Bluegrass

Le'Andra McPhatten is a musician and the director of Le'Andra's Music Studio in Durham.
Denise Allen / Courtesy of the North Carolina Arts Council

North Carolina’s strong cultural traditions in music, crafts, dance and food have been evolving for generations. Millennials are now taking the helm and putting their own spin on various folk and traditional art forms.

A picture of Chatham County Line.
Andy Goodwin / Chatham County Line

Chatham County Line is back with a record devoted to their fans.  For years the bluegrass band has included a well-chosen cover or two in their live shows.  Fans would often stop by the merchandise table and ask where they could find those songs.

Now there's at least a partial answer to that question.  Sharing The Covers contains thirteen songs written by artists ranging from Beck, to the Rolling Stones, to Wilco.

Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz of Mandolin Orange.
Courtesy of Kendall Bailey

Mandolin Orange is known for its intimate harmonies and delicately layered instrumentals. The duo, made up of husband and wife Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz, has won accolades with that distinct sound. Their 2016 album “Blindfaller” debuted at number three on the Billboard Bluegrass Chart and was named one of Rolling Stones top 40 country albums of that year.

Stock image of banjo
Creative Commons / https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1098772

The public face of Bluegrass in North Carolina has long been male and white, but the genre is now undergoing a transformation. The star-power of Rhiannon Giddens has drawn new attention to the music and the history behind it.  And legacy organizations like the International Bluegrass Music Awards have started to pay more attention to women’s contributions.

The sounds of bluegrass have taken over the streets and venues of Raleigh. The International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass is a five-day event that strings together free downtown shows, ticketed showcases, a business of bluegrass conference and the illustrious annual International Bluegrass Music Awards

Courtesy of Nefesh Mountain

Many subgenres of bluegrass can be quickly traced back to Christian values and ideals, but that is not the case for the music of Nefesh Mountain. The husband and wife team fuse traditional bluegrass music with elements of their own Jewish heritage and traditions. They were recognized for this approach during a panel discussion about diversity and inclusion at this year’s International Bluegrass Music Association business conference. 

Becky Buller playing the fiddle
Michael Weintrob

 Bluegrass has been a part of Becky Buller’s life since she was five years old. She grew up as the fiddler in her family band in Minnesota, received classical violin lessons and learned about bluegrass fiddling from other musicians at various music festivals. 

photo of tony williamson holding a mandolin
Courtesy of Tony Williamson

This year is the 50th anniversary of mandolin player Tony Williamson’s recording career. Throughout the years, he has played with bluegrass legends like Bill Monroe, Ricky Skaggs and Sam Bush. But in the 1980s, Williamson suffered a series of accidents and injuries, and a surgeon told him he would never play the mandolin again. He went through a long transition that included experimenting with Chinese medicine, a spiritual awakening and trying to look at the world a little differently.

David Hoffman

Earl Scruggs is considered one of the most influential banjo players of all time. He made a name for himself performing with Bill Monroe’s band on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry in the mid-1940s. Scruggs went on to compose seminal records like “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” and “The Ballad of Jed Clampett.”

The Mountain Faith Band

For more than 15 years, the Mountain Faith Band has performed Americana and bluegrass across the country. The group mostly consists of the McMahan family from Sylva, North Carolina. Members of the family grew up playing bluegrass while they worked together in their dad’s tire shop. Today the group is well known for their 2015 appearance on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”

An image of bluegrass mandolinist Sierra Hull
Gina Binkley

Bluegrass singer and songwriter Sierra Hull has been playing music professionally since she was just a kid.

Now, at 25, Sierra has released a new album that is a departure from her previous work. "Weighted Mind" features a more stripped down version of Sierra Hull's sound- a departure from her earlier works. “Weighted Mind” is nominated for a Grammy.

Host Frank Stasio talks with Hull about her life and career, and she performs songs from her new album.

David Simchock

Balsam Range's new album, "Mountain Voodoo," has taken the band to the top of the bluegrass charts with its mix of bluegrass, gospel, and honky-tonk.

Band members Buddy Melton, Tim Surrett, Darren Nicholson, Caleb Smith, and Marc Pruett chat with Frank Stasio about hosting "A Bluegrass Kinda Christmas," and Raleigh's evolution as a haven for bluegrass musicians of all stripes.

Image of Dan River Girls
Dan River Girls

Each of the Winston-Salem sisters Fiona, Ellie and Jessie Burdette started taking music lessons at five years old. When the youngest sister, Jessie, turned 7, the three decided that it was time to combine their musical talents and form a band--the Dan River Girls. Their music ranges from traditional bluegrass to pop-rock. They released their first album last year and continue to play at venues and festivals around the state.

Jim McKelvey

The Piedmont Melody Makers has been jamming together formally and informally for years. The band is a who’s who of North Carolina old time and bluegrass musicians, and in the past year they decided to formalize their musical union and record an official album. “Wonderful World Outside” is a 16-track record with a blend of original tunes and covers.

 

Photo by John Davisson/Invision/AP

The International Bluegrass Music Association is underway in Raleigh with the 2016 International Bluegrass Music Awards. The group The Earls of Leicester won Entertainer of the Year for the second year in a row. The group led the field in nominations. Host Frank Stasio talks with John Lawless, editor of Bluegrass Today, about notable awards and emerging bands in bluegrass.

Claire Lynch Band

Bluegrass music traditionally draws inspiration from the back porches, front porches, swamps, mountains and hollers of the South. But for her new album, celebrated bluegrass artist Claire Lynch looked north. The album is called “North By South,” and it is a celebration of the often underappreciated catalog of bluegrass songs written by Canadians. Host Frank Stasio speaks with Claire Lynch about her Canadian muses and listens to some live music from the band.

Courtesy of Laughing Penguin Publicity

Kenny and Amanda Smith have been professional musicians as a duo for 15 years but have been playing music together as husband and wife for decades. The pair's new album is called "Unbound." Amanda Smith was a nominee for Female Vocalist of the Year, and Kenny Smith was nominated for Instrumental Performer of the Year on the guitar in the 2016 International Bluegrass Music Awards.
 

Photo of Curly Seckler and Charlie Monroe
Curly Seckler

Curly Seckler grew up a farming kid in the tiny town of China Grove, NC and liked to listen to the Monroe Brothers on the radio.

Eventually, he became one of the forebearers of bluegrass music as a part of the Foggy Mountain Boys. Seckler's iconic mandolin style and tenor harmonies carved a music career that spanned more than 50 years.

Tara Linhardt plays with Nepali musicians
Tara Linhardt

Nepal and Appalachia are on opposite ends of the Earth, but their musical traditions show striking parallels. Bluegrass musician Tara Linhardt traveled with friends, her mandolin and camera around the Nepali countryside to find and play alongside musicians preserving the country's folk traditions. The result is a musical fusion of two worlds usually separated by cultural and geographic barriers.

An image of North Carolina 'Welcome Sign'
J. Stephen Conn / Flickr Creative Commons

 

North Carolina has much to offer newcomers. From the coast to mountains and everything in between, the state is a place for food, fun and plenty of adventure. Where is the best barbeque? What is that accent? Who are the stars of bluegrass?

 

Below find five stories that highlight the Tar Heel state’s distinguishing qualities. And even if you’ve lived in North Carolina your entire life, take a look at the list of some of your state’s gems.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Justin Johnson playing cigar box guitar
Justin Johnson Music

  

North Carolina Musician Justin Johnson has always been drawn to stringed instruments. Starting with the beat up, one-string Stella guitar his mother handed down to him, Justin has played music with any band that would take him.

So when he was handed a homemade cigar box guitar at a show a few years ago, he was instantly drawn to the sound and feel of the unique instrument. Ever since, he's been making and collecting homemade instruments to play on the road.

Guitarist and vocalist Russell Moore leads IIIrd Tyme Out at a WUNC Raleigh Concert
Carol Jackson

Russell Moore's bluegrass career has included a stretch as a member of Doyle Lawson's Quicksilver band and as the leader of IIIrd Tyme Out since 1991. Born in Texas, he moved to North Carolina and later Georgia to follow his bluegrass dreams. Moore has been named IBMA Vocalist of the Year five times and the band has claimed Vocal Group of the Year seven consecutive times.

WUNC Back Porch Music host Freddy Jenkins introduces Joe Mullins and The Radio Ramblers at the Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh
Carol Jackson

Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers' ramblings brought them to Raleigh during the IBMA World of Bluegrass in October. Just as the bluegrass gala was kicking off JMRR joined three other bands at a WUNC event at the Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh.

The Spinney Brothers at the Museum of Natural Sciecnes
Carol Jackson

Allan and Rick Spinney were born in Ontario, Canada, in the mid 1960s. Even that far north, the sound of southern bluegrass and country music caught fire, especially with Allan, at an early age.

Nick Vandenberg is a Chapel Hill musician (posing outside the Durham studios).
Hady Mawajdeh (WUNC)

Nick Vandenberg  is a man of many talents. 

Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper warming up prior to their performance.
Carol Jackson

It was a grand night for banjos and fiddles and song. On Wednesday October 1, 2014, during Raleigh's Wide Open Bluegrass event, WUNC hosted four bands on the Daily Planet stage at the Museum of Natural Sciences.

North Carolina-based Balsam Range raked in the second-most nominations for IBMA Awards Wednesday night.
Balsam Range

  

The World of Bluegrass festival wraps up this weekend in Raleigh. One of the highlights of the five-day convention is the International Bluegrass Music Association awards ceremony which took place last night.

North Carolina band Balsam Range took home three statues, including the award for Entertainer of the Year.

Host Frank Stasio talks with Tim White, host of the bluegrass and roots music show “Song of the Mountains” on PBS, about the awards and final days of the World of Bluegrass festival.

Host Frank Stasio and Béla Fleck prepare for their conversation.
Hady Mawajdeh (WUNC)

  

 The relentless Béla Fleck is known for taking his banjo on a wide array of sonic journeys. 

Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper warming up prior to their performance.
Carol Jackson

Concurrently with the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) week-long World of Bluegrass, WUNC produced a special live broadcast with WAMU's Bluegrass Country in Washington, D.C. The program was hosted by Katy Daley of WAMU's Bluegrass Country and featured exclusive performances from three IBMA Award nominees:

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