink next.

There’s nothing unusual about that. However, that doesn’t change the tinges of emotions I feel as I consider those souls who have slipped away – including our little sister April, who died of cancer last August. The Barrick family that started out at 483½ Washington Ave. in Clarksburg 66 years ago is now reduced to Mickey, who turned 65 this week (she doesn’t look it, but life isn’t fair) and me.

She and her husband David were in town visiting this week. She and I are both cancer survivors, against the odds. Why we live, and April does not, we do not know. Nor shall we drive ourselves crazy pondering it. It is what it is. How that huge family we were born into is now down to just the two of us is also something not healthy to spend a whole lot of time pondering. Again, it just is.

Yet, through the loss and sadness, our love for one another has grown beyond description, largely due to Mickey’s unconditional love for her quite curmudgeonly brother. We understand that we are indeed an endangered species. So, we do what Sparky, Mike and April taught us – We hold on to each other for dear life and laugh at life’s challenges and absurdities.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Photography by Rick Carter.

Remembering April Renee

This poem is shared in memory of our dear “little” sister, April Renee Ball (WVU ’84) who passed away on Aug. 30, 2017. You may read her obituary here.

April obit photo

April Renee (Barrick) Ball

When, from St. Mary’s Hospital

Sparky returned home in the snow,

she carried with her

the scarlet-faced baby

that forever, to Mickey and me,

would be Little Sister.


Walking home from school with you

from first grade on,

I thought would last forever.

But then I chose a path in 1974

which, to this day, remains a mystery.


On a return trip home you smiled away

as the speakers in my orange Beetle

blasted Uriah Heap against your ear drums.


In time you found a man

I considered worthy – as if it mattered.

Together you gave me two of my best friends –

your daughter, your son

my niece, my nephew.


Though separated now by timely death,

apart physically but present in spirit,

the bonds of love between Little Sister, Big Brother and Big Sister

are held together by memories,

and our dearly departed Mother and Father.


With a prayer of joy and a tear in my eye,

I daily thank God

for January 10, 1962.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

JAM: ‘Building Community One Tune at a Time’

Inspiring program is preserving music, history and communities of Appalachia

By Michael M. Barrick


Strictly Strings. Photo by Martin Church.

LENOIR, N.C. – The Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program says on its website “We’re building community one tune at a time.”

That’s a fact, as I saw it on display last night here at the 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase. There, among many other great musicians, we saw and heard the group Strictly Strings, which was born out of the Boone, N.C. JAM affiliate. (Learn more here: Strictly Strings Carrying on the Old-Time Tradition).


Strictly Strings on stage. Photo by Lonnie Webster.

Below each photo are statements from JAM’s website. We hope these photos and insights will motivate you to click on the links above and learn more about this vital educational music program that is preserving the history, traditions and communities of Appalachia. If you have a chance to see Strictly Strings or any JAM shows of the roughly 40 affiliates in southern Appalachia, do it! You’ll see and hear history come alive. 

JAM at Merlefest

Members of Caldwell JAM at MerleFest 2016

We envision a world in which all children have the opportunity to experience community through the joy of participating in traditional mountain music together.”


Strictly Strings as seen on the cover of their album, ‘High on a Mountain.’ Photo by Martin Church.

Our mission is to provide communities the tools and support they need to teach children to play and dance to traditional old time and bluegrass music.”


Caldwell JAM musicians perform for North Carolina’s legislators on ARTS DAY


We believe that children who are actively engaged in traditional mountain music are more connected and better prepared to strengthen their communities for future generations.”


Strictly Strings photo by Martin Church.

Read about Caldwell, N.C. JAM here. 

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

We are on Facebook

On Twitter: @appchronicle

Nancy Posey Bringing Her Wit and Humor to Showcase

Calls her role as emcee a mere ‘footnote’ to the Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase

By Michael M. Barrick

Note: This is another installment in a series about the 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase. A list of previous articles is below. The Showcase is scheduled for Sat., March 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center in Lenoir, N.C.


Nancy Posey playing the mandolin. Photo by David Courtner.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Anybody who knows Nancy Posey – whether as a co-worker, friend or fellow wanderer through various poetry readings and art exhibits – is keenly aware that she is no footnote, wherever she may be. Yet, as we opened our conversation about her role as emcee in the 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase, Posey’s first words were, “I’m just a footnote.”

Posey, who taught for years in the county’s public schools and at Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute, is now living in Nashville, where she is teaching at her alma mater, Lipscomb University. She spoke by phone from her home there.

Patrick Crouch, of host group Strictly Clean and Decent explained why he’s thrilled to have Posey travelling hundreds of miles to corral the two dozen-plus musicians scheduled to perform. “She is a lifelong musician with a passion for humanities. Nancy plays mandolin, sings, writes poetry, attends workshops, conducts workshops, and supports live art before she has her first cup of coffee. After that, she gets busy! We are delighted to have Nancy as our emcee for Handmade and Heartfelt.


Nancy Posey reading poetry. Courtesy Photo.

Posey added that Crouch didn’t give her a choice. “He said, ‘We won’t fire you. You have to quit to get out of this gig.’” That’s just not an option she shared. “I can’t resist. It’s the big bucks.” Turning serious, she pointed to the sense of community she continues to share with Caldwell’s musicians. “About eight or nine years ago I started to learn to play the mandolin. Part of the reason is I like hanging with musicians. I’ve always enjoyed music. I’ve had a chance to learn many ways to play.”

Posey continued, “What the Showcase does to highlight Caldwell’s music in wonderful. I don’t think people know how much talent is saturated in that corner of the state.”

Well before Posey takes the stage as emcee on the night of the Showcase, she will make sure she’s well acquainted with all of the performers. “I learned to get there early during rehearsal time and meet them. I sit out there and watch and talk to everybody.” She noted, “They’re not all about themselves. Everyone is about the other people playing. It’s a mutual admiration society.” She added that before sound check, she will have watched videos, visited websites and other sources to learn as much as she can even before meeting those musicians she doesn’t already know.

The audience, she said, “Will be surprised with the range of genres.” She added, “So I just can’t stand up there and tell bluegrass jokes. Though I will.”

What the audience doesn’t see is one part of the Showcase that Posey enjoys the most, because it reflects upon the overall tenor of the show. “I enjoy the back stage banter and seeing the level of professionalism.  It’s something to watch everybody getting ready to get on stage, the way they conduct themselves with one another.”

As an educator, it isn’t surprising that Posey enjoys showcasing the younger musicians, such as the Caldwell Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program and an emerging group that writes most of the music it performs. “I really look forward to the JAM musicians. Showcasing that program is so important for the community.” She added, “I’m tickled to see Sycamore Bones.  I’m looking forward to seeing them on the big stage. They are some young talent that needs more exposure.”

Even though the Showcase is finishing out its second decade in the community, Posey observed, “I’m always hoping there will be new people that hear about it every year. Some people I see every year. I love the idea that there are people will be exposed to this for the first time and want to come back.” She concluded, “It’s amazing to me that Kay and Patrick can put together a different show every year drawing from local musicians. There are a lot of talented musicians there.”

Asked if she had anything to add, she explained why she would be only a footnote. “It’s Kay’s red cowboy boots. I just can’t compete. She raises the bar.” 

© The Lenoir Voice, 2017. 

The Lenoir voice on Facebook

On Twitter: @lenoirvoice

Previous 2017 Showcase Articles

Handmade & Heartfelt: Theme of 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase inspired by area musicians

Jimmie Griffith Exemplifies Showcase Theme: Music is handmade in Caldwell County and is heartfelt from his native Brazil


Showcase Information and Performers

The 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase will be on Sat., March 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center. Purchase tickets here from the Civic Center. 

This year’s concert will include eight groups or individuals. The total of musicians performing will be around two dozen, in addition to JAM members.

Strictly Clean and Decent with Kay and Patrick Crouch and Ron Shuffler.

Caldwell Junior Appalachian Musicians performing traditional string music.

Ridgeline: A bluegrass band featuring Jim Matheson on guitar, Mike Nelson on banjo, Tim Greene on mandolin and guitar, April Flanders on fiddle, Larry Wright on bass, and Jimmy Houston on guitar.

MaisCeu featuring multi-instrumentalist Jimmie Griffith performing Brazilian music.

Max Waters playing Southern gospel, jazz, and blues piano.

Strictly Strings performing old time and contemporary string band music.  The band is Kathleen Burnett on fiddle and guitar, Anissa Burnett on bass and fiddle, Willow Dillon on banjo, fiddle, bass, and cello, Caleb Coatney on mandolin, banjo, and guitar, and Cecil Gurganus on guitar, fiddle, and bass.

Caldwell Junior Appalachian Musicians performing traditional string music.

Sycamore Bones with Cory Kinal, Andrew Massey, and Abigail Taylor performing original music.

Darren Bryant and Justin Clyde Williams performing country music.

Nancy Posey will be the emcee for the evening.