A quarter century of learning from Kay and Patrick Crouch
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.