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The Sundown Blues

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Article Published: Aug. 15, 2013 | Modified: Aug. 18, 2013
The Sundown Blues

Bluesman John Dee Holeman will perform Aug. 17 at the Blue Ridge Music Center.

Photo by Jimmy Williams

On Saturday, Aug. 17, master musicians will converge at the Blue Ridge Music Center in Galax, Va., and perform blues of the Piedmont and beyond at the special Sundown Blues concert.

Performers include three top bluesmen from North Carolina, including legendary 84-year-old guitarist and singer John Dee Holeman, step-dancer extraordinaire Williette Hinton and ace guitarist and singer Lightnin’ Wells.

John Dee Holeman was born in rural Orange County, N.C., in 1929. At age 14, he began singing the blues and picking the guitar, learning from older Piedmont blues musicians who had learned directly from master bluesman Blind Boy Fuller.

By his mid-teens, Holeman was performing for pay at house parties, community celebrations, corn shuckings and pig pickings near his home. When he moved to Durham in 1954, he began to incorporate more modern, electrified blues into his rural acoustic style.

Holeman has toured extensively in the United States and abroad, appearing at Carnegie Hall, in North Carolina’s “Black Folk Heritage Tour” and internationally with the U.S. Information Agency’s Arts America Program.

In 1988, he received a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage fellowship, the nation’s highest honor for a traditional artist. He was also honored with a Folk Heritage award by his home state of North Carolina in 1994.

In recent years, Holeman has become a Music Maker Foundation artist, releasing three albums on its label. On his 80th birthday in 2009, his many friends presented him with a new electric guitar, which they say has helped his master blues stylings and expressive voice sound as fresh as ever.

“Before his back got too stiff,” as he says, Holeman would occasionally set down his guitar and show off his buck-dancing skills. Buck dance is a traditional Appalachian freestyle solo dance style with roots in Africa and Europe, particularly the British Isles, which emphasizes percussive rhythms created by the heel and toe. A precursor of tap, buck dance was popularized by minstrel performers in the late 19th century. Often playfully competitive, it has long been a feature of rural dances and house parties.

Willette Hinton is a buck dancer who hails from the North Carolina Piedmont, and his style of buckdancing reflects his regional heritage. Hinton learned to dance from his mother, Algia Mae Hinton, a country blues musician and dancer, who, like her son, believes that music and dance are inseparable.

Lightnin’ Wells breathes new life into the vintage tunes of the 1920s and Depression-era America and has been performing for more than 30 years at almost every festival, camp and blues venue in the country. He has a vast repertoire of songs, is an avid researcher and an accomplished guitar, harmonica, uke and banjo player.

Wells will also lead a free ukulele workshop from 5 to 6 p.m., and those interested should call the Blue Ridge Music Center at (276) 236-5309 to reserve a spot.

The Sundown Blues concert starts at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. Tickets cost $10 for general admission, and children 12 and younger are admitted free. Those attending are encouraged to bring a picnic, blanket or lawn chairs. Alcohol and pets are not allowed. All ticket sales support the Blue Ridge Music Center’s daily free programs and non-profit traditional music concert series.

Advance tickets are also available online at or by calling (276) 236-5309, extension 112.

The Blue Ridge Music Center hosts main stage concerts through Sept. 15 in the outdoor amphitheater at the foot of Fisher Peak. For a complete schedule, visit

The center also hosts its free Mid-Day Mountain Music Series daily from noon to 4 p.m., and its free Roots of American Music museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Blue Ridge Music Center is located at milepost 213 on the Blue Ridge Parkway,10 miles from Galax, Va., and 20 miles from Mt. Airy.

Upcoming Events

Aug. 24, 7 p.m. – Bluegrass Gospel: Travis Frye & Blue Mountain, Gospel Plowboys
Aug. 31, 7 p.m. – Virginia Stringbands: The Wolfe Brothers and Skeeter & The Skidmarks
Sept. 15, 3 p.m. – Close Kin: Sammy Shelor and Linday Lay, Kirk Sutphin, New Ballards Branch Bogtrotters

About the Blue Ridge Music Center

The Blue Ridge Music Center celebrates the music and musicians of the Blue Ridge. Established by the U.S. Congress in 1985, the site includes an outdoor amphitheater and indoor interpretive center. The site is operated through a partnership between the National Park Service and the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation. The center and museum are open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, from May through October.

About the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation

The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, under a cooperative agreement with the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior, is the primary fundraiser and trusted steward of the Blue Ridge Parkway. For more information, visit

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