Music as Work: A Discussion Panel in Partnership with Arts Alliance Mountain Empire - The Birthplace of Country Music
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Music as Work: A Discussion Panel in Partnership with Arts Alliance Mountain Empire

May 23, 2023 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Date: Tuesday, May 23, 2023, 7:00pm

Cost: Free and open to the public

Virtual (via Zoom): Click here to register

In-person (Museum’s Performance Theater): Click here to RSVP

Join us on Tuesday, May 23, 2023 at 7:00pm for a fascinating discussion on “Music as Work,” in partnership with the Arts Alliance Mountain Empire (AAME)!

Coming from a variety of different perspectives, the panelists will discuss what it is like to work in the music field, how they engage others with their creative vision, the challenges and joys of dealing with the day-to-day realities of their careers, and more. The group will include Carla Gover, Dr. Dena Jennings, Ella Patrick, and Emily Spencer (see artist bios below).

This program is complementary programming to our I’ve Endured: Women in Old-Time Music special exhibit, currently on display at the museum through December 31, 2023. Interested in-person attendees can participate in a curator-guided tour of the exhibit at 6:15pm before the program starts.

Carla Gover

Carla Gover is an 8th-generation Kentuckian, whose art and work celebrate the best of what the state has to offer. She shares flatfooting, ballads, and banjo through her performances, recordings, collaborations, and online courses. She’s released seven albums of music, including her most recent recording with  CornMaiz String Band, which went to #1 on the Folk Radio Charts.

She’s toured for nearly three decades, playing such venues as the Glasgow Royal Hall, Merlefest, and The Kennedy Center. She’s also won a slew of awards, including the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest and the Kerrville New Folk Award. She was also recognized as a Master Dancer by the Kentucky Folklife Program, and recently won the “Appy” for Best Dance Educator from the Appalachian Arts & Entertainment Awards. She is the founder of the groundbreaking online Appalachian Flatfooting & Clogging Academy.

With her partner Yani Vozos, she  also coordinates the Cornbread & Tortillas Artist Collective, whose mission is to build community by sharing art, music, dance, and cultural heritage.

Dr. Dena Jennings

Dena Jennings is a physician and artist in Central Virginia who can trace her ancestry in Appalachia back five generations through her mother’s family. Twenty years after establishing her medical practice and ImaniWorks, a non-profit organization for conflict transformation and human rights advocacy, Jennings moved to Ontario, Canada, where she entered a four-year arts apprenticeship. There, she learned to hand carve modern instruments made from gourds and other natural fibers in the style of traditional instruments from around the world. At the end of her apprenticeship, she opened a workshop, studio, and retail music store in a small town in Central Ontario.

Upon meeting her husband who had developed an herb farm and retreat center in Central Virginia, she relocated the workshop and studio where she could grow her own gourds and mill her own wood. She re-opened her practice in Orange and its waiting room is a gallery for her sculpted instruments and a listening room for Appalachian and Black American roots music. Through ImaniWorks, Jennings conducts instrument building workshops, conflict transformation retreats, and hosts the Affrolachian On-Time Music Gathering at the farm. She also makes sculptures and performs Appalachian and folk Bengali music on gourd instruments. Jennings is the Vice Chair of the Virginia Commission for the Arts, and she has served as a commissioner since 2019. As she explains, she “endeavors to build the Beloved Community through my devotion to music, culture, and social justice.”

Ella Patrick

Currently based in Bristol, VA/ TN, and originally from the Pines of North Carolina, Ella Patrick is a singer-songwriter (also known as Momma Molasses), radio DJ, and production assistant at Radio Bristol. Growing up with a deep love of music, Patrick began playing stringed instruments at an early age while singing gospel music in church and learning folk ballads from her parent’s dusty late 1960s record collection. She spent most of her childhood summers in a swamp south of her home in Moore County, where she began playing for friends around the campfire, or sneaking out in canoes after dark to sing by herself to the moon. While in college at Warren Wilson, just outside of Asheville, NC, Patrick became greatly influenced by Appalachian folk music and took classes in old-time, murder ballad singing, and bluegrass music. Patrick has since decided to cook up some songs of her own, with a recipe consisting of equal parts Southern Appalachia, 1940s Country Swing, and 1960s folk revival. She has two years of touring under her belt and a self-released EP to her name.

Emily Spencer

Emily Spencer has played and taught music for a good portion of her life. She was born and grew up in Arlington, Virginia, and always had a love for the mountains and music. She moved to Southwest Virginia to attend college and to live where the mountain music could be found. She graduated from UVA-Wise in 1975 with a BS in Social Welfare and completed her education requirements to become certified in K-12 music from there many years later.

She met her late husband, Thornton Spencer, in 1975, and they soon formed the Whitetop
Mountain Band along with the renowned fiddler Albert Hash. The band continues to perform to this day, and has performed widely in the region and other countries. In 1980, she began teaching mountain music in a community music program at the Mount Rogers Fire Department. This program eventually became the Albert Hash Memorial Band program in Grayson County Schools. She was a part of the program there from its inception until March 2020 when the pandemic struck.

She is currently an instructor in both the Ashe and Alleghany JAM programs in North Carolina and has also taught through Wilkes Community College in Ashe, Alleghany, and Wilkes, and at Wytheville Community College. Emily has also led many workshops at various festivals and events.


May 23, 2023
7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Event Category:


Birthplace of Country Music Museum
101 Country Music Way
Bristol, VA 24201 United States
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