Chatham County's Traditional Music Festival

September 12 - 14, 2024

…more about Field Recorders Collective showcase


Saturday, 4pm in the Dance Tent

Where do you go to learn an instrument and to pick up new tunes? YouTube? Jam sessions? Music camps? That seems to be the trend these days, but before mass distribution of recorded music (not to mention before the Internet!), folks would learn from older-generation musicians in their own communities. This is how regional repertoires and playing styles came to be.

Fifty years ago, many of us who had been heavily influenced by commercial folk music during the 1960s became interested in what we now call old-time music. At that time, resources for listening and learning were pretty limited. There were some LP reissues of 78 rpm recordings of the 1920s and 1930s; some LPs of field recordings issued on rather expensive small label; and there were a handful of contemporary (“revivalist”) bands, such as the New Lost City Ramblers, the Highwoods Stringband, the Fuzzy Mountain String Band, and the Hollow Rock String Band, who played in a traditional style and had their own LPs. The contemporary bands were highly influential, and their LPs featured clean sound, but their music was a contemporary interpretation of music from another time and place.

As it happened, quite a few of the musicians who made 78s in places like Bristol, Johnson City, and Knoxville were still living some 40-50 years later, in the 1960s and ‘70s. And there were many more traditional musicians who had not been recorded commercially but played only locally.

Thankfully, there were folks among us who packed a suitcase and hit the road in search of the “real” music of The South. They learned the music and experienced the culture at the source, and documented what they heard.

Ray Alden was one of these “seekers.” A high school math teacher in New York City, Ray “caught the bug” when he attended a house concert featuring Tommy Jarrell, Fred Cockerham, and Oscar Jenkins. The following summer, his trip to the Union Grove Fiddlers Convention was the first of many that he made, to hear local musicians; visit and become friends with them; take banjo lessons; play in bands with them; and make a vast number of tape recordings of music and stories.

In 2004, Ray founded the Field Recorders’ Collective, as an avenue for collectors such as himself to make their recordings publicly accessible, particularly to younger generations of players. Before Ray died, in 2009, the FRC issued approximately 10 CDs per year from a number of private collections. In the years since, the FRC has gained nonprofit status; formalized the payment of royalties to artists and collectors; and has issued scores of new albums (as CDs and as downloads) from an ever-expanding community of collectors and archives.

Our five presenters, all of whom are fine musicians in their own right, shared Ray Alden’s passion, curiosity, and initiative. Like Ray, they made it a priority to visit with and learn from some of the most important “source” musicians of a generation that has now passed on. Musicians such as Luther Davis, Gaither Carlton, Clyde Davenport, and Kyle Creed (all of whom appear on albums produced by the FRC). They’ll be sharing some stories and playing some music from their musical mentors, and talking about the impact that these experiences have had on their lives and on their musicianship.

In association with this showcase event, on Friday or Saturday afternoon at Hoppin’ John we will have a table where folks can peruse (and even buy!) FRC CDs.

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