Friday, May 25, 2012

"Do You Have it with You?"

Beginning in early May, the Blue Ridge Music Center (milepost 213 on the Blue Ridge Parkway) schedules mid-day performances by local musicians and bands five days a week. From Memorial Day to the end of summer, these performances are held seven days a week.

On this day the Mountain Music Makers with Clarence (photo #3 below) and Bobbi Roberts (right) performed.

The performances are informal and run from noon until 4 pm. They are held in a breezeway at the Center, which is a Visitors Center, museum, and gift shop.

Travelers who are journeying down the Blue Ridge Parkway can stop for a few moments or longer to listen to old-time or bluegrass musicians and interact with the performers in between songs.

The Mountain Music Makers have been playing old-time music together since 1967. Clarence plays the fiddle, guitar, dulcimer and dobro. He is also a luthier who builds the same instruments he plays, as well as autoharps, which Bobbi plays. Bobbi also plays the old-time banjo. Clarence is also a songwriter.

The musicians were joined in song by this visitor. Its singing was prolonged enough for all of us to glance up in admiration.

Between songs, interactions involved asking visitors about their hometowns. One conversation went:

"We're from Staunton (VA)."

"Home of the Statler Brothers."

"That's right."

"Do you play any instruments?"

"Yes. Bass."

Then came an interesting question: "Do you have it with you?" followed by a slight laugh.

And an even more interesting answer: "Yes."

We learned that this gentleman brought his string bass in order to join jams in the area, so his traveling with his bass was not as unusual as it sounded to those of us in the rows of chairs.

So with the bass added to the two autoharps and guitar, the group provided an enjoyable perfor-mance.

On our second visit, we arrived for the Sugarloaf Mountain Band's perfor-mance and saw members of the Search and Rescue team setting up a staging area behind the Music Center. Clearly, it was a drill because there seemed to be an emphasis on establishing the procedure, including bringing in a couple of dogs, rather than sending out large number of personnel to cover the large wooded area.

The Sugarloaf Mountain Band was formed by friends who became acquainted at the jam sessions in Mount Airy, NC, and is named after the Sugarloaf Mountain located in nearby Lambsburg, VA.

The band plays a variety of music and has a unique sound due to the style of banjo which has both old-time and bluegrass characteristics. Band members reside in the local region and have varied backgrounds in music.

I continue to be impressed with the skill of the washtub bass players. Some become the showpiece of a song, but most players are content to provide the foundation notes for the band's numbers and to do it with a degree of nonchalance.

At one point, Sugarloaf was joined by this bird. It was singing its own familiar sound with such verve that bordered on a threat.

Several birds find the breezeway a convenient, safe winter haven.
So when the spring midday music program begins, the "resi-dents" are not too happy with having to give up their peaceful habitat to "noisy intruders."

Our feathered friend seemed to be showing off with this maneuver of seeming to turn its head 180 degrees.

During Sugarloafs performance three individuals joined the original group. One of these guests was this woman, who, we think, was known to the band. Her strong voice added some depth to three songs the band played.

The Buck Mountain Band provided the music on our third visit to the Center. The group takes its name from the mountain in Grayson County near the home of Bob (fiddle) and Sue Taylor (guitar), the band's founders--some 40 or 50 years ago.

After each selection, the members would talk about the song's history, characteristics of old-time music, of the culture of the area.

Willard Gayheart, an accomplished guitarist and pencil artist, was the lead performer on our fourth visit. Mr. Gayheart is from Hazard, Ky., but he’s lived in the Galax, VA, area since 1962 and says he’s “took root now--be hard to get rid of me.” Talking with him about any topic related to the music and culture of Appalchia is like talking to your grandfather. There is a smile on his face and in his eyes that says there is nothing he would rather be doing that talking with you. He is a very young 80.

He was joined by Harold Blevins who often plays with his friend Willard at the Heritage Shop in Woodlawn.

The setting in the hills of Appalachia, combined with musicians who enjoy playing the music of their culture and sharing their knowledge with visitors, makes for many enriching afternoons.

(Information on the performers was obtained from

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