Traditional Mountain Music at Jones House Friday
The Blue Ridge Parkway has 469 miles of tradition.
In celebration of its 75th anniversary, the Watauga Arts Council (WAC) is showcasing mountain tradition at its Concert on the Lawn this Friday.
Held at the Jones House Community Center in downtown Boone, this particular concert highlights both music and storytelling, featuring banjo player Rick Ward, storyteller Orville Hicks, dulcimer champion Lonnie Ward and, possibly, a special appearance by Rosa and Ted Hicks, the wife and son of late storytelling legend Ray Hicks.
"Everybody thinks of traditional music being bluegrass and old-time string band music, the kind of stuff you'd hear at the Jones House on a Thursday night (jam)," WAC folklorist Mark Freed said.
"But really, the local traditional music is homemade dulcimers, fretless mountain-style banjos, ballad singing and Jack tales. Those traditions thrived in Beech Mountain."
Freed acknowledged that such art forms aren't typically celebrated or found on stage, so he sees this Friday's concert as a prime opportunity to do just that. Friday's performers are steeped in tradition, from the tales they spin to the music they weave - every word and note unique to the region in which they live.
Such is the case with Rick Ward, who plays banjo in "double-knock style," a method he learned from his grandfather, Tab Ward, and that's completely unique to his family.
"It's a perfect representation of ... what's traditional around here," Freed said. "When radio and recordings came along, people would play everything the same way. Before that, you had these families and individuals who had their own way of playing these instruments."
Not three-finger, clawhammer, bluegrass or old-time style, double-knock banjo is something completely different. In fact, even Ward had trouble describing it. "Double-knock is a lot different than bluegrass picking and clawhammer ... it's got a lot of stuff going on," he said.
Raised in Valle Crucis, he learned by watching his grandfather play ballads. When Tab grew ill, young Ward stepped up his practicing.
"I didn't get serious about it till I was 16 and grandpa had passed away," he said. "These are old ballads that have been passed down through the family. The stuff I play pretty much comes off Beech Mountain tradition."
His banjo also comes from tradition. Tab was an instrument maker, and the banjo Ward plays is one that his late grandfather started to build. It was left unfinished until Ward and his father found it in Tab's workshop and took it upon themselves to complete.
The banjo might have no frets, but it comes with three generations of musicianship.
"I still like that one best," said Ward, who built his first banjo at 12. "It's got the best sound. Made out of cherry and maple, the wood is so old it just makes such a really good sound."
Folks can hear it for themselves not only Friday, but also on a new album released by Ward through a grant from the N.C. Arts Council. Called Keeping the Tradition, the album features what Freed called "a great interpretation of Rick's banjo playing and ballad singing," as well as a 24-page illustrated booklet. It's available for sale at the Jones House, located at 604 W. King St., and Appalachian Music Shoppe, located at 324 N.C. 105 Ext, No. 2, in Boone.
In addition to performing music, Ward said he'd also tell some stories, in keeping with the evening's program, which entails storytelling from Orville Hicks and music from Lonnie Ward.
Should Rosa and Ted Hicks attend, audience members could be treated to Rosa's ballads and Ted's own colorful stories, Freed said.
"It will be a very special opportunity to have some non-regular performing tradition bearers, as well as more seasoned performers," Freed said.
The free concert starts at 5 p.m. on Friday, June 25, at the Jones House. Audience members are encouraged to bring their own chairs or blankets. The Concerts on the Lawn series is sponsored by Watauga Insurance Agency Inc., Mast General Store, the Downtown Boone Development Association, Footsloggers and Panera Bread.
This particular concert is sponsored by an anonymous donor, in memory of Freed's late daughter, Elsa Winter Freed.
For more information on Concerts on the Lawn, visit http://www.watauga-arts.org.