For our first Farm and Fun Time of 2019, we had a special celebration of Appalachian balladry! Thanks to our sponsor Eastman Credit Union, Radio Bristol was able to bring the live show to not only those in the audience or tuned in to WBCM-LP, but to viewers far and wide via Facebook Live. Be sure to like WBCM – Radio Bristol on Facebook to tune in every month!
Host band Bill and the Belles kicked the show off with a couple of songs that told stories full of laughter and tears: “When I Had But Fifty Cents” and “Mr. Frog Went A Courting.” Instead of an “Heirloom Recipe” segment this month, Dr. Ted Olson took the stage to offer a bit of context for the evening’s program. Ted is a renowned scholar of early country music and a professor at East Tennessee State University. Perhaps most importantly for this performance, Ted is the producer of Big Bend Killing: The Appalachian Ballad Tradition, an album which features the talents of many of the world’s top ballad singers, a few of whom were on tonight’s show. Balladry is an important element of traditional music, and these old songs and the stories they tell have been passed down through the generations knee-to-knee with the old masters – they are a crucial link to the earliest elements of country music. Proceeds from this record go to support the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Our first musical guest of the evening was none other than Elizabeth LaPrelle. Raised in Rural Retreat, Virginia, Elizabeth has been performing old-time songs and ballads since she was 11 years old. Elizabeth began performing at fiddler’s conventions across the region, and soon after, she was sharing her gift of song with audiences the world over. As a member of Anna and Elizabeth, she has toured the world, recorded for Smithsonian Folkways, and hosted the Floyd Radio Hour. For January’s Farm and Fun Time, Elizabeth performed some of the most heartfelt ballads one could imagine, including “The West Virginia Mine Disaster,” a gut-wrenching piece that can also be heard on Big Bend Killing.
The ETSU Old Time Rambler’s were our next musical guests of the evening. Comprised of students from ETSU’s Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Program, these young scholars of early country music research the music they perform under the direction of Roy Andrade. From the sweet duets of Hannah and Emily Roper, to the rip-roaring fiddling of Bluff City, Tennesse’s own Zeb Dougherty to an old-timey solo number by Connor Vleistra, these young musicians are clearly doing their homework and absorbing the nuances of old-time music!
Following the ETSU Old Time Ramblers was the incomparable John Lilly. John has traveled all across the south learning music from legends such as Ralph Blizard and others, and he is equally at home singing the folk songs of the hills or his own acclaimed original work. For tonight’s performance, John tackled the ballad “Man of Constant Sorrow,” in addition to an original ballad entitled “Angel’s Share.” John is a compelling solo performer, but he was also joined by his son George, who accompanied him on mandolin and fiddle, bringing beautiful harmony vocals that can only be achieved by members of the same family.
Before our final performance of the evening, Hasee Ciaco, accompanied by Kalia Yeagle on the fiddle, sang a beautiful rendition of the traditional ballad “Omie Wise.” And then last but not least, Farm and Fun Time welcomed Johnson City, Tennessee’s own Amythyst Kiah. A self-professed Southern Gothic songster, Amythyst blends influences from old-time music to R&B to alternative music, creating a powerful style all her own. Consistently a crowd favorite everywhere she goes, from venues like Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion to the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, Amythyst’s time on the stage at January’s Farm and Fun Time was no different, and she easily had the crowd’s full attention as she gave command performances of her pieces “Trouble So Hard” and “The Worst.” The rest of her set was dedicated to old-time ballads, including a powerful rendition of “Pretty Polly,” accompanied by Roy Andrade on the five-string banjo. Look for Amythyst on an exciting new release from Smithsonian Folkways, “Songs of Our Native Daughters,” along with Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell.
Thanks to everyone who came out and paid tribute to Appalachian balladry at this wonderful celebration of our region’s culture and heritage, and all the best to you in the coming year! Tickets are on sale for February’s Farm and Fun Time featuring Beth Snapp and Rachel Baiman, and host band Bill and the Belles. We hope to see you there!