Keith Barnacastle • Publisher
The Bluegrass Standard is a life-long dream of Keith Barnacastle, who grew up in Meridian, Mississippi. For three years, Keith brought the Suits, Boots and Bluegrass Festival to Meridian. Now, with the Bluegrass Standard, Keith’s enthusiasm for the music, and his vision of its future, reaches a nationwide audience every month! Keith@TheBluegrassStandard.com
Richelle Putnam • Executive Editor/Writer
Richelle Putnam is a Mississippi Arts Commission (MAC) Teaching Artist/Roster Artist (Literary), a Mississippi Humanities Speaker, and a 2014 MAC Literary Arts Fellowship recipient. Her non-fiction books include Lauderdale County, Mississippi; a Brief History, Legendary Locals of Meridian, Mississippi and Mississippi and the Great Depression. Richelle@TheBluegrassStandard.com
Rebekah Speer • Creative Director
Rebekah Speer has nearly twenty years in the music industry in Nashville, TN. She creates a unique “look” for every issue of The Bluegrass Standard, and enjoys learning about each artist. In addition to her creative work with The Bluegrass Standard, Rebekah also provides graphic design and technical support to a variety of clients.
Susan Woelkers • Marketing
Susan traveled with a mixed ensemble at Trevecca Nazarene college as PR for the college. From there she moved on to working at Sony Music Nashville for 17 years in several compacities then transitioning on to the Nashville Songwritrers Association International (NSAI) where she was Sponsorship Director. The next step of her musical journey was to open her own business where she secured sponsorships for various events or companies in which the IBMA /World of Bluegrass was one of her clients.
Shelby C. Berry • Journalist
Shelby Campbell is a writer and designer whose heart beats for creativity. A native of rural Livingston, AL, she found her passion in journalism and design at The University of West Alabama, where she received a Bachelor’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications. Shelby also has her own photography business.
Susan Marquez • Journalist
Susan Marquez is a freelance writer based in Madison, Mississippi and a Mississippi Arts Commission Roster Artist. After a 20+ year career in advertising and marketing, she began a professional writing career in 2001. Since that time she has written over 2000 articles which have been published in magazines, newspapers, business journals, trade publications.
Kara Martinez Bachman • Journalist
Kara Martinez Bachman is a nonfiction author, book and magazine editor, and freelance writer. A former staff entertainment reporter, columnist and community news editor for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, her music and culture reporting has also appeared on a freelance basis in dozens of regional, national and international publications.
Candace Nelson • Journalist
Candace Nelson is a marketing professional living in Charleston, West Virginia. She is the author of the book “The West Virginia Pepperoni Roll.” In her free time, Nelson travels and blogs about Appalachian food culture at CandaceLately.com. Find her on Twitter at @Candace07 or email CandaceRNelson@gmail.com.
Tomorrow’s Bluegrass Stars
Traditional bluegrass roots stem from the origins of Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, and Ralph Stanley, making bluegrass one of today’s most male-dominated musical genres. However, since the first planting of bluegrass, women pioneers of the genre tilled the rows for the seeds coming after them, like Alison Krauss, Rhonda Vincent, Molly Tuttle, Sierra Hull, Becky Buller, and more.
Dalton’s first taste of music was when she was five after her grandmother signed her up for classical violin lessons. Coming from a non-musical family from Southwest Missouri, Dalton remembers this surprising hobby being an integral part of her life.
“After I started my classical violin lessons, it didn’t take me too long to discover that it wasn’t very fun, but that’s when I started learning the fiddle,” Dalton said. “Everyone was happier when they played the fiddle, and it was a more laid-back style of music.” No specific instance or moment sparked her to start playing music, “but it’s the one thing I always remember doing. Music has just always been there for me.”
By age seven, Dalton participated in her first
fiddle competition and got her sister interested in playing bluegrass music, so they started a band.
Growing up, they drove from 45 minutes to two hours to play music. “Once a week, we would drive to jam sessions in a schoolhouse where I would get to play with my sister and our friends,” Dalton said. “It was an encouraging thing to get to be a part of that and see other kids get into playing bluegrass music. I also attended Starvy Creek Bluegrass Festival in Conway, Missouri many times growing up, and everyone there really encouraged me and got me interested in playing bluegrass.”
A member of Tomorrow’s Bluegrass Stars(TBS) since she was 12, Dalton credits TBS for some of her first experiences playing with other young musicians. Growing up, she had little access to other musicians her age, especially bluegrass musicians. So while the group’s goal was encouragement, Dalton gained much more as she grew in her music.
When Dalton turned 13, she got more serious about her music and began learning to play the bass. Soon after, she joined a
new band with some of her bluegrass friends called Po’ Anna, where she was the bassist until recently.
“Playing with Po’ Anna pushed me to become a better bass player,” Dalton said. These days, Dalton is finding her place in the world of bluegrass and folk music, doing solo gigs and working toward a sound of her own—embracing the folky side of bluegrass music.
Influenced vocally by Linda Ronstadt and Natalie Maines of The Chicks, Dalton is proud to create a genuinely genre-blending sound while focusing on folk roots.
Inspired by whoever she’s listening to, Dalton puts that into her music.
“Recently, I’ve listened to more Crooked Still. I’m all over the place with what I like to listen to and what I take from that and put into my music. I feel like my passion and drive for my music and what I put into what I’m creating sets me apart from other artists,” Dalton said.
She played in Silver Dollar City with a folk trio, performing 136 shows. “I grew up going to Silver Dollar City and playing
with the house band, The Homestead Pickers. Over the years, I was also able to play and sing there with both of my bands, but playing there [last] summer and getting to do so many shows was a very cool experience and so much fun,” Dalton said.
After an incredible summer of performances, Dalton is recording her first solo album, releasing it this year, and putting together her band with big goals.
“I want to be able to play music for whoever will listen. I want to make people happy,” Dalton said. “My dream is to sell my record successfully. I want to play for whoever will hear me, and I hope to make someone smile through my music.”
Good Morning Bedlam might be a little tricky to pin down for genre purists – but it is a blast to listen to their music and try it. In the end, putting them in a restrictive box is probably pointless; this folk/Americana/indie rock quartet is on an unbridled journey of experimentation. What they do might not be a match for those expecting straight-up tradition, but it brings a fresh sound to listeners seeking a melding of old and new. From bass and fiddle to a thumping kick-drum and hearty brass, a quick listen makes it clear: Good Morning Bedlam can’t be easily pigeonholed.
“One thing Good Morning Bedlam has gotten known for is trying new things, for doing our own take on different genres… genrebending,” explained vocalist and
guitarist Isaak Gill Elker.
For instance, their latest work toys with ideas from other cultures.
“We’ve been experimenting with different rhythms,” he explained. One example is “Latin beats, but using acoustic instrumentation.”
“We just love getting to try different stuff,” he added.
Elker said his bandmates all hail from different backgrounds but came together on a love for experimenting with roots sounds. For instance, his wife plays bass in the band, and her first interests are steeped in classic rock and musicals.
“And I grew up playing metal music,” Elker said, laughing. “And then I fell in love with the Avett Brothers.”
“A lot of American roots music came from storytelling,” he said, explaining why more traditional styles – which are so different from metal – finally grabbed him. “It’s a beautiful genre in its purest form…but people all like to take new ideas from tradition.”
He said the decision to have an open and fluid interpretation of folk was a natural passion. It sounds like it could have gone no other way for these young musicians.
“That decision came about organically,” Elker said. “I always say we just have short attention spans.” He laughed.
He said he and his bandmates discuss this amalgam of acoustic instrumentation with more forward-thinking, or even cross-culture, techniques. He said with much of the music they create, they ask the question aloud: “Where is the tradition, and where is the experimentation?”
“That’s a question we have a lot,” he added.
Self-described on the Good Morning Bedlam website, the band rightfully lays claim to the descriptor of “furious folk” and promises live show content including “a haunting waltz, whistling, jazz scatting, and the euphoria of the violin melodies.”
Based in the midwest, Good Morning Bedlam has been doing this since 2015. By 2019, they were logging over 200 shows a year. Then, Covid-19 shutdowns arrived and affected them in much the same way it affected most touring musicians.
Elker said it wasn’t all bad, however.
“From a creative standpoint, it allowed us to take a step back and take a breather, to reassess,” he said. Part of that downtime involved ample opportunity to create new music.
The band consists of Elker, delivering vocals and guitar; his wife, Victoria Elker, with her bass and vocals; Katherine Seeger, playing violin and also offering vocals; and Dawson J. Redenius, who brings the trumpet and keys.
The last studio record from the group was “Lulu,” which Elker described as a blend of folk, Americana, and indie rock. It even had one song “influenced by” jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.
Good Morning Bedlam recently released a single and has another dropping now in March. It is titled “Elemental.”
“Those two will be part of a five or six-song EP releasing this summer,” he said. As for the more distant future, Elker seems to have high hopes for more of the same.
“I would love someday to play some of the really famous venues,” he said, mentioning that his wish list includes Red Rocks and Austin City Limits. “We tend to have big dreams.”
“I want to keep working the next couple of years to find a balance as well, as part of our progression,” he said. “I think that makes touring and being creative for a living even sweeter.”
It’s a big deal for any entertainer to reach nationwide viewing audiences. But when that reach extends into millions of homes, you can rest assured you’ve reached a pinnacle.
That’s essentially the story of the syndicated television program Jimmy Bowen and Friends. Now set to enter its sixth season, the wildly successful music variety show that airs nationwide on nine different networks–including Heartland and The Family Channel–is set to evolve into something even bigger and better.
“Between streaming and TV shows, the numbers blow me away,” Bowen said of the scope of his audience reach. “Right now, we are in 200 million homes.”
“We’re working on going into a bigger syndication,” he revealed, “to go out to another 80 networks in the future.” Wow!
Not only is he taping at places such as the historic Troubadour Theater in Nashville, but soon, Bowen will take his show on the road. It will give viewers an even more exciting glimpse into the real world of music genres he loves.
“My roots are in bluegrass and Americana,” explained Bowen, a successful musician in his own right. His show also embraces many other styles; he also features “Contemporary Christian, gospel, an Irish trio…and a few that kind of rock it a little bit.”
Bowen thinks openness to all types of sounds makes his show popular with people across the country.
“To me, it kind of gets boring to hear the same style of music in a show,” he confessed.
It appears that same restlessness– that desire for change–is driving Bowen to evolve his show into something more. Bowen hints that fans will find him broadcasting from out on the road. He said this “next level” idea for the program was inspired by the 1970s show Nashville on the Road. He wants to do something like that, only Bowen-style.
“We’ll be filming live on location in June 2023, hopefully in Arlington, Texas. Then, in Nacogdoches in January 2024,” he explained.
Bowen wants to take the show first to Texas since that’s his home turf. He’s “got a
place right outside Lubbock, Texas,” and is a part of the music scene in that region. He’s had great success with his music on the Texas charts, so he wants to start on the road in Texas as a kind of pay-it-forward. He plans to follow that with places such as Florida and Las Vegas.
“The ideas are kind of endless,” he said. “I want to expand the show and branch out a little bit.”
In addition to his popular and growing show, Bowen is a successful musician in his own right. The Josie Music Awards recently acknowledged him in a ceremony held at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville.
“I was very blessed,” he explained. “I was actually nominated for two awards, Vocalist of the Year and Artist of the Year in Americana. It was an honor just to be nominated.” Bowen took the title of Artist of the Year for the Americana category.
“I love what they do,” he said about the awards. “They promote a lot of independent artists.”
While doing his TV show and taking up acting roles in television and film, Bowen also finds time to be a prolific songwriter. He likes to have a new song for each show episode, so he needs “24 brand new songs per season.” Not a problem, he assured.
“I have well over 150 songs we’ve recorded so far,” he said. It’s enough material for several albums, but he prefers to release music as singles. The latest is his January release of “Big City.”
“It’s a song Merle Haggard wrote,” Bowen explained. “I put fiddles in it and did it more the bluegrass way. I just love the song.” He said he did it faster than the original.
“It’s a great two-stepping song,” he said. “They love them in those dance halls down in Texas.”
Bowen’s pace in life seems as fast as that of his latest single. If he’s not working on the show, he’s making music. If he’s not doing that, he’s acting. He says he doesn’t see himself stopping but shared with us a promise he made to his wife.
“If I’m not where I wanna be and doing what I want by 85, I promise to slow down,” he assured.
Jesse Burdick has a real passion for music. He grew up in Rhode Island and listened to bluegrass records, especially by the Lilly Brothers. “I was really drawn to them,” he says. “I remember when Don Stover got sick, and Bill Hall took over for him. He played on the Lilly Brothers’ album In the Shadow of the Pines (1984, Old Homestead Records). I started playing instruments at home, first with the guitar, from an old Mel Bay book, then the banjo became my main instrument.” Jesse discovered a large group of pickers hanging out in a small town not far from his family’s home, including Bill Hall. “He really influenced me on the banjo.”
Soon Jesse would hear more of his favorite musicians, like Bill Thibodeau. “I asked my dad to take me to some festivals, but he wanted nothing to do with bluegrass. He grew up with rock, and that’s what he liked.
Jesse moved to Ivor, Virginia, in 2015, and in 2016 he married. “My wife is in the military,” he says. “She was stationed in Japan, and I had an opportunity to play with some Japanese artists. Bluegrass is huge in Japan.” In 2017 he released his freshman offering, “something I had recorded earlier but decided to release.”
When Jesse returned to Virginia, he opened a full-rigged recording studio, Riverside Studios, in Smithfield. He began working with a couple of bluegrass acts and just released a rock opera for a client. “We utilize a variety of recording hardware and software, and we can
handle any size audio project,” Jesse says. “One thing that sets us apart is that we can record either in the studio or on the road. In other words, we can bring our full recording studio to the artists. We can record in venues, festivals, or we can do field recordings, in real fields.” Jesse says the studio has a very homey feel. “It’s in an old house that has several different rooms where people can record. We can also shoot music videos.”
Jesse truly understands what an artist wants in a recording studio because he is also a musician. “I’ve been fortunate over the years to record with some of my favorite artists and to perform on stage with many of them, locally, regionally, nationally, and even internationally. I’ve performed with Pete Seeger, Country Joe McDonald, Travers Chandler and Avery County, Marshall Wilborn, and Alan Bibey.”
Riverside Studios dedicates itself to music performance, education, and production. Jesse has received several endorsements, including Deering Banjos and Ear Trumpet Labs, and he is an artist member of AirPlay Direct. “The Deering thing happened by surprise,” Jesse says. “I played at the Newport Folk Festival and had a horribly set up banjo with the absolute worst intonation. My band boss at the time called it an ‘obnoxitron,’ which pretty much describes it. I went to check out the Deering tent, not to buy, but to look. They kind of threw me in a chair and began handing me one banjo after another. I played and played, and surprisingly to me, they offered me a spot on their artist list. I got an Eagle II that I still use today.”
Jesse teaches music lessons both out of the studio and online, including banjo, guitar, mandolin, and bass. “We also teach songwriting.” Those interested can request a workshop, slow jam, jam camp, or a kids’ academy.
With a new project released in 2022, Hops and Spirits, Jesse showcases his skills as a bluegrass artist.
Ten years ago, when Scotty Stoughton was driving across the Utah desert, an idea struck him for a festival. That idea – which would become the WinterWonderGrass Festival –is now celebrating ten years of bringing music to bluegrass, Americana, and roots fans.
“I believe music is an anchor to the community,” Stoughton explained, “and I wanted to create a gathering for all to attend – the kids, the grandparents, the fans, and the beloved genre of artists…the pickers.”
“Bluegrass and roots music in the mountains is quite literally the root of all things,” he said. “An acoustic-laced mountain gathering in the middle of winter brings together the hardiest of fans over one shared love of live picking.”
“I started my journey following the Grateful Dead caravaning up the Pacific Northwest,” he reminisced. “Roused by the intangible effects of a 15-minute Scarlet Fire transition and the post-event drum circles, my future was galvanized. It’s this kind of magic that keeps roots music alive and fiery. The kinds of musicians we invite to our festival want to be in the community, skiing on the mountain, soaking in the hot springs, interacting with fans, and sharing their love of instruments.”
Stoughton said WinterWonderGrass launched in 2013 in Edwards, Colorado, and later moved a town over to Avon.
“The idea for WinterWonderGrass was hatched while driving cross country through the Utah desert en route to my sailboat home in Venice Beach for winter work in L.A. on festivals,” Stoughton continued. “I was craving community, saddened by the destructive fire that burned the memories of State Bridge, and looking to fill a hole left in the Vail Valley by the numerous venues shutting their doors.”
“We knew we had created something special, but something was just not right,” he explained.
“Fast-forward to 2016,” Stoughton said, “and with a nudge to take a site visit to Steamboat, everything fell into place…I felt all that was missing existed in Steamboat, and it drew us in.”
The festival will celebrate its 10th anniversary on March 3 through 5. Stoughton said the music lineup is “stacked with Colorado legends and rising acts.” The roster includes performers such as Greensky Bluegrass; The Infamous Stringdusters; Leftover Salmon; PaulCauthen; Kitchen Dwellers; The Lil Smokies; The Lone Bellow; Neal Francis; more.
“At this 3-day music and brew festival, you will experience the best in bluegrass, Americana, and roots music,” Stoughton said, adding that visitors will also find “carefully curated local food vendors, spirits and craft beer and seltzer, with complimentary tastings.”
“The outdoor event takes place at the base of the Steamboat Ski resort in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, with an open-air outdoor mainstage and three side stages, which are heated and covered,” he said. “Daily beer, whiskey, and spiked seltzer tastings are complimentary with your tickets for those 21 and over, from 3 to 5 p.m. in the heated side stage tents.”
The festival will kick off with a special free show at the base of Steamboat Resort on Thursday, March 2, featuring Trout Steak Revival.
For Stoughton, the event is a way of bringing people together.
“WinterWonderGrass was created to build community and welcome folks from all over the country while ensuring locals had access,” he explained. “We are among the most sustainable festivals in the country, and we focus on local and organic partners. We build a robust kids zone, throw late-night shows around town, produce free concerts
on the mountain, and work hard to support local businesses.”
Stoughton said his event was “the first festival to give Billy Strings a headlining slot,” and the fest is still always on the lookout for “community-minded, emerging artists.”
The festival offers something handy to make it easier on families: kids ages 12 and younger are free, and adults aged 75-plus are also welcome to join in at no cost.
While the pandemic of recent years has caused issues for festivals across the country, things are less limited for 2023.
“As far as this year’s festival goes, it is not so much ‘back to normal’ but a deeper call to be kind, patient, generous, and humble,” he said. “The festival will have no logistical limitations – neither masks nor vaccinations will be required – however, we always urge our community to uphold kindness and understanding for each individual’s unique experience.”
Despite the problems of the pandemic, an idea for another experience arose in the wake of the pandemic. The idea was the RiverWonderGrass event. It’s multi-day river expeditions down the Dinosaur National Monument, “with WinterWonderGrass allstars joining the community in an intimate and inspired setting.” These expeditions happen from May through November.
For more information on the WinterWonderGass festival or RiverWonderGrass expeditions, visit Winterwondergrass.com.
Dressed in his signature Australian hat and suspenders, Dom Flemons performs to entertain—yes—but also to educate audiences about the authentic roots from which his early traditional music playlist grew. Doing so takes research which is often extensive and timeconsuming. Ah …but the results are rewarding.
He started playing drums in high school, which got him going. Playing percussion gave him a sense that you could play multiple instruments simultaneously and still be a single musician. “That’s kind of my first introduction to the idea of being the multiinstrumentalist.” Halfway through high school, Flemons got the bug to play guitar and wrote folk songs and rock ‘n roll. “I started busking on the streets and in coffee houses.” He said he did that for many years, from high school to college, and was an open book when it came to music, admitting that he loved folk, country, blues, ragtime, jazz, and rock’n’roll.
The first time Dom Flemons heard Flat and Scruggs’s “Rollin’ in my Sweet Baby’s Arms,” he was hooked. “I heard that classic sound and was drawn to it. And being a fan of songs with words and melodies, bluegrass is just a treasure trove, so I was drawn to the sound because of that.”
He studied everything from the earliest bluegrass to the 90s and into the early 2000s, confessing that his evolution as a musician happened through stories about people like
Arnold Shultz, whose influence on Bill Monroe and bluegrass has not yet been fully exposed and credited. Discoveries like this prod you into “thinking critically about literature, what bluegrass represents as a musical style, and how Shultz influenced Monroe and bluegrass.”
In 2005, Flemons attended “The Black Banjo Gathering” event held at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. “That’s where I met [Joe] Thompson for the first time.” Thompson, a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) 2007 National Heritage Fellow, was born in 1918 into a traditional string band family that included his brother Nate and, later on, his cousin, Odell. But by the time Flemons met Joe, Nate and Odell had passed away. “When I met Joe for the first time, I got to see firsthand the power of the early black folk music,” said Flemons. “I had never really spent a lot of time listening to fiddle music. So, when Joe did this very bluesy style of fiddle, specifically his version of John Henry, SteelDriving Man, I was completely enamored with everything he represented.”
Flemons would leave Arizona to go to Joe’s house in Carolina, which is how the Carolina Chocolate Drops formed. “We would sit around the table and play songs for hours, and [Joe] would tell stories about growing up. He just wanted to sit and play. That was something that brought him a lot of joy.” Joe’s open-door policy encouraged many in the music community to come, including The Avett Brothers. “[Joe] was a very, very giving individual with his music. When we [The Carolina Chocolate Drops] started playing consistently as a black band, it sparked a sort
of new energy in Joe. It was something I don’t think he necessarily anticipated. We could back him up and take him out on gigs and stuff. I think he enjoyed the sound of a four-person band.”
However, Flemons did much
more than music with Joe. He conducted personal recordings of conversations with him, documenting along the way and getting to know the people at Music Maker Relief Foundation. “I got to know the staff over there, Tim and Denise Duffy, while I was touring with the Chocolate Drops. I was going over to people’s houses that were old-time blues songsters, like John Dee Holeman and Algia Mae Hinton, who played music that ran parallel to the fiddler/banjo music I was doing. I was riding two different waves.”
Flemons played with the Carolina Chocolate Drops for nearly ten years, drifting, as he said, between communities of modern musicians in bluegrass and people interested in preserving those styles. “Then I found myself with musicians I had never anticipated, like Little Jimmy Dickens and Marty Stuart on the Grand Old Opry in 2008. I could start connecting with them on the same musical level. My involvement also allowed for some reconciliation, which started happening when I performed there.”
His roots music expeditions led Flemons to Texas Worried Blues, an album featuring Henry Thomas recordings. “I was floored by this fellow’s music, and he played this special instrument called the quills, which sounded like a panpipe. And being a big fan of Peruvian music and other panpipe music, I was drawn to it instantly because it opened up the idea of what old-time American music can be. There have only been a few people that have recorded the instrument.” Quills, reminiscent of a child’s instrument, evolved into the harmonica. Therefore, most quills players tend to be harmonica players. Canned Heat adapted Thomas’s “Bull Doze Blues” into their international hit, “Going up to the Country.”
“I got obsessed with figuring out how to play the instrument and finding panpipes to recreate this sound. It wasn’t until I met Mike Seeger in 2005 that I started playing the quills. At every concert, I do the quills on at least one song. Where Henry Thomas got them from is a mystery, and what he was actually trying to recreate is not particularly clear, which I kind of like. That’s a part of my presentation. These kinds of things open the door to a broader aspect of American music and what it can be.”
Flemons believes in using music to teach youth about culture and tradition. There is power in Sankofa, an African word from the Akan tribe in Ghana, meaning to “go back and fetch it.” The Sankofa image reveals a bird flying forward, but touching its beak to a wing, going forward but remembering the past. “I tend to go back to Sankofa. How you create that effect, I’ve always found that that’s a little different every time. Early on, when I was getting my BA in English, that was one of the things that I was moonlighting in the record library on the University’s campus. I’ve always been obsessed with literature, words, stories, and songs.” Choosing the title American Songster instead of African American Songster was intentional because Flemons hopes to advance African American culture as American culture. He stressed that separation is part of the social trauma and hopes to develop this history into a standardized account, believing that ballads are a great way to begin to talk about the human condition, social conditions, and people’s feelings and emotions. “Old-time ballads cover so much of that. I feel that the blues are the same way.”
Many songs from the early string band, especially from slavery times, “are very elliptical lyrically,” he said. “Some songs speak of slavery, and I’ve started seeing people notice the lyrics.” Musicians like Lead Belly and Mississippi John Hurt pushed ahead in pushing African American music in blues. “But they presented something else,” he added. “They presented something of themselves that has become undeniable and unmistakable. I never got caught up in white or black because if I performed it, it was a black song. I never try to force it on people.” When Flemons does a Roy Acuff song, he styles it in more of the African American vernacular.
“I think there’s been an ideological shift for now recognizing that even though we all understand there is a collective of music that is wonderful and amazing, there are things that have been missing, whether it was consciously or not.”
GRAMMY Award-winning musician and scholar Dom Flemons, also known as “The American Songster,” will release his anticipated new album, Traveling Wildfire, on March 24 on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings (pre-order here). In advance of the release, the new song, “Slow Dance With You,” is debuting today with an ATMOS mix.
Early in the 1970s, reporter Keith Lawrence followed the trail of an African American musician from Morgantown, Kentucky: Arnold Shultz. Lawrence interviewed Shultz’s family members and friends and put together the story from the tidbits he discovered through these interviews. The findings uncovered the musical genius of Shultz and how his musical style influenced a generation of musicians. One, in particular, was Bill Monroe.
“When you read about Arnold Shultz, he’s sort of a nebulous character,” said Dom Flemons. “He’s sort of this mystery guy that does a lot of stuff and who is the catalyst that does something to build Bill Monroe’s music.”
Dr. Richard Brown helps run the Arnold Shultz Fund, headed by the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA). In 1988, as a young musician, Brown once played with Bill Monroe in Cape Cod. In Brown’s September 27, 2022, WBUR interview, he told how Shultz was a one-man band who adeptly managed melody, harmony, and bass through his thumb-style bassline picking technique.
Brown and Lawrence joined Flemons and historian Michael L. Jones who moderated an hour-long panel on Arnold Shultz and his influence on Bill Monroe and bluegrass (see the link to the panel discussion below).
“When it comes to someone like Arnold Shultz,” said Flemons, “it’s a perfect example of an African American musician performing as a communal musician. He never made records, so now, in the 21st Century, we have no documented record of what he might have sounded like, and we have only two pictures of the man himself. Arnold Shultz could not have changed his trajectory, but the fact that he influenced many musicians who happened to be white as well and that those musicians made their way into the music industry in innovatively new styles is worth noting.”
In Lawrence’s 1980 piece in the Owensboro, Kentucky Messenger-Inquirer, he wrote: “…music histories say that Monroe, another self-taught musician, began following Shultz around to country dances as a 12-year-old in 1924. Historian Bill Malone says Monroe’s “first actual experience as a performer came when he accompanied the wellknown Negro guitarist and fiddler, Arnold Shultz, who played for country dances around Rosine.”
Bluegrass historian Steven Price notes that “Monroe . . . was particularly impressed by Shultz’s smooth transition between chords as well as his blues playing.”
While Monroe was studying Shultz’s techniques, other musicians were too. Mose Rager (1911-1986) of Drakesboro, KY, taught Merle Travis (who, like Monroe, is now a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame) to play the thumb-pick style on a guitar. Travis passed the style on to Chet Atkins, and millions of other pickers around the world picked it up from him. (Lawrence 1980)
“It’s sort of a subtle conversation because Arnold Shultz was known as both a fiddler and guitarist, and that’s where Bill Monroe’s story comes in. Other people that knew [Shultz] mentioned that he was the first guy they had ever heard that played lead guitar in the string band. And he played in a brilliant sort of guitar style; it was very fast, exciting, and something people had never seen before. There’s also a theory that he’s playing in a thumb style.”
Influencing many people with so many musical ideas for the previous decade has always been a part of black music, Flemons said. “I started teasing out ideas like, with Arnold Shultz, why do we have to relegate him to just string band music?”
Flemons described how Shultz traveled from Kentucky down to New Orleans and back doing seasonal work, and going to New Orleans, learning new bits of music and bringing that back to Kentucky. “And I noticed that going up that same river line, Louisville is part of the journey. He’s also stopping off in another urban center. From the early 20s to the early 30s, when Bill Monroe begins to record, there has been jug band music, great mandolin, and guitar duos. Thinking about those musicians being on record in the previous decade, I can’t help but think that Arnold Shultz has some aspect of that style. One of the things they mention is that he brought in passing chords, which are melodic and stitched together the 1-6-2-5 and the A7 chords into the counting that changed everything.”
Flemons points out that music, up to that point, was three chords, “and I think bringing Jazz instrumentation or just a little extra harmonic flavor made Arnold Shultz so special, as well as playing the blues and Bill Monroe’s music. I can only imagine that he brought in some flavoring of blues phrasing because Bill Monroe tends to do a lot of that.” He added that an easy tune with blues flavoring and syncopation into the mix is definitive in his style.
Was that part of Arnold Shultz’s legacy? Flemons has spoken to several people who wrote about Arnold Shultz, including Keith Lawrence, who probably wrote the most definitive article. “He met some of Arnold’s family members and spoke with them. They said [Shultz] was part of the string band growing up. They played with a fellow by the name of Tex Atchison, who played fiddle with a group called the Prairie Ramblers.”
The Prairie Ramblers backed up Patsy Montana (Rubye Rebecca Blevins) and also knew Arnold Shultz. They were kind of the foundation of western swing groups. “The convergence of popular records at that time coincided with Bill and Charlie Monroe being on the radio playing this new syncopation, which gets on a record and becomes a general national style,” said Flemons.
Recently Flemons launched a group to pay tribute to Arnold Shultz at IBMA. Both the tribute and the theme song written by Flemons were called Shultz’s Dream. “I decided
to write a song that would tell the story of Arnold Shultz.” It’s quite a story to tell about a very mysterious person who was known in the county as being a well-loved musician, he said, “but because he was African American, he was a second-class citizen who never really gets that whole recognition.”
Panel Discussion link on Arnold Shultz: https://www.facebook. com/kentuckyperformingarts/videos/arnold-shultz-godfather-ofbluegrass/285032576590849/
The 1980 Arnold Shultz article by Keith Lawrence link: https://bluegrassfoundation. org/2020/10/22/arnold-shultz-the-greatest-guitar-pickers-life-ended-before-promiserealized/
Read more about Tex Atchison: http://www.texatchison.com/
Bluegrass outfit Grasstime is excited to announce that after years of making a name for themselves, they’ll continue in a recent habit of teaming up with notable chart-topping performer Kristy Cox. They’ll tour together as Kristy Cox and Grasstime.
This change is a big one for them, and it’s clear why Cox wanted to take to the stage with Grasstime; they’re an accomplished bunch.
“In 2016, we started as one of the house bluegrass bands at the beautiful Arrington Vineyards in Franklin, Tennessee, that is located just out of Nashville and co-owned by Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn,” explained Grasstime guitarist and vocalist Robbie Morris. “So, 2022 was our eighth year there. Also, in 2022 we had our third appearance at Pickin on the Plaza, Bluegrass Thursday Nights at the Ryman Auditorium.”
“We are a different band now than when we started,” Morris continued, “as we have had various good friends do stints in the band over that time. Naturally, when that happens, the music changes slightly. We play a lot of the same tunes, but they can take on different grooves and drive. But Grasstime is known here in Nashville as a hard-driving, traditional bluegrass
Morris said jamming with Cox this past June became a “lightning rod moment.”
“It was super fun and easy,” he explained. “Kristy is so great, and we extended another 20 gigs playing throughout the rest of the year. Kristy then had us out for her official shoot of her Good Morning Moon video. We played a PBS special and the County Line festival up in Maine. Kristy was selected as an official Ramble artist at the IBMA annual conference, where we announced ourselves to the industry that we are playing together. We ended the year playing a fundraiser gig at the world-famous Station Inn and sang for a Christmas Eve service to end the year.”
“We did 65-plus gigs last year, so we were really blessed to work with a lot of amazing people and have a great and fun year,” he added.
In 2022, Grasstime recorded Sunflower, its second studio album.
“We worked with our good friend Charlie Chamberlain and recorded here in Nashville at the awesome Forty-One Fifteen owned by Dewey Boyd,” Morris said. “Each of those guys has amazing talents and great resumes. The stars aligned, and we were able to work with the fantastic, Grammy Award-winning David Glasser at Airshow Mastering.”
Morris described the group’s first real foray into recording; it was a great springboard and a fond memory.
“In 2015, we entered a competition put on by Dark Horse Studios, who, at that time, was the sound company for the Friends of Warner Parks, Full Moon Picking Party here in Nashville,” he said. “We won a $15,000 recording package with Dark Horse Studios in Franklin, Tennessee, and we released a self-titled CD in 2016. Then did another recording in 2022, and by the time this hits, we will have begun working on the next release.”
Morris said despite his bandmates all growing up in different places and coming from different “bluegrass roots,” he feels they all share a “common music bond.”
“We all found each other at the same time in life with similar interests in music and goals,
and we love playing good music,” he said.
Morris’s love for music started at home.
“Like many bluegrass pickers, I was lucky enough to grow up playing bluegrass music with my dad Hensel, my uncle Benny and an incredible WWII veteran named Homer who knew every bluegrass song ever written,” he reminisced.
His father played guitar, fiddle, and “a bit” of clawhammer banjo. His uncle played banjo. He said many other people he met along the journey also shaped him as a musician.
“In my case, I picked with many people that played different instruments in my early music developmental years,” he said.
An early passion was the banjo, and he got one at age seven or eight for Christmas.
“But guitar was essential to every picking circle I’ve been in since day one,” he said, “so that was also a natural draw for me.”
Morris is lucky to have parlayed that early interest into a lifetime of doing what he loves. That passion he and the band bring to the stage they will display at upcoming gigs, including a few notable appearances Morris wants to mention.
“We will be back at the Station Inn on April 27, and in August, we will be at Podunk Bluegrass Festival in Connecticut and The Mountaineer Opry in West Virginia,” he said. “We were asked last year to do several holiday-themed bluegrass shows in 2023, so we will start those in November and run through December. We will be announcing a lineup of more dates on the social media platforms soon.”
They’re excited to schedule dates as Kristy Cox & Grasstime, a partnership Morris said is “quickly becoming recognized for high, tight and soulful vocals with sweet multi-part harmonies, plus colorful and traditional hard-driving bluegrass music.”
“Each performance is filled with high-energy, traditional bluegrass music fun.”
From the dining room table passed down in his family for nearly two hundred years, Dick Spottswood surveys his computer monitors, microphones, turntables, and a mixer. His weekly radio show, The Dick Spottswood Show, is broadcast on Bluegrass Country, a station that started fifty years ago in Washington, DC, operated and funded by the Bluegrass Country Foundation. He calls the show, recorded in the TV room of his home in Pensacola, “The Obsolete Music Hour,” even though it runs for two hours. Listeners can expect to hear a variety of traditional styles that appeal to bluegrass devotees, from classic bluegrass to string bands, honkytonk, western swing, blues, and gospel, as well as old-world music and early jazz.
“I have had an affection for Hillbilly music that started in the early 1950s,” says Dick. He loved both King Oliver and Bill Monroe in equal doses. “Before that, I heard an album my much-older cousin brought home from college. It was 1948, and she played Bix Beiderbecke’s Royal Garden Blues. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before, and I liked it. The album jacket said ‘Jazz as it should be played,’ and I believed it.” Dick was fascinated with record players and all things mechanical and would listen to anything he could. “I first heard Hillbilly music when I heard the Harry Smith anthology of American folk music. It sounded prehistoric compared to the honkytonk hits I heard on AM radio.” The real turning point in Dick’s appreciation of bluegrass music was when he heard a Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs record at a party. “It was 1953, and I was a sophomore in high school. They were playing Foggy Mountain Breakdown, and it was different from any music I had ever heard.”
Dick began collecting records. “I saved my money and bought an album here and there.” He also did something unheard of. He would leave his family’s home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and go into outlying neighborhoods where he knocked on doors to ask if anyone had records they’d like to sell. His collection of rare, obscure, and mostly forgotten records began to grow. Dick’s taste in music leaned heavily on what he calls “down home” music. He sought out recordings in any language. He started a record label and reissued his collections of vernacular music on a series of albums produced for the Library of Congress. In 1990, the University of Indiana Press published his seven-volume Ethnic Music on Records: A Discography of Ethnic Recordings Produced in the United States, 1893 to 1942.
Dick first dipped his toe into radio waters in the early 1960s. He approached the local public broadcasting station in Washington, DC, and asked if they’d like to have a bluegrass show. “I was looking for a way to promote a little homegrown journal I had started in my basement in Wheaton, Maryland.” The journal, Bluegrass Unlimited, became a newsletter, and when the festival scene began to grow after 1965, the newsletter rode the tail of that explosion. “I remember having bluegrass parties once a month, and one of the activities at the parties was assembling the newsletter. They would be collated around the table, then stuffed into envelopes. It was a real cottage
The newsletter soon had over five hundred subscribers. “It became a magazine before we knew it. I was too involved in other things, and in 1970 I asked Pete Kuykendall if he would like to take it over. He quit his day job, and the rest is history.”
The little radio show became quite popular. “In the mid-1960s, the music on country radio stations out of DC, Northern Virginia, and Baltimore were all trending towards the Nashville sound. Program managers wouldn’t allow DJs to play bluegrass, so there was a need for a place for the music to be played.” The show gained an audience, and Dick said that he saw an increase in the attendance of concerts by bands like The Country Gentlemen and Seldom Scene.
Today Dick’s “media empire” sits neatly on the antique cloth-covered dining room table. “I come up with a playlist for each show. I play a little more ancient music that I think will be appealing to the people who like bluegrass. They seem to have wide temperaments. I play foreign music a lot, including Ukrainian music, not just because it’s timely, but because it’s really good, especially the fiddle bands.” Listeners to the show may also hear blues, calypso, and lots of Hank Snow paired with Faron Young and Johnny Cash. Today that’s called ‘classic country.’ I like to show how music evolves into something that seems memorable in our time and another generation or so it takes on classical music trappings.”
At age 85, Dick Spotswood is as busy as ever. He does his radio show weekly, aired four days a week on Bluegrass Country. “I don’t listen to music so much anymore, other than to get ready for my shows. I like strolling around by my duck pond; that helps me keep moving. And I am currently working on a set of music notes for a 1923 Ma Rainey collection. I am trying to be careful to represent a female angle. I also do a lot of song sleuthing. Did you know Janice Joplin recorded a Ma Rainey song?”
So what is his secret to staying so active? “I will be 86 in a few months. The way to keep going is to keep going and to play wonderful old records.”
Five Celebrity Chefs from the Appalachian Region
Celebrity chefs often host their cooking shows, competing against the clock and fellow chefs for prizes, bragging rights, and judging inspired dishes from home cooks and bakers.
While many of these chefs are located in major cities with easy access to some of the world’s best proteins and produce, others have more humble beginnings with roots in Appalachia that have shaped their culinary experiences.
These celebrity chefs hail from within the Appalachian region and are making appearances on the small screen:
Milton, West Virginia
Katie Lee Biegel, who also goes by Katie Lee, can be found on numerous Food Network shows, most notably as a co-host on “The Kitchen” along with Sunny Anderson, Jeff Mauro, Geoffrey Zakarian, and Alex Guarnaschelli.
Lee has also appeared as a judge on Beat Bobby Flay, Halloween Baking Championship, and Iron Chef America.
While she currently resides in The Hamptons, Lee grew up in Milton, West Virginia, using fresh vegetables from her grandpa’s garden and beef and pork from the family’s cattle and pig farms. She is known for her quick and healthy recipes.
Tyler Greenville,FlorenceSouth Carolina
Tyler Florence has been a presenter, host, or judge on Globe Trekker, Food 911 (a rapid rescue food show), How to Boil Water (a culinary show for beginner cooks), Worst Cooks in America, and currently hosts Tyler’s Ultimate (his signature series), The Great Food Truck Race and Bite Club on the Food Network.
His 15+ year career on the tv channel has seen him on various specials, including Planet Food, All American Festivals, and My Country, My Kitchen. Before becoming a professional chef, Florence grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, with a population of about 70,000, learning about southern food and cooking from his paternal grandmother, Edith Florence, affectionately known as “Florence Mamma.” He incorporates those southern roots into many of his dishes, which he credits as solidly American with international influences.
Justin Warner Hagerstown, Maryland
Justin Warner has appeared on a number of Food Network shows, including 24-Hour Restaurant Battle, Guy’s Grocery Games, Tournament of Champions, Cutthroat Kitchen, and more.
Most notably, Warner was the winner of Food Network Star’s eighth season, wherein Alton Brown mentored him.
Warner does not have formal culinary training, but he was inspired to cook by his father, who passed away a couple of years after Warmer graduated high school. He is known for his interesting and unique approach to flavors.
Jason Smith Grayson, Kentucky
Winning both the third season of the Holiday Baking Championship and Food Network Star, Season 13, Jason Smith made a name for himself after working as a school cafeteria cooking manager and caterer.
In addition to those roles, Smith has served as a judge on Best Baker in America and Worst Bakers in America. The self-taught chef and baker describes his cooking as down-home but elevated and budget-friendly. He is a crowd favorite with his bright, vibrant outfits and folksy Kentucky sayings.
Sean Brock Pound, Virginia
Sean Brock has been a revolutionary force in southern cuisine, landing on TV shows: PBS’ The Mind of a Chef, Netflix’s Chef’s Table, Food Network’s Iron Chef America, and more.
He has published two cookbooks and won James Beard Awards and published cookbooks. In 2010, Brock won the James Beard Award for Best Chef, Southeast, and is a four-time finalist for Outstanding Chef and a three-time finalist for Rising Star Chef. He currently owns and operates Nashville, Tennessee, based restaurants: Joyland, The Continental, and Audrey & June.
Brock dedicated his career to preserving southern and Appalachian culinary traditions and has led the way for future generations of chefs.
While each of these bakers had made a name for themselves on major network television, they all have backgrounds rooted in Appalachia, a region covering 423 counties across 13 states and spanning 206,000 square miles. With unique economic, social,
and many challenges based on location, the region’s 26.1 million residents live in parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and the entirety of West Virginia.
These chefs overcame hardships associated with their locations and used their upbringings to inform their future and power their careers.