- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 18, 2003

The Appalachian region of the United States, which encompasses parts of Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia, is an apt counterpart to Scotland in this year’s folk-life festival. Most of Appalachia’s early settlers were Scotch-Irish who fled the British crown, the Church of England and harsh economic conditions in the early 1700s. Appalachia: Heritage and Harmony features music, food, storytelling and work lore and celebrates in particular the country music that was born in the mountains. Among the performers are:

• The East Tennessee State University Student Bluegrass Band. This is a school with an entire academic program centered on bluegrass and country music, as well as an academic minor in Appalachian studies. The program’s senior band is made up of some of its outstanding players. Recent graduates include country music superstar Kenny Chesney and Blue Highway leader Tim Stafford.

• John Dee Holeman and Melvin Alston, guitarists from Durham, N.C. Mr. Holeman is a master bluesman and buck dancer. In 1988, he was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He also was the winner of a North Carolina Folk Heritage Award in 1994. He is accompanied by Mr. Alston.

• Nat Reese, a guitarist from Princeton, W.Va. Mr. Reese grew up in the coal fields of West Virginia and began to perform blues and string band music in the 1930s. He is the 1995 winner of the Vandalia Award, West Virginia’s highest folk-life honor.

• James “Sparky” Rucker, guitarist, and Rhonda Rucker, harmonica player, from Maryville, Tenn. Mr. and Mrs. Rucker are performers and scholars of traditional black music. Mr. Rucker is a folklorist, historian, musician, storyteller and author. His performances include music and stories from the history of black American traditions. Playing banjo, guitar and spoons, he is accompanied by his wife.

• Joe Thompson, a Mebane, N.C., fiddler, and Bob Carlin, a Lexington, N.C., banjo player. The black string band tradition is disappearing quickly, and there are few players left. One of the few is Mr. Thompson, who along with his late cousin Odell entertained in North Carolina for many years. He was the winner of a North Carolina Folk Heritage Award in 1991. He will be accompanied by Mr. Carlin on banjo.

Portions of this summary are drawn from the Web site of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival (www.folklife.si.edu/CFCH/festival2003/2003_festival.htm).

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