September 2021 - The Birthplace of Country Music
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The Root of It: Brad Kolodner on Clyde Davenport

Radio Bristol is excited to share “The Root of It,” a series connecting today’s influential musicians to often lesser known and sometimes obscure musicians of the early commercial recording era. The sounds and musicians we hear today on platforms like Radio Bristol can often be traced back to the sounds of earlier generations. What better way to discover these connections than to talk to the musicians themselves about some of the artists that have been integral in shaping their music? These influences, though generally not household names, continue to inspire those who dig deep to listen through the scratches and noise of old 78s, field recordings, and more, finding nuances and surprises that inevitably lead them on their own unique musical journeys.

For this installment of “The Root of It,” we spoke with renowned old-time mover-and-shaker Brad Kolodner. Based in Baltimore, Maryland, Brad is an accomplished banjo player, broadcaster (Folk Alley, Bluegrass Country, and Radio Bristol), and event coordinator (Baltimore Old Time Music Festival) who has made a name for himself within the roots music community by taking home ribbons at prestigious fiddler’s conventions like Clifftop and touring with bands Charm City Junction and Ken and Brad Koldner. His recent project Chimney Swifts marks a new chapter for Brad – it’s his first solo album to date and has released to widespread critical acclaim. Brad spoke to us about his love for the nuances of crooked fiddle tunes, pointing to the great Kentucky fiddler Clyde Davenport as being a major inspiration.

Image shows a white man standing on stage. He has brown hair, blue eyes, and a short brown beard. He is wearing a pink short-sleeved shirt and holds a big round gourd banjo. The stage lights behind him are a purple color.
Old-time musician Brad Kolodner performing on his Pete Ross Gourd tackhead banjo.

Brad Kolodner:

Old-time musicians from the past have a tendency to take on somewhat of a mythical quality in our shared reverence of their contributions to the genre. Kentucky fiddler Clyde Davenport is one of those mythical figures in my mind whose influence spreads far and wide across the old-time music landscape. The tune “Five Miles from Town” is one of the most well-known tunes sourced to his fiddling. In fact, it was the very first “crooked” tune I tried to learn (more on what “crooked” means in a sec). I recall hearing the tune on a 2010 recording by The Pearly Snaps, an Ithaca, New York-based old-time duo featuring Rosie Newton and Stephanie Jenkins. I was just getting into playing clawhammer banjo and old-time fiddle when I heard that tune, and I remember thinking “What is that?! I have to learn it.” It was like no other tune I’d heard before.

I distinctly remember sitting in my dorm room at Ithaca College in the winter of 2011 trying to work my way through the seemingly endless looping phrases. I couldn’t quite tell where the tune started and where it stopped. It sounded different every time I listened. Fiddle tunes that have eight measures in the A part and eight measures in the B part are considered “square” because they are good for dancing a square dance to as everything within the tune fits nice and evenly. However, many fiddle tunes have an irregular number of beats in one or multiple parts. These are called “crooked” tunes and are frequently “jam-busters” in that they can be hard to follow when trying to pick them up on the fly. I was deep in the weeds of learning “Five Miles from Town,” but, much to my roommates’ delight, I finally learned the tune after weeks upon weeks of trial and error on my banjo.

“Five Miles from Town” as performed by Clyde Davenport on the classic compilation Legends of Old Time: 50 Years of County Records.

As I dug deeper, I learned the tune came from Clyde Davenport. His old-time music origin story is about as classic as it gets. According to the National Endowment for the Arts:

“When he was nine, Davenport made his own fiddle from barn boards, using hair from his family’s mule for bowstrings. Within a few hours he was playing fiddle tunes that he had heard his father play. Soon he became interested in the banjo, an instrument that his father also played. At 11, he took the iron band off a small wagon wheel, trimmed out a green hickory hoop, bolted the ends together with a slat, and set it up to season. He paid a dime for a groundhog hide, attached it to the frame with carpet tacks, carved out a long hickory neck, and had his first banjo, which he taught himself to play.”

How about that for dedication? He’s a prime example of how playing old-time music isn’t just a desire but a purpose. While I never met Clyde, I’ve heard many tales from pals of mine who were lucky enough to spend time with him. He was always willing to share his knowledge and stories with anyone. He spent time in the army, worked in auto factories, farmed, ran a truck stop, and made and repaired fiddles. He was notably not a contest-style fiddler. I think this fact adds to the rawness of his style as subtlety abounds. There’s a hypnotizing quality to his fiddling. The groove runs deep. It’s the kind of trance-like state that can be hard to tap into but once you’re there, time seems to stand still. He passed in February 2020 at the age of 98.

This image is of the Chimney Swifts album cover -- it is a graphic depiction of what looks like a brick factory with several windows and a tall chimney. Numerous swifts fly out of the chimney and across the reddish-blue sky.
Brad Kolodner’s debut album Chimney Swifts.

I recorded “Five Miles from Town” on my debut solo album Chimney Swifts, playing the gourd banjo along with my father Ken Kolodner on hammered dulcimer. My gourd banjo is fretless and takes on some of those slide-y, blues-y qualities the fiddle can have. My father is using the damper pedal on his dulcimer to mute the strings for an added percussive effect. My father and I lean into the percussive and rhythmic qualities of this unusual pairing as we strive for that somewhat elusive deep groove old-timers like Clyde Davenport can tap into.

Here’s a challenge for you: Have another listen to Clyde’s version of the song above, and try to see if you can count how many beats are in each part. Maybe it’ll take you down a similar path I took discovering the joys (and addictive frustrations) of this hypnotizing style of music.

Brad’s latest record Chimney Swifts released on September 10 and is available for purchase at https://bradkolodner.bandcamp.com/album/chimney-swifts. You can tune into Brad’s show Old Time Jam right here on Radio Bristol on Tuesdays at 6pm EST. In the meantime, check out this recent video performance of “Catalpa Hop” from Brad’s debut solo record Chimney Swifts:

Brad Kolodner is a banjo player, event coordinator, and radio broadcaster. Kris Truelsen is the Program Director at Radio Bristol.

Radio Bristol Spotlight: Anya Hinkle

Radio Bristol is proud to offer a platform to local and regional artists who are often underrepresented on a national level yet deserving of that audience. In expanding upon Radio Bristol’s core mission, we are pleased to bring you our latest series – Radio Bristol Spotlight – highlighting top emerging artists in our region. Through interview and performance we will learn more about the musicians who help to make Southern Appalachia one of the richest and most unique musical landscapes in the world.

Recently in the studio we hosted singer-songwriter Anya Hinkle, just a few days before her new album Eden and Her Border Lands was released on Organic Records. This newest collection of songs marks the Asheville, North Carolina-based artist’s first solo recording project, after a history of playing within different band formations. Tellico, the most recent band iteration, garnished quite a bit of success on the Folk DJ charts with a #1 single and #2 album rating from their 2018 release Woven Waters. It comes as no surprise that Hinkle’s newest solo project is currently making sizable waves within the Appalachian region and beyond. The title track recently landed a spot on Spotify’s Indigo and Emerging Americana playlists alongside alt-country giants such as Tyler Childers and Sturgill Simpson. During her on-air interview and performance at Radio Bristol, Hinkle shared thoughts about her musical background and played a few tunes from the album, joined by dobro virtuoso Billy Cardine.

This image is focused in on the back window of a shiny silver Airstream trailer. Anya Hinkle sits in the back window, looking out at the photographer -- she is a blonde white woman, with long hair and waring a red and pink patterned top. She is leaning her arms on a guitar.
Anya Hinkle’s debut Eden and Her Borderlands released on Organic records this August. 

Hinkle started things off with her single “That’s Why Women Need Wine” a lighthearted but strategic storytelling song that offers a bounty of reflective musings exploring the headaches women encounter in a male-centric world. Inspired by a bout of depression after losing another band, the song’s message acts as a declaration of self-reliance. With humor and skillfully crafted verse, Hinkle uncovers a glimpse of what it’s like to exist as a woman within the music industry and offers herself relaxing reassurance through, of course, a glass of wine: “After half a glass I feel divine.” During their performance, Cardine’s dobro offered a swelling reel across the steel strings that felt like a rush of Pinot Noir expertly poured by a seasoned sommelier. There was no doubt when listening to the two that they are both outstandingly polished musicians.

Hinkle grew up in Blacksburg, Virginia, the daughter of classically trained symphony musicians. Her mother was a cellist for the Roanoke Symphony and enrolled Hinkle at an early age in violin lessons. As a teenager she picked up acoustic guitar and began to branch out of the classical music umbrella. Inspired by the virtuosity of bluegrass instrumentalists such as Norman Blake and Tony Rice, she began her musical aspirations as solely a “heritage player” looking to emulate bluegrass greats. It was only after starting to perform out at local bars that she felt the itch to “have something to play” and began songwriting. That itch has since gained her awards and accolades; in 2019 Hinkle won the prestigious Merlefest Chris Austin Songwriting Competition and was a finalist for the Hazel Dickens Songwriting Competition. Her dedication to musicality and craft are on full display in her new album, which alongside her unique songwriting, offers a breadth of talented players and co-writers, such as Graham Sharpe of Steep Canyon Rangers, fiddler Julian Pinelli, sacred steel player DaShawn Hickman, Mary and Billy Cardine of Lover’s Leap, and Japanese songwriter Akira Satake.

Hinkle played another tune during her studio visit, an instrumental piece named “Meditation Beyond the Shores of Darkness.” The tune harkens back to Hinkle’s commitment to traditional Appalachian music, while unveiling the musician’s distinctive musicality. It flutters through a beautiful finger-picked theme reminiscent of folk melodies from the past, while exploring some unknown inner psychological and surreal musical space. Hinkle’s music is definitely built for lovers of bands like the Grateful Dead, who value roots in traditional music and effectively work within a bluegrass framework yet push against those boundaries with skill and ease. Aside from this tune, Hinkle’s writing and vocal styling drifts between familiarity, sometimes sounding like contemporaries Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss, while maintaining all the grit and honesty of legendary Appalachian singers like Hazel Dickens and Ola Belle Reed.

Lastly, Hinkle and Cardine performed a standout tune from the new record called “The Hills of Swannanoa,” co-written with songwriter Akira Satake. I personally was excited they chose this song because it instantly grabbed my attention for its lyrical strength and gave me goosebumps with its mysterious sounding, modal musical phrasing. To me this song sounds like an echo from established folk tunes such as “Swannanoa Tunnel/Asheville Junction” while delving into uncharted liquified Newgrass-Jam territory.

https://youtu.be/0hEx_I9-dUg

To check out Hinkle and Cardine’s performance live in our studio, click here. Also, to learn more about Anya Hinkle and find tour dates, or to purchase her music visit: www.anyahinkle.com.

Ella Patrick is a Production Assistant at Radio Bristol. She also hosts Folk Yeah! on Radio Bristol and is a performing musician as Momma Molasses.

Favorite Festivals in Tennessee and Virginia

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: September! While the first day of autumn doesn’t officially begin until September 22, if you’re anything like me you LOVE fall. Everything from the chilly air and seeing the leaves change, to hot apple cider, hayrides and pumpkin patches – there are a lot of seasonal activities to enjoy. September in Bristol TN/VA also brings the annual excitement of the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion festival, which celebrates Bristol’s rich music heritage as the birthplace of country music. And that music festival makes me think of all the other wonderful festivals out there, ready to be explored and experienced. With the pandemic affecting nearly all events and activities for the past year and a half, many festivals now have virtual opportunities so that you can also experience the magic from home. Here’s a list of some delightfully different festivals in both Virginia and Tennessee to add to your to-do list. How many have you already visited?

VIRGINIA FESTIVALS

Woodbooger Festival

Where: Norton, Virginia

When: Annually each October

Website: http://www.woodboogerfest.com/

First and foremost, what is a woodbooger? You may be asking yourself this very question right about now. According to the festival website, a woodbooger is defined as “a bigfoot-like creature that allegedly roams the woods of Southwest Virginia. He is a very tech-savvy creature and he keeps in touch via Facebook and Twitter.” You can visit the Flag Rock Recreation Area, designated as a “Woodbooger Sanctuary,” to see a statue of this elusive mountain-dwelling cryptid while you celebrate the festivities. The festival will celebrate its 7th year in 2022 and features a woodbooger-calling contest, a woodbooger costume contest, and an actual woodbooger hunt. This community event also has an annual guided night walk where guests can learn the local history of Norton. A definite must-experience kind of festival in my book!

A bronze-looking statue of a Bigfoot/yeti-like creature, shown here from the chest up. He is muscular with a furry body, and lots of hair and a beard on his head and face. You can see trees behind him.
The “Woodbooger Statue” located at Flag Rock Recreation Area, Norton, Virginia. Photo courtesy of Woodbooger Facebook page

Chautauqua Balloon Festival

Where: Wytheville, Virginia

When: Annually at end of July–beginning of August

Website: https://www.wythe-arts.org/chautauqua

If you’ve traveled past Wytheville, Virginia, on Interstate 81, you may have noticed a water tower in the shape of a brightly colored hot air balloon and thought, okay what’s that all about?! The answer is: Wytheville, Virginia is home to the Chautauqua Balloon Festival where dozens of hot air balloons fill the skyline with an eye-catching display each summer. The festival, an annual week-long event, is going into its 37th year in 2022 and is free of charge to the public. It’s put together each year by the Wythe Arts Council, whose mission is to provide entertainment and extend cultural opportunities to a largely rural area and beyond. This festival has it all, including food vendors, a craft bazaar, parades, music, and of course, hot air balloons flights!

A rainbow-colored hot air balloon rises into the blue sky -- seen from below.
Hot air balloon soaring over the skies at the Chautauqua Balloon Festival. Photo by Jenna Williams

Festival of the Book

Where: Charlottesville, Virginia

When: March 16–20, 2022

Virtual Opportunities: Yes!

Website: https://www.vabook.org/

Why does the ghost always need more books? He goes through them too quickly.

With that joke, the next question is: What could get better than this festival from Virginia Humanities? The Virginia Festival of the Book brings together writers and readers to promote and celebrate books, reading, literacy, and literary culture. The festival also has a large focus on diversity and accessibility while engaging those who attend on topics across many different genres. Guest speakers are chosen each year and represent a variety of topics designed to spark creative conversations and to inspire individuals. The festival also extends well beyond the festival date and features an incredible online and virtual presence – visit the festival website to view videos of discussions on authors and featured books via the Shelf Life virtual event program, which is free to the public.

A bookshelf with several older-looking books stacked and arranged in different configurations, including four blue-bound books by Charles Dickens and two red-bound books by Victor Hugo. The leaves of several house plants drape around the books, and a silver gravy boat sits in front of the Dickens books.
A glimpse of my personal bookshelf. Photo by Toni Doman

Virginia Clay Festival

Where: Stanardsville, Virginia

When: September 18–19, 2021 and annually each September

Website: https://virginiaclayfestival.com/

The Virginia Clay Festival is an art show celebrating the creative possibilities of clay. Featuring clay artisans from across the state of Virginia, live demonstrations, music and more, this festival is sure to be an inspiration to you! Whether you’re a seasoned artisan, a beginner to pottery crafts, or a visitor with an interest and appreciation for this unique art, this festival has something for everyone. The festival also features an array of Irish and old-time bands during both days that will be sure to get you dancing, and when you visit you’ll have the opportunity to actually meet the makers of the handcrafted items on display.

A display of six pottery mugs on a table with green foliage seen behind them. The mugs are colored with a light brown glaze and are decorated with white birch tree trunks and red leaves/berries. The inside of the mugs is a deeper reddish brown.
Mugs by Carrie Althouse of Althouse Pottery. Image used with permission of Virginia Clay Festival

TENNESSEE FESTIVALS

Alright let’s take a look at some of my favorite festivals across the state line and on into Tennessee. It seems to me that Tennessee has some of the best tasty food fests, what do you think?

Tomato Art Fest

Where: East Nashville, Tennessee

When: August 2022

Website: https://www.tomatoartfest.com/

Since 2004 the annual Tomato Art Fest takes place in August each year in East Nashville with a festival motto of “The Tomato – A Uniter, Not A Divider! Bringing Together Fruits & Vegetables.” I couldn’t have said it better myself! Did you know that tomatoes are actually a fruit? According to the USDA, Americans eat 22 to 24 pounds of tomatoes per person every year, and nearly half is consumed in the form of tomato sauce and ketchup. When you visit the vibrant community of East Nashville for the next Tomato Art Fest, you’ll be sure to see the tomato in its every form, along with tomato-themed art from local artists, local music, and more.

Three deep yellow tomatoes are clustered together on a green vine. A fence can be seen in the background.
Bright orange “Sunsugar” tomatoes hanging on a vine. Photo by Toni Doman

National Banana Pudding Festival

Where: Centerville, Tennessee

When: October 2–3, 2021 and annually in October

Website: https://www.bananapuddingfest.org/

Okay, we’ve covered a lot of great festivals on this list so far, but this one is oh so very sweet! Take a trip on the “puddin’ path” at this fest where you can sample ten different kinds of banana pudding – if you need more (which you will), be sure to visit the pudding tent. The festival motto is “A great time for a great cause,” and the mission of the event is to earn funds to assist nonprofits and victims of disasters including fires, tornadoes, and floods. The festival is going into its 12th year – by visiting you’ll be able to witness the national cook-off for the Best Banana Pudding in America, and kids can visit their very own “Banana Land” where “kids go bananas” according to the event website!

A plate of banana pudding -- showing several Vanilla Wafers on top -- with a plastic bear bottle of honey and a container of granola in the background.
Homemade banana pudding – everyone’s recipe is always the BEST recipe! Image courtesy of Flickr user stu_spivack

Tennessee Soybean Festival

Where: Martin, Tennessee

When: September 4–11, 2021 and annually in September

Website: https://www.tnsoybeanfestival.org/

I’ve bean thinking about this festival for a long time… And if you want to learn more about these magic beans, you’ll be visiting the right place. The annual Tennessee Soybean Festival takes place each year in September, paying homage to all things soybean and celebrating agriculture in general. Did you know that the soybean is called the “Miracle Bean” because of its versatility – for instance, soy ink can be used in printing books. Festival activities also include the Magic Bean Story Hours, visiting “The Bean House,” Friends of Library Book Sale, and more, all of which are enjoyed by festivalgoers each year (though many activities are closed this year due to COVID-19 safety precautions).

A soybean mascot looks at the camera -- it has a round cream-colored head with black-framed glasses, a big smiling mouth, and two green hands.
A soybean educating festivalgoers. Image courtesy of the Tennessee Soybean Festival Facebook page

National Storytelling Festival

Where: Jonesborough, Tennessee

When: October 1–2, 2021 and annually in October

Virtual Opportunities: Yes!

Website:  https://www.storytellingcenter.net/festival/main/

Finally, take part in the National Storytelling Festival in beautiful Jonesborough, Tennessee, put on by the International Storytelling Center. The festival will soon celebrate its 50th anniversary and annually features a diverse lineup of storytellers. This year’s festival will be delivered virtually so that festivalgoers can still enjoy and experience over 20 hours of storytelling from the comfort of your own big cozy couch. One of my favorite activities during this fest is the ghost stories performed at dusk on a cool October evening. The mission of the International Storytelling Center is to inspire and empower people to use storytelling to address real-world challenges and promote positive change. I promise that you will be inspired after visiting, virtually or in-person!

A large white tent can be seen across the whole of the photograph with several people sitting on chairs on its outskirts. A bed of yellow and reddish-orange flowers are in the left-hand foreground.
A storytelling tent at the 2019 National Storytelling Festival. Photo by Toni Doman

So, there you have it, a few of my top picks of some wonderfully odd and interesting festivals in Virginia and Tennessee. I hope you get the chance to check these fests off your to-do list of fun and culturally engaging activities, either virtually or in person. Remember to stay safe and mask up when visiting festivals!

Toni Doman is the Grants Coordinator at the Birthplace of Country Music, and she hosts Mountain Song & Story on Radio Bristol on Thursdays at 4:00pm EST. She also performs in the musical duo Virginia West with her fiancé K.T. Vandyke.

Radio Bristol Book Club: The Carter Family – Don’t Forget This Song

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club where readers from BCM and the Bristol Public Library come together each month to celebrate and explore books inspired by our region’s rich Appalachian cultural and musical heritage! We invite you to read along and then listen to Radio Bristol on the fourth Thursday of each month at 12:00 noon when we dig deep into the themes and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

This month’s book choice is something a bit different for Radio Bristol Book Club – a graphic novel! For those who don’t know, graphic novels are “stories that are presented in comic-strip format and published as a book” – too often they are written off as “just comic books,” but the graphic novel format is a great platform for telling deep and meaninful stories, from Art Spiegelman’s Maus about Nazi Germany to Alan Moore’s Watchmen, an untraditional superhero tale that has been hailed as great literature, to John Lewis’s March about the Civil Rights movement. The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song tells the story of the original Carter Family’s beginnings and their rise to hillbilly music stardom from their first recordings in Bristol in 1927 until they split up in 1944. Each short chapter is named after a different Carter Family song, appropriate to the part of their story being told, and the words and images work beautifully together as the reader explores this interesting historical journey in an unexpected literary style.

The image to the left is the cover of The Carter Family: Don't Forget This Song. It is a drawn cover showing an orange sky with pale green hills and a small wooden cabin in the foreground. A black-and-white vignette with the Carters is to the left of the cabin -- it has AP in a suit standing beside Sara in a pale dress, and Maybelle sits in front of them with a guitar. The image to the right shows the opening panels to a chapter titled "They Call Her Mother" that depicts Sara giving birth to her first child.
The cover and one of the chapter opening pages from The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song.

The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song – written by Frank M. Young and illustrated by David Lasky – came out in 2012. (I actually bought my copy at New York Comic Con that year, underlining my geek status, and brought it back to the museum team as a book we definitely needed to stock in our store at the time!) Young is a writer and editor who has contributed to newspapers and magazines across the country, while Lasky is originally from Virginia and has written and illustrated many highly acclaimed comic books, along with another collaboration with Young about the Oregon Trail.

Two white men sit beside each other with the book The Carter Family: Don't Forget This Song in front of them. The man on the left is balding and wears a blue button-down shirt over a grey t-shirt. The man on the right has dark hair and a beard and is wearing a brown-checked button-down shirt. He also has glasses.
Frank M. Young and David Lasky with their graphic novel about The Carter Family.

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, September 23 at 12:00pm for the discussion of The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song, followed by a conversation with authors Frank M. Young and David Lasky. You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app. The book is available at the Bristol Public Library so be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of time. The librarians will be happy to help you find the book. We look forward to sharing our thoughts on this wonderful children’s book, and if you have thoughts or questions about the story that you would like to share with our readers, you can email info@birthplaceofcountrymusic.org (Subject line: Radio Bristol Book Club) – your book insights might appear on air with us!

Looking ahead: Our book pick for October is The Moon-Eyed People: Folktales from Welsh America by Peter Stevenson; we’ll be discussing it on Thursday, October 28. Check out our full list of 2021 Radio Bristol Book Club picks here, where you can also listen to archived shows!