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Music on the River

Article Published: May. 12, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Music on the River

Finger-style guitarist Bill Adams will perform at this year's RiverFest on June 4.

Photo submitted

To the staff of Appalachian Voices, the sound of a clean, flowing river is music to their ears.
When the Boone-based environmental advocacy group hosts its annual RiverFest June 4 in Valle Crucis, the Watauga River will have some musical accompaniment.

Along with river floating, barbecue (30 minutes afterward, of course), arts and crafts, games and more, the RiverFest features live music from area bluegrass outfit Upright & Breathin', old-time blues and country artist Bill Adams and students from the Watauga Arts Council's Junior Appalachian Musician Program.

But performances aren't limited to the stage, as folks are encouraged to bring their own instruments for some open pickin' and grinnin' under The Mountain Times Pickin' Parlor tent.
The music starts at 11 a.m. with Bill Adams, followed by the Junior Musicians at 1:15, and then Upright & Breathin' at 2 p.m., with the Pickin' Parlor open all throughout.

"I'm very excited about the lineup," festival coordinator Parker Stevens said. "These acts represent different styles of music from our region ... but will make you want to tap your feet, so be sure to bring your dancing shoes."

Bill Adams
It's no coincidence guitarist Bill Adams was asked to play at RiverFest.
His music, a decidedly unique blend of Piedmont blues and old-time country, flows very much like the festival's namesake.

Adams learned how to play guitar in the mid-1960s, but was introduced to finger-picking by his brother's friend. "He taught me the basic rudiments of how to finger-pick a guitar, using what they called alternating thumb technique, a characteristic of Piedmont blues," he said.

Adams likens the style to ragtime piano, with the bobbing left-hand melody. It wasn't until 10 years later that he started hearing performers play that old-style country blues, when it suddenly clicked. He didn't know it at the time, but he'd been playing the Piedmont style since childhood.

"As soon as I heard them ... I recognized the structure as something I already knew how to do," Adams said. "It was just a matter of learning a new body of material. So, that was the main focus of my music."

Though Adams has played country and pop along the way, he always returns to the country blues. He's also been interpreting old-time fiddle tunes into his own bluesy style. "It adds a new dimension to the fiddle tunes ... and it's made for some really challenging arrangements," he said.

Adams lives in Charlottesville, Va., where he hosts a radio show, "Walking Blues," on WTJE. Most importantly, he gets to do what he loves - preserve the past by keeping it new.

"Just being part of the stream that the tributaries feed into the main string of musical culture, down through the century," he said. "I do this sometimes for my radio shows ... play recordings chronologically ... and just watch how it picks up a thread, how it morphs and changes over time. It's about musical traditions."

To give Bill Adams a listen, visit

Watauga Junior Musicians
Led by Watauga Arts Council folklorist Mark Freed, the Junior Musicians Program invites area youth to learn the music that defines their region's history.

Participants are taught by local musicians to play a variety of instruments, including fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin and dulcimer, and then they're offered venues in which to perform publicly.

Lessons are held once a week at the Jones House Community Center in downtown Bo one, with the first session running May 26 to June 23, the second June 30 to July 28, and the third Aug. 4 to Sept. 1.

For more information, call Freed at (828) 264-1789 or e-mail

Upright & Breathin'
Sometimes, finding a good name is a band's hardest challenge.

For bluegrass stalwarts Upright & Breathin', the morning after a particularly rough night offered just the right inspiration - at least they were still upright and breathin'.

And they've been doing it for five years, performing Appalachian bluegrass and what mandolin player Jeff Moretz calls mountain gypsy jazz.

"We've gone from simple bluegrass to more intricate songs with more depth and a lot of variety," Moretz said.

This is due to the band's diverse skillset. Featuring Moretz on mandolin and lead vocals, Brian Kreher on banjo, dobro and backup vocals, Chris Capozzoli on guitar, and Kim France on bass, each member brings a unique background that contributes to the band's unmistakable sound.
Moretz, for instance, used to paly electric guitar in a rock band, while Capozzoli is a jazz fan. France performs with bluegrass favorites Boss Hawg (as do Moretz and Kreher on occasion). "We each brought those individual influences together to make that sound and pick those songs," Moretz said.

Though Upright & Breathin' performs plenty of standards, much of the group's music is original material, and Moretz said listeners can expect a good sample at RiverFest.

To hear a sample in advance, visit

The second annual RiverFest is scheduled for Saturday, June 4, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

For more information, to volunteer or enquire about booth space, call Stevens at (828) 262-1500 or e-mail ( For more on Appalachian Voices, visit

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