Struthers shines on ‘Carnival’

By Jeff Eason (

Article Published: Feb. 14 | Modified: Feb. 14
Struthers shines on ‘Carnival’

If you’ve ever listened to WNCW-FM’s weekly radio show, “Going Across the Mountain,” you probably have a good idea what pure traditional bluegrass sounds like.

Bluegrass purists (like WNCW radio host Dennis Jones) insist that bands in the genre utilize only five different instruments: upright acoustic bass, guitar, fiddle, banjo and fiddle. They also insist that the banjo be played in the rolling, three-finger picking style made famous by Earl Scruggs.

If it doesn’t have those attributes, it’s not real bluegrass, the purists say.

One of the things that makes MerleFest different from a lot of music festivals is its joyful embrace of bands that defy easy categorization. Over the years, genre-busting bands, such as The Avett Brothers, the Belleville Outfit and Larkin Poe, have utilized the festival as a launching pad of sorts, catapulting them to national prominence.

One band poised for that sort of success at this spring’s MerleFest throw-down is Nora Jane Struthers and the Party Line. The band will perform on a number of MerleFest stages on Saturday and Sunday, April 26 and 27.

Nora Jane Struthers and the Party Line features Struthers on guitar and vocals, P.J. George on upright acoustic bass, Joe Overton on banjo, Aaron Jonah Lewis on fiddle and Drew Lawhorn on drums. All the members of the Party Line provide stellar backing and harmony vocals.

After releasing a solo album in 2010, Struthers followed that up last year with “Carnival,” her first true album as a bandleader.

“When you go to a carnival, you go into a sideshow tent, and on every stage you find a different person with a different story,” Struthers said. “That’s why I’m trying to do with this album — craft vignettes and, in some cases, more developed narratives about imaginary people’s lives.”

Struthers’s strength as a songwriter shines on “Carnival,” with a near-equal dependence on lyrics and music. Lyrically, she writes with the grace of a polished short story writer, with a keen eye for character, dialogue and place. Musically, she is comfortable writing at a variety of tempi and in a broad spectrum of styles, including old-time, traditional country, modern country, bluegrass and folk.

Live appearances Nora Jane Struthers and the Party Line will perform a number of live shows in Western North Carolina over the next few months.

The band will perform at Isis Restaurant and Music Hall in Asheville on Saturday, March 1. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door, and the show begins at 9 p.m.

On Friday, March 7, the band will perform at the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame at the Wilkes Heritage Museum in Wilkesboro. The time of the show has yet to be determined.

The band will also perform at MerleFest on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro on Saturday and Sunday, April 26 and 27. Stage schedules have yet to be announced, but the band will perform as part of Saturday night’s all-star Midnight Jam at the Walker Center.

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