Dance proves it’s good to be square
Strains of old time music and laughter could be heard echoing out of the Museum Annex Saturday night.
Long-time square dancers and novices alike took to the floor for a do-si-do or a promenade or two during the Old Time Square Dance to benefit the Surry Old Time Fiddler’s Convention. BackStep and the Mountain Park Old Time Band helped set the right mood for square dancing, flatfooting and old-fashioned fun while Caller Carol Thompson kept folks dancing in the right direction.
“BackStep is a local band that plays Round Peak Style,” said Buck Buckner, one of the organizers of the event. “The Mountain Park Old Time Band is well loved all around. They have quite a following.”
“We came to hear BackStep and just the music in general,” said Holly Hood.
“I came to hear the music. I really enjoy both of these bands,” said Nina Pinto.
Saturday night’s square dance was a continuation of the square dance held on the Friday night of the Fiddler’s Convention held earlier this year and something organizers hope will become a tradition. The Surry Old Time Fiddler’s Convention had its inaugural event on the Surry Community College campus last spring with the second annual event scheduled for 2011.
“We wanted to keep the flow going because at the Surry Old Time Fiddler’s Convention on Friday night we had a dance. We want to keep that on people’s minds,” said Buckner. “There is a dance tradition in this county and we want to keep that on the forefront and also sponsor music from this county.”
More experienced dancers went out of their way to instruct those with less experience with Thompson often taking a few minutes before calling a new dance to explain some of the basic steps. By teaching the next generation the basics of square dancing, organizers and attendees alike hope to see the tradition continue.
“I like flatfooting and square dancing,” said Pinto of why she attended the event. “It’s especially important for the younger generation. There’s an entire square of young people out there now and that’s great.”
Sylvia Lowry attended the event with her daughter who brought her two young children.
“My daughter and I love to go to square dances and we haven’t been in a long time,” she said. “I just love to square dance and listen to old time music. I’d love to take (my grandkids) to one every Friday night. That’s what I really should do.”
“I’m learning to square dance. This is my third time out,” said Mary Coerver. “I love the people here and dancing and flatfooting at festivals.”
For David and Holly Hood, it was an outing to practice their square dancing skills together. David plays old time music in a band so he is usually unable to dance with Holly.
“We’re learning. She really likes square dancing a lot,” said David. “Since I’m not playing we get to dance together tonight.”
The music and dancing were not the only tie-ins to the fiddler’s convention. The Museum Annex was decorated with handmade quilts which was the theme of the fiddler’s convention.
“At the fiddler’s convention, the backdrop to the stage was quilting because we wanted to tie into that community tradition as well,” said Buckner.
All of the proceeds from Saturday night’s dance will go to support the next fiddler’s convention. The Surry County Tourism Development Authority, Yadkin Valley Chamber of Commerce, Dobson Tourism Development Authority and Surry Community College collaborated to organize last year’s event.
Surry Old Time Fiddlers Convention: Press
Celebrating A Local Art
ROUND PEAK: SOURCE OF A STYLE OF PLAYING
Lyle Mitchell of Winston-Salem sat in the sunshine yesterday at Surry Community College, picking the song "Chilly Winds" in the Round Peak clawhammer style on banjo.
He was there for the beginning of a new music festival, the Surry Old Time Fiddlers Convention, but was also close to the place where the music he was playing had its beginnings.
The Round Peak style began in an area near a round mountain northwest of Mount Airy, said festival workshop leader Nick McMillian, whose grandfather Dix Freeman was a player.
The Round Peak style was usually played on a fretless banjo, and featured more notes and less frailing or brush strokes, than some other styles of Old Time music.
Back then, when travel was so difficult, musical stylings varied greatly from region to region.
"If you went 10 miles down the road, the music was completely different," said McMillian.
He's been to Washington and other places to tell people about this music with roots in Surry County, which has a large Old Time music scene.
The first Surry Old Time Fiddlers Convention offered an intimate, friendly setting where children and old- timers played for fun or competed in contests featuring guitar, banjo, fiddle and dance.
There were about 110 or so players in the adult contests and 17 bands, but the youth dance contest featured just one entrant, the enthusiastic Jordan Daniel Roten, 10, of Ennis.
"I got first, second and third!" Jordan told his mother, Kathy Poindexter, as he threw his arms in the air. He learned how to clog in Alleghany County through the Junior Appalachian Musicians program.
In the youth fiddle contest, Daniel Greeson's fingers danced on the lively Old Time tune "Angeline the Baker."
Daniel, a 12-year-old student at Greensboro's Aycock Middle School and a regular in music festival competitions, won first place and the $50 prize, among six entrants.
He's been playing 6½ years, more than half his life.
"I just always wanted to play an instrument and I thought the fiddle was pretty cool," he said. "It didn't have frets and to me it looked like the hardest instrument out there at the time."
The Old Time music of the Appalachians has its roots in the even-older-time music of the British Isles. Michael and Donna Fox of Catawba County paid homage to that heritage with a rendition of "Scotland the Brave."
She was competing in the variety category on the bodhran, an Irish hand-drum, and he played the tune on a 3-string banjo he built himself. Fox loves the clawhammer style, and found that it lends itself to another instrument he makes called the dulcijo, a combination of a dulcimer and banjo. (He just sold one to someone in New Zealand, through his dulcijo.com Web site.)
Out on the bench in the sun, Mitchell practiced his Round Peak style of clawhammer.
He plays an open-back banjo that lacks the resonator that produces a louder volume on some banjos. He also employed the common tricks of stuffing a sock in the back of the banjo to dampen the sound even more and picking the strings near where the neck meets the body of the banjo.
"It gives it a little more wooden tone and softer," he said.
Chris Knopf, the assistant Surry County manager for economic development and tourism, said that about 900 to 1,000 people attended the festival, coming and going through Friday and yesterday. In the weeks to come, organizers will evaluate how it went and the economic impact, but already believe the festival was successful enough to make it a regular thing.
"I don't think there's any doubt we'll do it again," he said.
McMillian said that the focus of the festival will remain on the people who play.
"For us we wanted to do it mainly for the musicians, getting them good prize money and letting them come to a festival and be free about letting people play whatever they have to offer," he said.
March 20, 2014
DOBSON — Organizers of the Surry Old Time Fiddlers Convention focus on the genre of old-time music, but understand the importance of reaching younger generations.
The long-standing tradition of old-time music has been kept alive by those who pass on the love and the knowledge of the music, and in order to continue the culture and heritage, they say this must continue. With that in mind, youth involvement is the focus at this year's old-time fiddlers convention, which is set to take place on March 28 and March 29 at Surry Community College in Dobson.
“We want to make sure traditional music of this area is carried on through the generations and does not become an archaic, forgotten form,” said event organizer Buck Buckner. “Our goal is to host a community-engaged event tying all ages together so older residents share with the youth.”
Now in its fifth year, the Surry Old Time Fiddlers Convention includes a Friday-night dance on March 28 with three bands, and on Saturday the day is full of jam sessions and music competitions, with multiple workshops led by expert artists renowned in the old-time music world.
The Friday-night dance replicates the atmosphere of evenings across the region where people gather in homes and community buildings for music, dancing, socializing, and fellowship. This year's Friday-night bands playing for the dance are Mountain Park Old Time Band, Slate Mountain Ramblers and Back-Step.
Day-long fiddle, banjo, guitar, twin fiddle, folk song, and dance competitions are the highlight of Saturday's activities. Band competitions begin at 6 p.m.
Prizes are awarded in youth and adult divisions for all competitions.
Saturday also features four tap workshops. Noted fiddler Eddie Bond of Virginia hosts the fiddle workshop, and award-winning NPR personality and Surry County native Paul Brown holds a banjo workshop. Guitar virtuoso Chester McMillian of Surry County oversees the guitar workshop. Well-known dancer Dr. Mark Handy presents the dance workshop.
Food is available all day on Saturday at the Knight's Grill dining hall on the Surry Community College campus. Luthiers will have their instruments on display in the dining hall as well.
The fiddlers convetion will also feature cake walks, a quilt raffle, and a 50/50 cash drawing.
The Surry Old Time Fiddlers Convention will be held from 7 to 11 p.m. on March 28 and from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on March 29. The fiddlers convention is open to the public on both days. Admission is $5 each day, with children age 12 and under admitted free. Competition contestants are admitted for free on Saturday.
The Surry Old Time Fiddlers Convention is a partnership between Surry Community College, Surry Economic Development and Tourism, Surry County Tourism Development Authority, Dobson Tourism Development Authority, and the Yadkin Valley Chamber of Commerce.
For more information about the fiddlers convention, call 877-999-8390 or go to www.surryoldtime.com.
The musical heritage of the region was on display at the fifth-annual Surry Old Time Fiddlers Convention, held at Surry Community College on Friday and Saturday.
The long-standing tradition of old-time music has been kept alive by those who pass on the love and the knowledge of the music, and in order to continue the culture and heritage, organizers of the Surry Old Time Fiddlers Convention said this must continue. With that in mind, youth involvement was the focus at this year’s convention.
Friday night kicked off the event with a dance featuring three bands — Slate Mountain Ramblers, Mountain Park Old Time Band, and Back-Step. The atmosphere of the dance was meant to replicate the afternoons and evenings across the region where people would gather in homes and community buildings for music, dancing, fellowship, and socializing. Saturday was full of jam sessions in multiple buildings on the SCC campus, as well as the competition in fiddle, banjo, guitar, twin fiddle, folk song, and dance, for youth and adults. Band competitions were held on Saturday night.
Saturday also featured four workshops. Noted fiddler Eddie Bond of Virginia hosted the fiddle workshop, and award-winning NPR personality and Surry County native Paul Brown held a banjo workshop. Guitar virtuoso Chester McMillian of Surry County led the guitar workshop and dancer Dr. Mark Handy presented the dance workshop. Luthiers displayed instruments in the dining hall, where participants and those in attendance enjoyed chowing down on home-cooked food at Knight’s Grill. The fiddlers convention also featured cake walks, a quilt raffle, and two 50/50 cash drawings.
Brown, who recently moved back to the area after retiring from NPR News, taught a banjo workshop on Saturday afternoon. The former WPAQ station manager was joined by his wife of 27 years, Terry McMurray, along with assistant John Schwab — all members of The Mostly Mountain Boys. Brown gave details of time he spent learning from legendary Surry County musician Tommy Jarrell. Brown launched into what he said was a local version of the tune “Cripple Creek,” which he shared was one of the “best-known tunes out there” and one that no two musicians will play alike, adding that the differences are a “very good thing.” “You should have your own identity,” Brown said. “I learned it (“Cripple Creek”) the way Tommy Jarrell played it.” Brown went on to say that Jarrell was one of the most influential musicians in old-time music, a Round Peak-style musician who lived in the Toast community. “People in the Round Peak area got together and they had an elevated level of vitality and intensity to their style of music. It was in the early part of the 20th century…the right group of people showed up at the right time and we really had a moment. They developed their own style of music, language, and culture — and managed to hang on to it through most of the 20th century and through World War II.”
Brown said that Surry County was different after World War II — it changed from a rural, farming community to a more modern, globally-aware culture. “Life really changed around Surry County, but in the Pine Ridge area, they kept playing and singing in that style.” Many folklorists and song collectors traveled around in the region, Brown said, during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s — recording the music of the region and collecting songs that were unique to the area, lugging heavy machines that recorded discs of music. For some reason, the song collectors did not cross the mountains and come down to Surry County, so for the most part, the unique musical heritage and traditions of the region remained a secret until around the 1960s. “Mike Seeger [son of Pete Seeger] even told me he was in Mount Airy in 1955, looking for Larry Richardson, a bluegrass player, and he didn’t find him, but he never ran into Tommy Jarrell either.” Seeger would later visit Surry County in the 1960s and can sometimes still be found jamming with the musicians at local fiddlers conventions.
Fred Cockerham, Kyle Creed, Earnest East, Robert Sykes, Benton Flippen — all were playing unique styles of old-time music in this region, but they were not known to the general public until the 1960s, when people began to travel to this area to absorb the music and the style now known around the world. “People were looking for something new in the 1960s…and some of us were also looking to preserve what we had,” Brown said. “We discovered this unusually-welcoming person in Tommy Jarrell, and the rest is history…I still believe it was a bunch of coincidences that came together at the right time.” Jarrell was celebrated for his fiddle playing, Brown said, but he was known for playing the banjo and often used any string as the “drum string.”
“When you watched him play his hand did an interesting motion, back and forth on the banjo…he picked out individual notes rather than just strumming.” He said his tuning was different as well, what some may call out of tune, but with Jarrell it worked well. “It was the most brilliant thing I’ve ever seen…” Brown said, pulling out his fretless banjo made by Kyle Creed, one that Jarrell played for a while in the 1980s. “Tommy said he played music like a great big wheel, and he always said ‘it’s got to have a whine to it.’ He moved my fingers until I got it right: ‘It’s too close to being in tune,’ he said. ‘Now there, you hear that, you’ve got to have a whine to it,’” Brown said of time spent learning Jarrell’s style of banjo. “It’s the little tonalities that made the music what it was, those in-between notes.”
Another mentor Brown worked with was Benton Flippen, who he said was a “singular human being and a singular musician…he loved the old-time ways and his music had an old repertoire and old-time drive, but some newer influences…a post-war sound.” “What it is was brilliant,” Brown shared, describing the musical heritage of Surry County.
Reach Jessica Johnson at 719-1933 and on Twitter @MoutnAiryJess.