Best--l-to-r---Tara-Nevins-and-Jeb-Puryear-of-Donna-the-Buffal-and-Joe-Thrift-(2)MOUNT AIRY FIDDLERS CONVENTION
By Derek Halsey

There used to be a bit of hostility between the two camps, as in those who love to play bluegrass and those who love to play old-time music. Bluegrass, of course, is the brasher younger cousin of old-time, and the differences between each species are real. Bluegrass features hard-driving rhythms and high-lonesome lead and harmony singing fueled by improvisation and the Earl Scruggs three-finger-style of banjo picking. On the other hand, old-time features inclusive group-oriented jamming marked by the much-older clawhammer-style of banjo playing and is sparked by thousands of fiddle tunes that can be called out at anytime, some of which are two hundred years or older. As you can see from its title, however, both genres are welcomed at the Mount Airy Bluegrass & Old-Time Fiddlers Convention in the North Carolina hometown of Andy Griffith. Still, up until the last decade or so, both camps looked at each other warily at times.

Mark Johnson is known in the bluegrass world as the inventor of the clawgrass-style of playing the banjo, which is a combination of the three-finger and clawhammer techniques. In 2012, Johnson won the Steve Martin Prize For Excellence In Banjo And Bluegrass Music and performed on the Late Show With David Letterman with his long-time collaborator Emory Lester, as well as Martin. About the time of the release of his first album, Johnson found himself at the Mount Airy Bluegrass & Old-time Fiddlers Convention hanging out with musician, TV host, and Doc Watson collaborator David Holt.

“When I did the album Clawgrass with the Rice Brothers and friends in 1994, the guys that wrote the liner notes for that album were David Holt, Jay Unger, and Tony Rice,” recalls Johnson. “In the late 1990s, David invited me up to Mount Airy. When I got to the Mount Airy Fiddlers Convention to meet David, he was going around with a film crew from the University of North Carolina. He was filming with them and he said, ‘Mark, go and enjoy yourself a little bit. We’ll meet back here at a certain time.’ So, I took my banjo and started walking around the festival, and I heard this big jam going on in this one area. The people were really rocking and making this cool sound. I went in there and pulled my banjo out and starting playing what I play. I started getting all kinds of looks, and not good ones. People started closing their cases up and walking away and stopped playing. I broke the whole jam up. What I was doing was I was picking leads with my clawhammer style, taking breaks, and playing loud. I was like, ‘Man, what did I do? What happened?  What have I done?’” Read entire article »

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Mount Airy Fiddlers Convention —Bringing Together Bluegrass And Old-Time Music In The Land Of Mayberry
By Derek Halsey

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January 2015 Reviews


JOHN MAILANDER WALKING DISTANCE No Label No Number    This young fiddler has surrounded himself with top-flight players capable of highlighting his fine work and exploring all of the avenues his interests have lead him down. In eight tunes, Mailander explores paths bluegrass and old-time paths with a touch of Celtic thrown in for good […]

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THE LONESOME ACE STRINGBAND OLD TIME No Label, No Number    The Lonesome Ace Stringband comprises Chris Coole on banjo, Max Heineman on bass, and John Showman on fiddle. All three sing. They open with a haunting original fiddle tune by Showman, “Hold Your Lying Tongue.” Showman also wrote “Gauley Junction,” which is played in a […]

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THE ROYS THE VIEW Rural Rhythm RUR 1120    Since their 2011 recording debut this brother-sister duo has captured the hearts and minds of bluegrass fans while scoring a slew of awards and chart-topping bluegrass hits along the way. On The View, Lee’s and Elaine’s fourth album, they have really taken some bold steps in […]

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MAMA CORN HOLD THAT CROOKED LINE No Label No number    Mama Corn is a lively five-piece band centered around State College, Pa., in the north-central part of the state. On Hold That Crooked Line, their second release, they lean heavily on their original material to showcase their freewheeling take on bluegrass music. Like with […]

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LAURIE AND KATHY SING THE SONGS OF VERN AND RAY  Spruce and Maple Music SMM 1012 Laurie Lewis and Kathy Kallick are paying tribute to one of the grittiest and greatest duets to ever play bluegrass, Vern Williams and Ray Park. The ladies set aside any niceties and get down to it with some of […]

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MICHAEL BARNETT ONE SONG ROMANCE Compass Records 4624    Virtuosity is its own reward. When achieved, it swirls about and spins a spell over the listener, drawing them in and whirling them through the thrill of it all. Barnett speaks with three voices here; his songs, his fiddle, and his voice. He’s accompanied by his former […]

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JOE MULLINS & THE RADIO RAMBLER ANOTHER DAY FROM LIFE Rebel Records REB-CD-1859    Those familiar with the recent concert DVD of Joe Mullins saw four-fifths of this current lineup in a performance that featured guitarist/vocalist Duane Sparks early in his band tenure. Sparks has since blended confidently into his role as the principal lead […]

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SWEETWATER STRING BAND RIVER OF RHYMES No Label No Number    I’ve always loved the different versions of bluegrass that come from around the world and from different parts of America. Yes, there’s always the need for the traditional fires to be kept burning in the bluegrass world. But, a hundred different versions of “John […]

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CARROLL BEST AND THE WHITE OAK STRING BAND No label No Number    These are field recordings from Hayward County, North Carolina in the 1950s. They are interesting as they reflect the music the musicians most wanted to play and not necessarily the tunes the collector wanted for his research. They capture the time when […]

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TRUMAN’S RIDGE LOUISIANA SWING No Label No Number    This is the fourth release from Truman’s Ridge. There are 14 tracks. Eight are band originals, while among the remaining six tracks are two Bill Monroe songs (“Dark As The Night And Blue As The Day,” and “Blue And Lonesome”), the “Red Hen Boogie” and the […]

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ALAN MUNDE & BILLY BRIGHT BRIGHT MUNDE Munde’s Child Records MCR004    Picture yourself sitting at your kitchen table with a nice cup of coffee. On one side is Billy Bright with his mandolin and mandola. On the other side is Alan Munde with his banjo. You get the full stereo effect as they start […]

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CROWE, LAWSON & WILLIAMS STANDING TALL AND TOUGH Mountain Home MH15022    Following on the success of their first release Old Friends Get Together, J.D. Crowe, Doyle Lawson, and Paul Williams have released another fine collection of 12 songs with solid instrumental support and sterling vocal work. This offering features Lawson on guitar, Williams on […]

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BOB AMOS SUNRISE BLUES Bristlecone 1008    For those like me who still thought of Bob Amos primarily as the songwriting lead vocalist with Front Range, Sunrise Blues is an ear-opener in many ways. It’s no surprise that he has filled the tracks of his latest CD with several fine new songs, all firmly anchored […]

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THE EARLS OF LEICESTER Rounder Records 3577 Utterly natural, sparkling from beginning to end, and completely sincere might be all I should write in review of the stunning all-star release The Earls Of Leicester. The album sounds as if the bandmembers cut their teeth on this music. Oh right, the six did cut their teeth […]

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PHIL LEADBETTER THE NEXT MOVE Pinecastle Records PRC 1192 Given what Phil Leadbetter has been through the last few years, the temptation is to look for symbols or meanings hidden in his song selection for his new CD. Does this song symbolize this? Or does that one mean that? Some titles certainly seem so. The […]

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FRANK SOLIVAN & DIRTY KITCHEN COLD SPELL Compass Records 7 4633 2    It’s a bit of an over-simplification to pigeonhole Frank Solivan and his band as the early twenty-first century answer to the Newgrass Revival. But I think the comparison is apt, just as I think the presence of two former Newgrassers, John Cowan […]

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MIKE SCOTT AND FRIENDS THE OLD COUNTRY CHURCH Rural Rhythm RCH-2022    The last time out, banjoist Mike Scott and his friends—Bryan Sutton, Adam Steffey, Aubrey Haynie, Rob Ickes, Tim Stafford, and bassist Ben Isaacs—presented instrumentals from the Civil War era. With this recording, Scott and the same cast apply a similar approach to 13 […]

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LONESOME RIVER BAND TURN ON A DIME Mountain Home MH 15632    A new recording from the Lonesome River Band. What more needs be said? Each new release is consistent and entertaining, and you can always find numerous excellent tracks among the good song selection and high-quality presentation. The group here is the same quintet […]

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MISSY WERNER TURN THIS HEART AROUND Hearth Music MWM-2014-1    Steeped in the musical traditions of the heartland, Kentucky and Ohio-native Missy Werner recalls classic moments of loneliness, spirituality, love, and time gone by in her latest release. In songs penned by some of the country’s brightest writers, seamlessly produced (Jon Weisberger), and sung passionately […]

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