musician showcases

Check back in early June for 2020 Updates and Information.

Here’s what happened in 2019:

All Showcases Located in the Dance Tent.

Generations Showcase: Emily & Martha Spencer of the Whitetop Mountain Band, Friday 7pm

The Whitetop Mountain band originated with Albert Hash in the 1940s, a well-known and beloved fiddler and luthier. When he was a teenager, Albert played fiddle with Henry Whitter of “Grayson & Whitter” who recorded in the 1920’s. Albert had a tremendous impact on the old time and bluegrass scene: the tune, “Hangman’s Reel,” that Albert recorded is the version played by many old time musicians today. He also taught luthiers such as Wayne Henderson and Audrey Ham.

In the 1970s, Albert’s brother-in-law, Thornton Spencer (twin fiddle), and his wife, Emily Spencer (banjo, vocals), joined Albert in the band. Today, decades later, the Whitetop Mountain Band is still going strong with Emily Spencer on banjo and vocals, and their daughter, Martha Spencer, on various instruments.

We are honored to present Emily and Martha in this unique offering: our first-ever “Generations Showcase,” as they share their songs and histories growing up in a musical family.

Fiddle Players Showcase, Saturday 4pm

Tatiana Hargraeves, Betty Vornbrock & Introducing Aila Wildman

Tatiana Hargreaves

Over the past nine years, Tatiana Hargreaves has been on the forefront of an up and coming generation of old-time, bluegrass and new acoustic musicians. Since releasing her first solo album “Started Out To Ramble” in 2009, Tatiana has toured with musicians such as Dave Rawlings, Gillian Welch, Laurie Lewis, Darol Anger and Bruce Molsky. From being the second woman to place first at the Clifftop Appalachian Fiddle Contest, to her bluegrass fiddling on Laurie Lewis’ GRAMMY-nominated album The Hazel And Alice Sessions, Hargreaves shows a musical fluency that flows between old-time and bluegrass worlds with ease.

After touring as a member of Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands and finishing her degree at Hampshire College, Tatiana now makes her home in Durham, where she is spending time with Alice Gerrard and helping with the documentary in-progress, “You Gave Me A Song: The Life and Music of Alice Gerrard.” Tatiana’s most recent project is a self-titled album with clawhammer banjo innovator, Allison de Groot . Tatiana also teaches and performs locally and hosts the monthly PineCone youth bluegrass jam in Raleigh.

Betty Vornbrock

Betty Vornbrock is an accomplished fiddler in several traditional styles. Her first love is that of the Appalachian Mountains; she has focused on the tunes of West Virginia, Kentucky, and the Blue Ridge since the late 1970s. Influences include WV fiddlers Wilson Douglas, Melvin Wine, Sarah Singleton, and Burl and Edn Hammons; KY fiddlers JP Fraley, Ed Haley, Clyde Davenport and Snake Chapman; and the Blue Ridge’s, Ralph Blizard, Tommy Jarrell, Emmett Lundy and Henry Reed.

Currently a fiddle teacher for private lessons and occasional workshops, she taught and sat on the board of the Galax, VA  Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) for seven years. She also teaches at music camps in Mars Hill, Cowan Creek, and the Augusta Heritage Workshops. In 2018 she was a featured fiddle master at the Festival Of American Fiddle Tunes, in Port Townsend, WA.

Betty and her band, the Reed Island Rounders, hit the festival circuit each summer, and have taken honors at Galax, Mount Airy, Clifftop, Glenville and Fiddler’s Grove to name a few. Most recently, she placed first in the senior fiddle division at Clifftop 2018.

Aila Wildman

At age 15, Aila Wildman was one of the youngest players ever to win the Best All Around Performer award at the famed Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention (2018), also winning first place in the adult Old Time Fiddle category.

Aila began studying violin/fiddle with a Classical foundation at the age of five, performing bluegrass gigs at the age of seven, and joined the Roanoke Youth Symphony at eleven.

Involvement in bluegrass and old time music festivals from a young age led her to form a deep appreciation for traditional music and the community of people that keeps the tradition alive. Through the Virginia Folklife Apprentice Program, Aila had the opportunity to work with Master Fiddlers Buddy Pendleton in 2012 and Nate Leath in 2018. Aila also is an assistant teacher at the Floyd JAM program, sharing her love of old time music with the youth of Floyd County, VA.

Her band The Wildmans began as a family band in 2014 and is now a quartet including her brother Eli and gifted young musicians Victor Furtado and Sean Newman. They have played festivals including: Red Wing Roots, Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, and FloydFest.

Banjo Players Showcase, Saturday 2:30pm

Featuring Richie Stearns, Hilary Dirlam & Trish Kilby Fore

Richie Stearns

RICHIE STEARNS first discovered the pleasures of the old-time banjo when

Illustration by Christopher Wolff:

he was 14. He’s traveled around the world, performing both traditional and his own original music, finding ways to collaborate with musicians from five continents as well as local musicians from diverse musical backgrounds including classical, jazz, R&B, country and more. Over the past three decades, he’s written original music for film scores and dance ensembles as well his own bands (The Horse Flies, Evil City String Band, Ti Ti Chickapea and the Renegades, among them) and collaborated with artists from a variety of disciplines to present public performances on stages throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe, as well as making radio and television appearances.

The list of musicians Richie has recorded, toured, and performed with is long and diverse. Among them: Natalie Merchant, jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, Malian bluesman Vieux Farka Toure, North Indian Gypsy band Musafir, Tibetan singer Yungchen Llamo, pop legend Linda Ronstadt, country and bluegrass musicians (including Peter Rowan, Vassar Clements, Tony Trischka, and Jim Lauderdale), Cajun groups (Michael Doucet & Beausoleil, Redstick Ramblers), Celtic bands (De Dannan, John Doyle of Solas) and Australia’s Kasey Chambers as well as Samite of Uganda and South African Afro-pop star Johnny Clegg.

Hilary Dirlam

Along with being the Program Director of Blue Ridge Old-Time Music Week at Mars Hill University for the past 27 years and the Co-Founder of The Old-Time Herald with Alice Gerrard, Brad Leftwich and Linda Higenbotham, Hilary Dirlam is an outstanding banjo player.

She recently completed a month long tour of Australia with her present band, the Orpheus Supertones, and has performed and recorded with NC Heritage Award winners Luke and Harold Smathers and Carroll Best. Several of Hilary’s original tune and songs have been recorded by other traditional artists. She recently completed a recording project combing banjo with traditional Nepali instruments, including Sarangi Master Parashuram Bhandari and Tabla Master Achyut Ram Bhandari. She has recorded over ten albums of traditional Tibetan vocal music, which are internationally available.

Trish Kilby Fore

Needing a safer hobby following a softball career-ending knee injury, Trish Kilby Fore started playing old-time music as a young teenager under the instruction of Emily Spencer and with the help and support of many old-time and bluegrass musicians around her hometown of Lansing, Ashe County, North Carolina.

In Trish’s playing you’ll hear her influences, themselves legends in traditional mountain music – Thornton and Emily Spencer, Dean Sturgill, Harold B. Hausenfluck, the Birchfield Family, Larry Pennington, Ola Belle Reed, and Enoch Rutherford. Trish has played with many groups over the years such as the Farmers Daughters, touring Europe in the late 90s, the Mount Rogers Ramblers, the Blue Ridge Mountain Ramblers, Benton Flippen and the Smokey Valley Boys.  In July, she released her first solo project, Clawhammer Banjo: Blue Ridge Style, featuring solo banjo tunes, old-time band hoedowns and bluegrass swing.

Trish now makes her home in the Pipers Gap section of Carroll County, Virginia, and is a librarian at the Galax-Carroll Regional Library. When she’s not working, you can find her doing what she really loves – playing the banjo or guitar at a square dance, fiddlers’ convention, radio show, or fundraiser, or just picking at home with husband, Kevin Fore, and their friends.

Singers Showcase, Saturday 1pm

Featuring Sheila Kay Adams, Tim Wells, and Introducing Eliza Meyer

Sheila Kay Adams

Born and raised in the Sodom Laurel community of Madison County, North Carolina, Sheila Kay Adams is a seventh-generation ballad singer, storyteller, and claw-hammer banjo player. Originating in the border country between England and Scotland, the ballads that she sings have been passed down through her family since the early 1700s, when Adams’ ancestors first settled in Appalachia. Learning how to sing as a child from her great-aunt, Adams has developed an illustrious resume showcasing, documenting, and advocating for Western North Carolina’s unaccompanied ballad singing tradition. She has performed at festivals, workshops, and other events all across the US and the UK, including the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and the International Storytelling Festival. Her songs and stories have been recorded for several albums: My Dearest Dear (2000), Other Fine Things (2004), and Live at the International Storytelling Festival (2007). Her two books, Come Go Home With Me (1997) and My Old True Love (2004), have garnered praise from Life Magazine, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and other outlets.

A recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship (2013), NC Heritage Award (2015), and this year’s South Arts Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowship, Adams has complemented international acclaim with deep, local commitment to her community. She continues to mentor the new generation of unaccompanied ballad singers on the history and technique of the tradition.

Tim Wells

Tim Wells attended Warren Wilson College in the late 1980’s, picking up banjo and fiddle while learning more about singing/leading songs in the ensemble setting. Bluegrass Gospel style struck a chord with Tim, and set the stage for his continued interest in earlier Gospel traditions such as singing the shapes and the many black Gospel Jubilee bands of the middle part of last century. While ballad singing was one of the styles Tim heard while living in the mountains, it wasn’t until later that he begin learning and performing songs from this seminal tradition.
While keeping his day job as a Kindergarten teacher in Hillsborough, Tim currently performs in bands covering various traditional music styles: Cajun/country dance, vocal/Gospel quartets, Irish, and old-timey string band. Country blues — the genesis of Tim’s musical interests as a teenager — continues to influence Tim’s singing as he prefers to add slides and “blue” notes to his vocal lines rather than “sing it straight.” During summer and school breaks Tim helps run a day camp, Camp Very Wells, out of his home in Cedar Grove. You can also find him on the Morning Glory Kids Radio Hour on Hillsborough’s WHUP Radio 104.7.

Eliza Meyer

Eliza Meyer is new to the scene, but has been told she has an “old soul,” singing and playing traditional string band, old-time and classic country music reminiscent of Hazel and Alice, The Carter Family, and Tommy Jarrell. Influenced by traditional ballads of Madison County and the Round Peak style of Surry County, Eliza plays fiddle, banjo, guitar and autoharp.

Eliza has taken classes with Sheila Kay Adams, Eddie Bond, Dewey Brown, Cathy Fink, Alice Gerrard, Sam Gleaves, Ginny Hawker, Kay Justice, Marcy Marxer, and Erynn Marshall. She currently plays house concerts locally and has sang on the IBMA JAM Stage, at Merlefest, the North Carolina Museum of History and the Earl Scruggs Center. Eliza is a native of Raleigh, NC and attends Broughton High School, where she is in the sophomore class.

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