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.
Trio bringing their own brand of music to annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase
By Michael M. Barrick
Note: This is another installment in a series about the 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase – ‘Handmade & Heartfelt.’ 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.
LENOIR, N.C. – A few years ago, Andrew Massey was desperate. He wanted someone to play music with. His wife, Anna, was encouraging him to find more outlets to play the music he was beginning to write and sing. Finding a partner, though, isn’t easy. Especially when one is new to the community; breaking into a tight-knit musical scene isn’t always easy.
So, he put an ad on Craig’s List. Cory Kinal saw it, reached out to Andrew, and they’ve been playing together since. In short, even though Massey jokes the arrangement is “no strings attached,” he acknowledged, “We started jamming together and I went and bought an upright bass in South Carolina so we could start an acoustic band.”
That they did. Through a series of discussions, they settled on the name Sycamore Bones. In order to focus on those acoustic roots, the band recently added Abigail Taylor.
Massey, a vocalist who plays bass, is straightforward in his description of the band’s focus. “I would describe us as an Americana band, which is just a fancy way of saying that we take our style from a lot of different types of American roots music – Country, Blues, Bluegrass, Rock & Roll. We even like to believe there is a little bit of Punk rock in there somewhere.”
Kinal’s description is a bit more nuanced. “It’s hard to say what kind of music we play, we combine so many genres that its easiest to just call it ‘Americana,’ but I feel like that’s such a broad term. We play folk, Alt-country, bluegrassy, foot-stompin’ old-time. We play a little of everything everyone would like – or we hope they do.”
Kinal plays guitar, sings lead and, in his words, “sings sweet, sweet harmonies to the beautiful voices of my fellow bones.”
Kinal added that the band truly is hard to define. “It’s hard to describe the music of a band who plays a song about a newlywed couple promising each other everything in life then dying in a train crash, and then follows that with an uplifting song about not letting life’s worries and problems get you down.” He explained, “It’s like we’re working in unison to even each other out; it’s nice to sing some harmony on a song of happiness, when you’ve just sung a song of hard times and sorrow.”
The purpose of the band’s music is clear, insisted Kinal, even if it is complex. “I hope our music exemplifies life, maybe not at its greatest, but at its deepest.” That’s why he said he doesn’t have a favorite song from their repertoire. “It changes daily or maybe weekly. I love seeing someone in the audience really get into a song. It gives me even more of a connection with the lyrics I’m singing.” He added, though, “I’d say right this very minute my favorite song is ‘Saint Sophia.’ On the outside it’s about Saint Sophia and her three daughters, Faith, Hope and Charity who met horrific fates, but really I use their story to portray different aspects of my life, my own thoughts of faith, hope, love and charity.”
Taylor has been friends with Massey and Kinal for a few years now. She shared, “Andrew and Cory are a great mixture. Cory’s this poetic northerner and Andrew’s a heart-on-his-sleeve southerner. You’ve got kind of a gothic Country/Americana from Cory’s side and a wailing rockabilly from Andrew’s side.” She added, “I tie the two sides together with bluesy harmonies, and the occasional tambourine.”
Massey added, “We all love so many different types of music so to narrow down influences is a little hard. I know John Prine and Bob Dylan would be the first two guys I would mention. A few of my personal influences are also bands like Wilco, or the Clash and guys like Tom Waits.” He continued, “When I was 18 or 19 Bob Dylan blew my mind! This is probably the reason I picked up acoustic guitar and started writing songs. Something about those first few albums he had was like going to church for me. The simplicity and the faults in his voice, the way he used words really all connected with me.”
I’ve … been lucky enough to be surrounded by a huge amount of people that appreciate live music and support it every chance they can.” – Cory Kinal
Kinal explained why the moniker “Heartfelt” fits the music of Sycamore Bones as well as does the description, “Handmade.” He shared, “Everything, every style, every song is played with pure emotion. My influences are from punk to bluegrass and every branch of music connected to both of them. I’m proud to be surrounded by talented musicians and have been my entire life. But it’s not just the musicians that have been the greatest influences on why I play the music I do. I’ve also been lucky enough to be surrounded by a huge amount of people that appreciate live music and support it every chance they can. Without my family and my friends, I wouldn’t have had the courage or talent to start a band that plays mostly original music.”
Still, the enjoyment of writing and playing original music is essential for Sycamore Bones. As Kinal shared, “I want to experience a relationship with every song we play and every audience that listens. There’s a certain feeling you get when you play an original song and you see people really connecting to it. I want people to have fun, to listen to the lyrics, the music, and really get as much joy out of our performance as we do.”
Taylor’s influences were somewhat different. “I grew up on Rhythm & Blues and Jazz; I didn’t start listening or playing the kind of music we’re playing until I went to college in Western North Carolina, where it’s everywhere! My singing style is still heavily influenced by R&B and Jazz singers. But I like to think it adds something just a little different to the guys’ sound.”
Each of the band members expressed confidence in Caldwell County’s future because of the Showcase, and spoke also of the privilege of performing in it.
Massey said, “I just want to thank anyone in the community who creates music, art, or owns a small business. It’s these people that make us who we are as a community and create a culture that we can take pride in. Keep creating!”
Taylor noted, “The showcase is a yearly staple of Caldwell County. So it’s just exciting to be a part of that tradition, and to also be a part of an event that people of all ages come to experience. We hope it remains a yearly tradition and that it continues to grow.”
Kinal continued, “We were all super excited to be asked to play the Showcase. I remember Massey saying that we’ve kind of ‘made it’ in Caldwell when Patrick and Kay ask you to play alongside the county’s best musicians. It means everything to us that they would like our music and performance enough to ask us to be part of their lineup.” He added, “Caldwell County’s story is so similar to my rust belt upbringing, so close to where I grew up that it has the same feeling for me as a town 500 miles away that influences many of my lyrics.”
Massey said the Showcase is critical to the community because, “Music keeps life worth living. It’s exciting when a whole community gets together to support that cause.” Taylor simply added, “I second what Andrew said.”
Massey concluded, “I think the goal for all of us is that people connect with lyrics of the songs. We all want people to feel what we sing and the words we write. I think that may be the most gratifying part of performing.”
© 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
Nancy Posey Bringing Her Humor and Wit to Showcase: Calls her role as emcee a mere ‘footnote’ to the Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase
Strictly Strings Carrying on the Old-Time Tradition: Boone-based group brings energy, excellence and creativity to Showcase
Showcase Information and Performers
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.
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 emcee.
Editor’s note: Abigail Taylor is also co-owner of The Lenoir Voice.