Home Arts & Entertainment Appalachian Christmas: The strains and the strings of the season

Appalachian Christmas: The strains and the strings of the season

By David Rogers. December 14, 2019. BOONE, NC — Mountain music, Appalachian style, carries an inherent sensitivity to the human condition. While knee-slappin’ joyous at one extreme, a next song can suddenly be plaintive, even forlorn — but all of it beautiful to take in.

All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News

Jewel (left) and Carolina Magee sing a duet with husband and father Bill Magee (right) among the instrumentalists accompanying them with the Silver String Dulcimer Band.

That was certainly the case Friday night at Grace Lutheran Church in Boone. A near-capacity crowd enjoyed Joe Shannon’s Mountain Home Music’s “Appalachian Christmas” concert in benefit of Hospitality House and Santa’s Toy Box.

While the concert was free to attend, offering plates passed among the crowd — resulted in what the organizers later announced to be more than $1,700 in monies raised for the charitable causes.

The program featured a number of local and regional artists performing one or two songs. It was as varied as the performers.

The JAM Kids were a hit, representing the future of “old-time” mountain heritage music.

The Silver String Dulcimer Band kicked things off. The group featured long-time Blowing Rock residents (and former Dulcimer Shop owners) Bill and Jewel Magee, along with their band partners Sarah Borders and Tom Pace. A special treat of their segment was when the Magees’ daughter, Caroline, joined Jewel in a vocal duet while the dulcimers and guitar played in the background.

Of course, seasonal (holiday) songs were the order of the night throughout the evening. Debra Jean Sheets and her daughter, Kelly Sheets Snider did not disappoint in that regard with their vibrant harmonies.

Youth Movement: Preserving Tradition

One of the special moments of the evening was when the so-called JAM Kids took the stage to perform two songs. JAM Kids are members of the advanced, old-time music classes that meet each Thursday at the Jones House in Boone. They played various instruments, from banjo and guitar to a trio of fiddlers.  The JAM Kids also sang while playing with an accomplished flair.

Rodney Sutton, left, flies across the floor to the tunes supplied by Trevor McKenzie, Aaron Ratliff, and Brandon Holder

The evening included a performance by Mary Greene, who has been a part of Joe Shannon’s Mountain Home Music since its beginning some 26 years ago. She was a close personal friend of the late Joe Shannon, the organization’s namesake, and plays the lap dulcimer, guitar, and piano.

A young trio that included Trevor McKenzie, Aaron Ratliff, and Brandon Holder energized the crowd. All members of the Little Stony Nighthawks band, the multi-instrumentalist trio played traditional Appalachian music.

A highlight of the trio’s set came when Rodney Sutton, Executive Director of Joe Shannon’s Mountain Home Music transitioned from the evening’s emcee to performer. He dazzled the crowd when showing off his world-renowned clogging skills.

A Finale Featuring WOWmanship

The audience was sent home with some high-energy, foot-stompin’ fare that included a Mountain Home Music mainstay, David Johnson. A two-time, Studio Musician of the Year Award recipient, Johnson was in the first class of musicians, in 2008, to be inducted into the prestigious Blue Ridge Music Hall of fame along with Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Dolly Parton, Tommy Jarrell, Wayne Henderson, and the Carter Family, among others.

Johnson’s group also included another Blue Ridge Hall of Fame inductee, Eric Ellis (inducted in 2009), and Sutton.

Earlier this year, Sutton was one of nine people selected to receive a first-ever Folk & Traditional Arts “Master Artists Fellowship,” presented by South Arts. An Atlanta-based organization, South Arts works in partnership with state arts agencies. Those state include Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Sutton used his fellowship monies to go to Ireland earlier this year to study the Irish step-dance equivalent to flat-footing.

Mountain Home Music has another, even bigger concert in store for the High Country, “Celtic Christmas,” on December 21st. It is at 7:30 pm, at the new Appalachian Theatre of the High Country. For more information, CLICK HERE.

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