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Down the Road on the Blue Ridge Music Trails

  • Donna Ray Norton is no stranger to the musical community of Western North Carolina. She’s an 8th generation ballad singer who grew up in the legendary Sodom community of Madison County, a county which folklorist Cecil Sharp likened to “a nest of singing birds.” Her grandfather was Byard Ray, a fiddler, and singer who took his style of mountain music across the globe. Her mother, Lena Jean Ray, carried on the Ray musical legacy. We sat down with Donna Ray to learn more about her new album, her background, and what the music means to her.
  • Earl Scruggs hailed from Flint Hill in rural Cleveland County. In his decades long career he helped define bluegrass music as we know it today. The Earl Scruggs Center, in partnership with WNCW, the Tryon International Equestrian Center, and Come Hear North Carolina, will present the inaugural Earl Scruggs Music Festival in September 2022. The Blue Ridge Music Trails paid a visit to the Scruggs Center in Shelby, where we spent some time with Executive Director, Mary Beth Martin, and JT Scruggs, nephew of Earl, to learn a little more about the festival. JT shared a little about the musical Scruggs family.
  • The history of Western North Carolina has long been a subject of study for local and international scholars. Many of those efforts have been focused on only a portion of the culture and experience of the region. With its exhibit Jagged Path: The African Diaspora in Western North Carolina in Craft, Music, and Dance, the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum, or BRAHM, is working to provide a fuller picture of creativity throughout the history of Appalachia.
  • The imprint of Western North Carolina’s vibrant musical tradition can be seen and heard time and again as our music has worked its way into the arena of popular culture. From the moment Jed Clampett spotted that bubbling crude through the current decade, the soundtrack of the mountains and foothills has been the soundtrack for countless television, movie, and radio programs.
  • Originally from Connecticut, Derek moved to Elk Park, NC in the spring of 2022 to continue exploring the singing traditions of the Bare family and the communities throughout Western North Carolina. With his work collecting and sharing these recordings, Derek is helping to shine a light on the stories and songs of a noteworthy community in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
  • The Happy Valley community lies between Lenoir and Blowing Rock along the Yadkin River. This fertile valley is so scenic and peaceful that early settlers gave it the name “Happy Valley.” The valley was home to General William Lenoir, for whom the Caldwell County seat of Lenoir was named. His home, Fort Defiance, is on the National Register of Historic Places, open regularly to visitors, and also hosts several public events a year.
  • Bobby McMillon passed away on November 28, 2021. His passing leaves a great void in the traditional music and Appalachian cultural landscape. Throughout the course of his life, Bobby took this awareness he gained from his grandfather’s passing and turned it into a legacy of collecting, performing, and friendships.
  • David Holt grew up in Garland, Texas. He says, “I grew up in a family of informal storytellers, and there was plenty to tell about our wild and wooly Texas forefathers. Storytelling was just a natural part of family life for me. I never thought about telling stories in public until I began to collect mountain music and came across interesting and unusual anecdotes from mountain folks. I began to use these stories in concerts and realized the power storytelling holds."
  • Of all the fiddlers in the fiddler-rich region of Western North Carolina, Arvil Freeman was a veritable North Star of Western North Carolina fiddling and traditional music as a whole. Arvil is likely the most heard “in-person” fiddler and likely the most influential. On October 21, 2021, Western North Carolina lost fiddling legend Arvil Freeman.
  • Across Western North Carolina, people looking to learn to play an instrument or musicians looking to step up their game can enjoy many opportunities to learn in immersive settings. Many camps offer week-long packages of music instruction, food, and lodging. The whole package provides a chance for the musician to spend a week completely focused on the music. How great is that?
  • The English folk song “The Cuckoo,” often sung as a round or canon, celebrated the arrival of summer, recalling the sights and sounds of English barnyards and meadows. Some scholars consider the song a parody and possibly too coarse for polite society. The manuscript in which it is preserved was copied between 1261 and 1264. The song evolved into a more poetic form and became part of the English folk song lexicon. Give a listen to this transitional version where “she never sings cuckoo ’til summer is near.” Now that’s old-time music!
  • The Bascom Lamar Lunsford Mountain Music Festival is the only one that Lunsford allowed to carry his name. In 1928, Lunsford started the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in Asheville as part of the annual Rhododendron Festival. The festival was such a hit that the local newspaper declared it should be an annual event. The Mountain Dance and Folk Festival is the oldest continuing festival in the nation and became a model for the National Folk Festival and other festivals that followed.