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Radio Bristol Book Club: The Moon-Eyed People – Folk Tales from Welsh America

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!

Cover of The Moon-Eyed People: Folk Tales from Welsh America by Peter Stevenson.

According to Cherokee legend, the “moon-eyed people” are a race of small men who once lived in the Southern Appalachians. These folk, considered significantly different from the Cherokee in physical appearance, were bearded and had ashen skin. They were called moon-eyed because “they were small and pale, lived underground, and could see in the dark.” 

The Moon-eyed People: Folk Tales from Welsh America is a collection of stories by Peter Stevenson that includes true stories, tall tales, and folk tales, all mixed together into a literary delight. They tell about the lives of migrants who, upon leaving Wales, settled in America. These “moon-eyed people” were a diverse group of soldiers, hobos, witches, miners, explorers, sailors, and wayfaring strangers, to name just a few. In this collection of tales, you will find stories about “a mining settlement in Appalachia described as being unfit for pigs to live in, Welsh weavers making cloth for enslaved people, a monster being defeated by a medicine-girl, a criminal marrying an ‘Indian Princess,’ and mountain women practicing Appalachian hoodoo, native healing, and Welsh witchcraft.” There is sure to be a tale for everyone’s taste.

Peter Stevenson with a “krankie,” a device that allows the storyteller to roll out the story in illustrative form while they tell their tale. Credit: Felix Cannadam Photography

Author Peter Stevenson was born in Lancashire, England, but lived in Wales for most of his life.  He studied illustration at Manchester Art College, and he researched folk drama and folk tales as a postgraduate in the Institute for Dialect and Folklife Studies at Leeds University. Stevenson has written, illustrated, and compiled children’s books and fairy tales for various publishers. He has also shared his tales as a storyteller in a variety of places, such as church crypts, village halls, grand theaters, cafes, and art galleries. In addition, he tours storytelling shows while working with talented musicians. Stevenson has lived in Aberystwyth for the last 30 years and is the recipient of the Children’s Book of the month award in Wagga Wagga, Australia.

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, October 28 at 12:00pm for the discussion of The Moon-Eyed People: Folk Tales from Welsh America, followed by a conversation with author Peter Stevenson. 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 November is Hear My Sad Story: The True Tales That Inspired “Stagolee,” “John Henry,” and Other Traditional American Folk Songs by Richard Polenberg; we’ll be discussing it on Thursday, November 18 (a week early due to Thanksgiving). Check out our full list of 2021 Radio Bristol Book Club picks here, where you can also listen to archived shows, and keep an eye out – we’ll be releasing our 2022 reading list soon!

Guest blogger Tonia Kestner is the Executive Director at the Bristol Public Library.

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.

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!

The Root of It: Nora Brown on Lee Sexton

Radio Bristol is excited to share “The Root of It,” a new 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 Brooklyn, New York native Nora Brown. At the early age of six, Nora took an interest in old-time banjo music from the regions of Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee. She began traveling down south to learn from masters steeped in this musical tradition, including Eastern Kentucky banjo player Lee Sexton. Flash forward ten years later, and Nora is an inspiring and influential performer who has released successful projects on Jalopy Records, performed all over the country, and been asked to be a part of renowned series such as NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts and more. Below, Nora shares her musical journey that inevitably led to meeting and learning from Letcher County’s Lee Sexton, who much like Nora, learned two-finger and drop thumb banjo styles at an early age.


Nora Brown performing “Miner’s Dream” based on a version she learned from a Virgil Anderson recording.

Nora Brown:

Like most people, I love being told stories. Whether it’s a firsthand experience being retold or a book being read aloud, listening to a story is something I’ll always enjoy. I remember when I was younger, staying over at my grandparents’ house, before bed I’d beg my grandmother – Nan – to tell me what she called “Rockaway stories.” As a child growing up in the Bronx, Nan would take the IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit) line to the BMT (Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit) line out to the far Rockaways where she would stay with her grandmother for the summer. Upon my requests, she would sit at the end of my bed and tell me about when Aunt Peggy got caught clipping roses from a neighbor’s flower-filled garden or about her grandfather who refused to leave the bungalow during hurricane season, stationed with his pipe and by the radio through the storm. It didn’t matter how many times I heard these stories, the best part about this was hearing her recall those memories from years ago.

Storytelling and oral traditions have served as a vital part of various cultures throughout the world. In West Africa, griots – also known as jalis – held the responsibility of learning and passing on oral history in the form of storytelling or song. Cool fact: an instrument often used in the griot tradition to accompany storytelling is the khalam or xalam, which happens to be an ancestor of the banjo! This position was extremely valued in the time when recording history was not easy; griots would serve as advisers for royal persons as they not only existed as living archives but were also extremely familiar with the geography of their region. The griot tradition continues to be practiced today in many parts of West Africa, demonstrating the power and timelessness of storytelling – that it continues to be empowering to honor the history of your community and tell the stories of those who came before you.

An old white man wearing a dark long-sleeved shirt with jean overalls and a white baseball / trucker-style cap. He is clean-shaven. He sits in front of some old oil barrels, tires, and other items in a yard area.
Master banjo player Lee Sexton at his Letcher County home in Eastern Kentucky. Photograph by Benton Brown

I have had the pleasure of spending time with an incredible person and musician: Lee Sexton. Living in Linefork, Kentucky, on the land he grew up on, Lee was a former coal miner and master banjo player. I had listened to Lee a lot and played a couple of his tunes prior to meeting him, but learning directly from him and hearing his stories changed my relationship with the music I play completely. The first time I went down to visit Lee, I felt really nervous, the kind of nervousness that you feel in your fingers – kind of an ache. I think this feeling probably stemmed from my belief that our differences in place of origin would create a divide between us, preventing any mutual connection. This feeling would persist as we pulled into his driveway and as he yelled “Come in” from the couch inside his home in response to our knocking. As we sat down and shared tunes, stories, and food, slowly my nervousness dissipated and was replaced with a feeling of comfort and security. I think that the act of sharing music or sharing a story with someone is not only incredibly generous, but ties the sharer and receiver together through their new shared experience.

A young white girl with blondish hair and wearing a plaid long-sleeve shirt, light-colored pants, a bucket hat, and converse sneakers has her arm around an old white man in a dark long-sleeved shirt and overalls. He is seated and wearing a white baseball cap and holding a wooden cane. She is standing beside him. Trees and an old wall can be seen in the picture too.
Nora Brown at 12 years old with Lee Sexton. Photograph by Benton Brown

Prior to my first visit with Lee, I hadn’t had the experience of learning from someone who had grown up with the tradition and learned the same way – person to person. Lee reminded me of the power of storytelling. Spending time with him taught me that there is much more to traditional music than just learning the old songs, that stories told alongside them provide context that gives them meaning. Lee has helped me build a personal connection to the music I play and has made me understand why so many of us love it so much.


Home performance of Lee Sexton at 90 years old playing a two-finger version of “Cumberland Gap” with Nora at 12 years old.

Lee Sexton playing an inspired version of “St. Louis Blues.”

Nora Brown’s latest project Sidetrack My Engine on Jalopy Records releases September 23, 2021, and her debut release Cinnamon Tree can be purchased at Norabrown.bandcamp.com. For more information about Nora and her music, visit norabrownmusic.com.

Nora Brown is a talented banjo player from New York. Kris Truelsen is the Program Director at Radio Bristol.

Album cover design showing a pinky-brown background with different groupings of white birds drawn so that they are all heading upwards to form a pyramid-like design. The album's title of Sidetrack My Engine is shown in green at the bottom of the album cover.
Nora Brown’s upcoming project on Jalopy Records  “Sidetrack my Engine” releases September 23.

Radio Bristol Spotlight: Shay Martin Lovette

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 interviews and performances, 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.

This past month we met up with Boone, North Carolina-based songwriter Shay Martin Lovette, whose sophomore album Scatter & Gather has been garnering a lot of regional attention. Shay, an Appalachian native, grew up in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, home to MerleFest, currently one of the country’s largest music festivals. The festival, coined by its founder Doc Watson as “traditional plus,” brings in bands from all aspects of roots music genres, and Watson’s catchphrase certainly encompasses Shay’s writing. Greatly influenced by the music of the region, both from proximity and from his songwriter father, Shay holds to his musical background in bluegrass while taking divergent turns into a new landscape of metaphysical songwriting and experimental indie folk. During his on-air performance at Radio Bristol, Shay shared a few songs from the new record and talked about his recording process with producer Joseph Terrell, who hails from the acclaimed stringband quartet Mipso.

Black-and-white image of a man walking towards the camerain front of what looks to be a closed-down strip mall or old motel. The man has shoulder-length dark hair and a scruffy beard. He is wearing jeans, black shoes, and a jean jacket with numerous patches and badges on it.
Songwriter Shay Martin Lovette of Boone, North Carolina, wrote most of the tunes from his newest release, Scatter & Gather, in a cabin on Goshen Creek. Photo by Chris Frisina

To kick off the in-studio, Shay delved into a misty-eyed waltz with the new album’s song “Parkway Bound.” Accompanied by dobro player Aaron Ballance, Shay lyrically painted an expansive picture of beauty encapsulated by the Appalachian Mountains. The first line – “A pocket of clouds catch the Blue Ridge, the summits are quilted in ice” – lays the groundwork for the mystifying tune. Amidst its dynamic musical swells, which feel like echoes of a rolling landscape, Shay also offers something below the surface of his refined artistry. Shay’s appearance was deceivingly unassuming at first; amidst a thatch of neatly parted hair and a nervous but rather welcoming smile, a listener might not expect to experience the depth relayed within his songwriting. Further investigation unveils much: a detailed account of self-contained philosophy and reverence for the present moment – where Daoist meets Hillbilly – thoughts possibly formed at the rustic cabin on remote Goshen Creek where much of Scatter & Gather was written.

The album cover looks like a letter press style print and shows mountains with a river running from them through a green meadow. Above the mountains in geometric design is a sunburst made up of different colors and patterns.
Shay Martin Lovette’s Scatter & Gather was released May 2021.

A slew of nationally acclaimed musicians brought in by producer Joseph Terrell are included on Scatter & Gather. With mandolin from Watchhouse (formerly Mandolin Orange) artist Andrew Marlin, and accompaniment from band members of Mipso along with Mount Moriah, it is no wonder some of North Carolina’s biggest talent lined up to record with Shay at the Rubber Room in Chapel Hill. Simply put, the writing is dang good. Combining elements of live tracking with polished production, the album feels at once refined and organic. This release is great for fans of the late 1960s Laurel Canyon sound and feels like a dream where Nick Drake and James Taylor shook metaphorical hands with Jason Isbell. Stand-out tracks from the album include “Never Felt So New,” a transient folksy romp tinged with synthesizer, and “Sourwood Honey Rag,” an instrumental tune that nods towards Shay’s influence from Doc Watson and love of traditional Appalachian music.

Shay closed out our session with an acoustic rendition of one last song, “Something Wild (All the Way Through),” also from his new record. Like the ripples of a mountain stream, Aaron’s dobro glided alongside the song’s melody as Shay joined in with an emotive performance on harmonica. This song signals a proclamation for the rising songwriter to embrace that they “sang it for the sweet unknown” and are joyful for the “something wild” that’s got a hold of them. You can watch Shay and Aaron’s performance filmed live at Radio Bristol below. To hear more from Scatter & Gather or to order from the limited run of vinyl, visit Shay’s Bandcamp site.

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.

Radio Bristol Book Club: Weaver’s Daughter

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!

Author Kimberly Brubaker Bradley writes August’s Radio Bristol Book Club book, Weaver’s Daughter, a heartwarming historical novel about a pioneer family living in the Southwest Territory (now Tennessee) in 1792. The protagonist, Lizzy Baker, and her two sisters must navigate the hard work that comes with living the farm life, and so they help their mother by weaving to make extra money for the family.

The cover image shows a young white girl with long brown hair in pioneer dress bending over a loom or worktable with yarn piled nearby.

However, the most challenging obstacle for the Baker family is dealing with 10-year-old Lizzy’s sickness. Around harvest time each year, Lizzy suffers greatly with an affliction that doctors and natural medicine cannot seem to remedy. She struggles to breathe, and each year it only seems to get worse. Family and neighbors rally together to help Lizzy, but nobody is sure what ails her or how they can help. Hezzy and Nan, Lizzy’s sisters, have their wants and cares in the pioneer life, but nothing else matters when you are afraid your sister might die. 

Taking their minds off their own worries, all the girls are excited when a new family from Charleston, South Carolina, the Beaumonts, arrive and move in practically next door to the Baker family in a rundown log cabin. What is this wealthy family doing so far from home, and will the community and the Baker family accept the newcomers into their lives? Weaver’s Daughter is an incredible story about family, love, friendship, community, and the bonds that tie all these together.    

A headshot of the author showing her from the chest/shoulders up. She is a white woman with long brownish hair and blue eyes; she is wearing glasses. She has on a royal blue V-neck sweater with lighter blue trim, dangly earrings, and a pendant on a black leather necklace rope.
Portrait of Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley lives on a 52-acre farm in Bristol – right on the border of Tennessee-Virginia and nestled in the Appalachian Mountains. Bradley was a chemistry major at Smith College in North Hampton, Massachusetts, where a classmate suggested she take a course in children’s literature. Newbery Medalist Patricia Maclachlan was the instructor, and both she and Bradley soon realized Bradley had a gift for writing. After college, Bradley started medical school as planned but dropped out after six weeks to pursue her dream of being an author. Although her books are marketed for children and teens, adults have discovered her fine writing and storytelling and have become true fans. Bradley has published 17 books, which have won several awards and honors. Her children’s books, The War That Saved My Life, received the Newbery Honor award in 2016, and Fighting Words received the Newbery Honor Book in 2021. 

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, August 26 at 12:00pm for the discussion of Weaver’s Daughter. 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 September is the graphic novel The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song by David Lasky and Frank M. Young; we’ll be discussing it on Thursday, September 23. Check out our full list of 2021 Radio Bristol Book Club picks here, where you can also listen to archived shows!

* Tonia Kestner is the Executive Director at the Bristol Public Library.

Radio Bristol Spotlight: Adam Bolt

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.

For our first installment of Radio Bristol Spotlight we caught up with prolific singer-songwriter Adam Bolt. Based in Abingdon, a beautiful historic town nestled in Southwest Virginia, Bolt has been a fixture in this region’s music scene for well over a decade. We were lucky enough to have Adam live in studio a few weeks back when he shared songs from his recent release And the Vines Grow Still. We talked over many things, including creativity during lockdown, his thoughts on the songwriting process, 1990s hip hop, and his forthcoming EP Animals in the News, Part 2, which came out in mid-June.

A white man with a brownish beard stands in front of an old pull-behind trailer. The trailer is white with an aqua stripe and two windows. The man is wearing a cowboy hat, a beige jacket with leather patches on the shoulder area, a patterned shirt and bolo tie, and jeans.

Prolific songwriter Adam Bolt of Abingdon, Virginia. Photograph by Moshin Kazmi

Arriving in a glowing turquoise windbreaker, straight from a 1991 episode of Saved By the Bell, and a t-shirt dawning a cluster of sun-ripened grapes, Bolt struck a chord as a relaxed-analytical, a country-tinged beatnik with laidback and relatable poetics. He’s a cool dude. He opened up his studio performance with the song “Trying Times,” an emotionally raw reflection of the songwriter’s experience during quarantine. Amidst the song’s straightforward sentimental lyrics, Bolt grieved the loss of his biggest musical influence, the legendary songwriter John Prine, while offering asides about Netflix subscriptions, online memes, political parties, chardonnay, and unemployment. The song pulses with an affirming tagline, “I’m feeling fine, hope you’re feeling fine,” which lifts the otherwise heavy message of the verses and offers an uncomplicated note of empathic wisdom. After the emotional performance, Bolt talked about how he was beyond distraught to hear about the passing of John Prine during the pandemic. Earlier on the day of Prine’s death, he had collected a batch of wild morel mushrooms, an Appalachian delicacy, and later cooked them up for dinner. Recalling that night, Bolt said: “The phone started buzzing [friends who knew he was a fan called with the news]…and I immediately got sick. I didn’t know at that point if it was the mushrooms…if it was total grief or COVID…I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. I got really, really sick that night, and kind of panicked.”

“Trying Times” is featured on Bolt’s latest release, And the Vines Grow Still, put out this past year. The EP title speaks to insights taken from nature, a metaphor for how grapevines must be tended after an unexpected frost kills a crop. Bolt stated: “I thought that was similar to our nation and our world, the pandemic is something we’re going to have to grow through.” Bolt joined up with Zack Edwards of Annabelle’s Curse in the studio, and together the two made a sparse, poignant recording which was live-tracked to tape on analog equipment at Bigtone Records located locally in Bristol, Virginia. Bigtone Records specializes in using vintage analog equipment and is known for making period accurate live recordings as heard on many recordings of the late 1940s and 1950s.


Bolt’s latest release And the Vine Grows Still was recorded at BigTone Records in 2020.

When not writing folk songs, Bolt grows grapes, working as a viticulturist for Abingdon Vineyards. He explained that melodies often gather in his mind while working at the vineyard and later develop into full songs. Similarly, his songwriting process is deeply linked to observations taken from the outdoors. “You’re out in nature watching little insects flying around, watching their world…and relating it to what we know as life.” Bolt shared that he prefers releasing shorter groupings of 4 or 5 songs as opposed to full-scale albums, an approach influenced by his early musical days as part of a hip hop group and an appreciation for dropping singles. Hip hop also fed an early fascination for rhyme schemes and provided fertile ground for putting together compelling verses. With ample time this past year to cultivate new songs, whether at the vineyard tending to the vines or at home brainstorming with his fiancée while lounging on the couch, Bolt has been productive amidst the grueling past year with the new EP recently released, and another one on the way.

In true Prine-ian fashion, Bolt took a 360-degree turn towards humor with the next number he performed during our on-air interview, jumping into a satirical, jaunty little ditty called “Lily Pad.” The song playfully recalls the singer’s refusal of a potential mate, relating them to a frog who “knows every swinging rope in this old swimming hole” and himself to a lily pad, a proverbial comment on relationship roles – the frog viewing him as a convenient place to land: “I’m on a bar stool, just like it was a toadstool…I won’t be your lily pad.” The imaginative tune marks Bolt’s leap into a new grouping of songs from his recent EP, which continues a theme from an earlier release, Animals in the News, put out in 2019. Bolt enlisted help from another local songwriter Logan Fritz, who acted as producer and provided his project Fritz and Co. as a backing band for the recording sessions staged at another Bristol-based studio, Classic Recording Studio.

Winding up his performance, Bolt sang “Coke for the Road,” a thoughtful ode to his grandmother who gave her family members the fizzy beverage as a sign of affection. Effortlessly authentic, the song relates a simple but provocative message about love’s relationship to action, and how a small gesture of kindness can relate to a big feeling of love. 


Adam Bolt singing “Coke for the Road” live in studio on On the Sunny Side at Radio Bristol, May 2020.

Remember, if you are a consumer of music, you should help in supporting the artists you’re consuming. In today’s unbalanced industry, musicians (and to be frank artists of all types) need your support more than ever. Whether by simply sharing their posts, helping spread their music by word of mouth, and most importantly by purchasing music directly from the artist, anything helps.

Hope you enjoyed our first Radio Bristol Spotlight! Next month we will feature North Carolinian songwriter Shay Martin Lovette.

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.

Radio Bristol Book Club: Sharyn McCrumb’s Appalachia

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!

“My books are like Appalachian quilts, I take brightly colored scraps of legends, ballads, fragments of rural life, and local tragedy, and I piece them together into a complex whole that tells not only a story, but also a deeper truth about the culture of the mountain South.” ~ Sharyn McCrumb

Our July book pick, Sharyn McCrumb’s Appalachia, is a collection of essays by Appalachian author Sharyn McCrumb. In these essays, McCrumb describes her writing process and how the people, history, and magic of Appalachia inspire her work. If you have been reading along with us, you may also recognize her name from The Ballad of Tom Dooley, which we read together back in 2019.

The book cover has the title "Sharyn McCrumb's Appalachia at the top, and the image shows a deer on a path with green growth of trees, flowers, and grass around her.

In the essay “Keepers of the Legends,” McCrumb discusses the importance of family legend, regional folklore, and music as inspiration and as an aid in her writing process. She also explains the origin of the persistent desire throughout her career to write books that make a difference and do more than entertain. “Reflections on Historical Fiction” expounds on this idea of “moral fiction” and the importance of being diligently accurate as a historian while also writing the account in a way that the reader can truly feel and experience the history.

In “A Novelist Looks to the Land” and “The Celts and the Appalachians,” McCrumb explores the idea of place and the importance of geographic environment not only in a story but also to the people who once lived there and to those who live there now. “Magic Realism in Appalachia” is about the supernatural elements that still prevail in the Appalachian Mountains today. This subtle magic is particularly prevalent among Appalachian woman as explored in the essay “Nora Bonesteel and the Sight.” McCrumb’s friend Charlotte Ross was the inspiration for one of McCrumb’s most famous and intriguing characters, Nora Bonesteel. Ross was a professor of Appalachian folklore and, like Bonesteel, possessed the Sight.

A white woman with shoulder-length brown hair and bangs. She is wearing black pants and a black shirt with a beige cardigan. She is looking at the camera and holding an open book "The Devil Amongst the Lawyers" and a pen, as if she is about to sign the book.
The author Sharyn McCrumb with one of her books.

Sharyn McCrumb is an award-winning author with several New York Times best sellers to her name. She is best known for her Appalachian “Ballad” novels, and her books are studied at universities and have been translated into 11 languages. She has lectured at Oxford University and the Smithsonian Institution, and she also served as writer-in-residence at King University right here in Bristol!

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, July 22 at 12:00pm for the discussion of Sharyn McCrumb’s Appalachia, 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 fascinating collection of essays with their deep exploration of the mountains we know and love. And if you have thoughts or questions about this book 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 August is Weaver’s Daughter by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley; we’ll be discussing it on Thursday, August 26. Check out our full list of 2021 Radio Bristol Book Club picks here, where you can also listen to archived shows!

* Erika Barker is Curatorial Manager at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and an avid reader.

The Root of It: J. P. Harris on Roscoe Holcomb

Radio Bristol is excited to share “The Root of It,” a blog 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 prolific songwriter and banjo player J. P. Harris. For years Harris has travelled internationally performing his unique take on honky tonk-flavored country music. Harris is also well versed in old-time music, spending much of his early years at fiddlers conventions where he delved headfirst into traditional old-time fiddle tunes and songs. His latest release on Freedirt RecordsDon’t You Marry No Railroad Man – is a testament to the old-time influences that have inspired his music through the years. One of those influences is the East Kentuckian Roscoe Holcomb. One of those voices you just don’t forget after hearing him for the first time, Holcomb was also an incredibly gifted guitar and banjo player. He experienced international acclaim during the folk revival in part due to the documentary High Lonesome, which was shot by renowned artist and musician John Cohen. Harris spoke with Radio Bristol about the influence and inspiration the music of Roscoe Holcomb has had upon his own music.

A white man with close-cropped dark hair and a large dark beard sits in front of a table covered in fruit, vegetables, bread, and wine bottles -- set up very much like a Renaissance still life. He is wearing a white long-sleeve shirt and brown pants. His sleeves are slightly pushed up to reveal lots of tattoos.

Portrait of J. P. Harris by Libby Danforth.

J.P Harris:

As most Americans my age had, I’d heard little snippets of traditional American folk music over the course of my lifetime, but grew up removed from direct exposure to any of its subsets. As a teenager living and traveling on my own, often to far-flung corners of the country via hitchhiking or freight trains, my affinity for folk music and the stories therein grew immensely. And at this time, my interaction with the internet was virtually nonexistent, and it didn’t yet contain the endless well of digitized recordings, downloadable music, or streaming platforms we are so familiar with today.

As a result, I feel I grew into my taste in music in what was to be the last era of “oral tradition.” Amongst my community of friends and travelers, people traded dubbed cassettes, often with little or no information about the recordings, or maybe the occasional burnt copy of a CD. Oftentimes the label would simply read “blues” or “banjo music,” and we relied on our memories to retain any detail about who was playing, where they were from, and when it was recorded.

This is essentially the story of my introduction to Roscoe Holcomb (born 1912 as Halcomb in Daisy, Kentucky). A mix tape made by a friend arrived in the mail unlabeled, and one track in particular raised the hair on my arms and made me shudder at each vocal turn – so much so that eventually the track became garbled and nearly unlistenable from the repeated rewinding of that section of tape. I would later learn that the tune was “Darling Cory,” a song that became entrenched in my own repertoire.

A white man standing in front of an old wooden shed and ladder. He wears a light-colored hat, shirt, and pants, along with glasses, and holds a big-head banjo in his hands ready to play. Dark trees can also be seen in the background.

Roscoe Holcomb with banjo in Daisy, Kentucky, 1959. Bob Dylan described Holcomb as an artist with “a certain untamed sense of control.” Photo by John Cohen

However, it wasn’t until a few years later, in a local record store, that I once again heard that utterly unmistakable tone of voice and rushed to the clerk to ask what was playing on the house speakers. I purchased the album in question right then and there – An Untamed Sense Of Control from Smithsonian Folkways – and, for months, became lost in the lush landscape painted by Holcomb’s songs, hardly listening to anything else in my pickup as I drove to and from job sites each day, soaking up his many styles of guitar and banjo playing on the record.

Before discovering Roscoe Holcomb, I’d never heard an artist of his era playing such a diverse catalog of songs and styles, veering from a hymnal to the blues to dark mountain ballads. The variation in song style never left one guessing if it was still Holcomb singing, his voice plaintive and unrestrained. Learning of his life story (Holcomb worked as a road builder, farmer, coal miner, and finally as a full-time musician in his final years), my affinity only grew deeper – at the time, I was primarily working as a carpenter, logger, and heavy equipment operator. My musical tastes were a mix of early blues, early country, old time, and bluegrass, all of which you could hear Holcomb playing on any given album, and he became a sort of one-stop-shop for me for many years.

There are endless early professional or field recordings I could reference for the influences that still prevail in my own music career. Each one’s unique regional style or era-specific sound is a part of the intrigue of traditional American music, but none did I find where the musician had so obviously melded what they heard in a wider sense. Holcomb would at one turn play “Fair Miss In The Garden,” a ballad with obvious roots in 18th or even 17th-century British Isles traditions and common in Appalachia, then he would pivot to the bluesy “Frankie and Johnny,” a song so widespread that it would’ve been thought of as “pop music” during Hocomb’s youth in the 1920s and 1930s. This melding of styles surely gave me a new perspective on traditional music; before this, I had viewed them as altogether separate genres, unable to combine into the singer’s own personal stylistic interpretations.

White couple -- the woman is to the left and man to the right. She has dark hair and is wearing a white frilly-edged sleeveless shirt and dark pants/skirt; he is wearing a light-colored button-down shirt, big glasses, and a hat. He has one arm across her shoulders. They are standing in front of a white house.

Roscoe and wife Ethel Holcomb captured by the brilliant artist and New Lost City Rambler John Cohen.

It can only be assumed that Holcomb’s exposure to these other kinds of music not native to his rural Kentucky home came through his work in the mines and on construction crews, where likely both white and Black laborers from across the southeast were crossing paths and inadvertently sharing musical cultures, as evidenced by Holcomb’s “Mississippi Heavy Water Blues” or the instrumental “Knife Guitar.”

Although his music is no secret to most traditional enthusiasts (Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and The Stanley Brothers have all cited him on many occasions), Roscoe Holcomb remains to this day the first “gateway artist” I recommend to anyone trying to discover this largely unknown, yet vibrant, world of American music.

* To learn more about J. P. Harris or to check out his latest record Don’t You Marry No Railroad Man, releasing on June 25, visit www.ilovehonkytonk.com.


J. P. Harris’ Dreadful Wind and Rain featuring Chance McCoy with a nice rendition of “Mole in the Ground.”