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Roots Tour Stops in Bristol

May 10, 2011

Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion sponsors the Bristol leg of the Roots of American Music Tour at State Street's Paramount Center for the Arts, Friday, May 13th at 7pm. Doors open at 6:30pm. The Crooked Road, Heartwood and Blue Ridge Traditional Arts have organized a travelling road show of historic Downtown theatres across southwest Virginia in support of the permanent exhibit, "Roots of American Music", opening at the Blue Ridge Music Center May 28th in Galax, VA. The show tells the story of how American music was created in Southwestern Virginia after 1720 from a variety of foreign influences. Sounds were delivered to our beautiful mountains from as far away as Ulster in Ireland, the Rhine Valley of Germany, England and Africa.

Among the extraordinary artists slated to perform at the Bristol show: Dale Jett, Cheick Hamala Diabate, Nick Moloney, Burl Rhea, Joey Abarta, Kirk Sutphin, Molly Slemp, Sammy Shelor, Eddie Bond, Linda Lay, Wayne Henderson, and Leigh Beamer.

As an added bonus, someone in the audience that night will win two weekend passes to Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2011! Tickets to the Roots of American Music Tour in Bristol are on sale now at The Paramount Center for the Arts box office and online.

Dale Jett is a member of the Carter Family, the legendary "First Family of Country Music." His grandparents, Sara and A.P. Carter, and his great-aunt, Maybelle Carter, helped invent country music. Like his grandpa, Dale is a song collector, arranger, and composer. Like his grandma and mother (Jeanette Carter) Dale is a soulful singer. His music reflects the influences of many musicians and styles of music. It was the legendary Elizabeth “Libba” Cotton, a fellow left-handed guitarist, who first showed him how to play chords upside down and backwards. In addition to the guitar, Dale plays the autoharp, but it is his powerful voice that sets him apart, a voice that stays in your heart.

Cheick Hamala Diabate is a griot from Mali, West Africa, and a master of the ngoni, a gourd instrument that turned into the banjo in America. West Africa has a strong oral tradition and the griots are poets, musicians, and historians who keep their people’s history and music. Cheick Hamala has performed at the Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian Institution, and in Europe, Asia, and Canada. His performance in Roots of American Music illustrates the influence African music had on the creation of a distinct American sound.

Michael "Mick" Moloney is the brilliant Irish musician and scholar who created the Green Fields tours that set off the Irish music and dance revival in America. Mick sings in a rich baritone, plays Irish banjo and Celtic guitar, and is a genial and entertaining host. Born in Limerick, Ireland, he is the author of Far From the Shamrock Shore: The Story of Irish American History Through Song. A professor in the Music Department at New York University, he is a National Heritage Fellow, and a long-time fan of the music of deepest Appalachia.

Burl Rhea hails from Virginia’s Russell County, in the coalfields of the Cumberland Mountains. An underground coal miner for most of his working life, Burl sings stark, distinctive songs of mining, the mountains, and lost love, accompanying himself with a driving drop-thumb banjo style reminiscent of the playing of Molly O’Day.

Joey Abarta is known to Irish musicians everywhere for his spectacular playing of the uillean bagpipes, an Irish instrument noted for its complexity. It is inflated by a bellows positioned under the right elbow (hence the name, uillean is elbow in Gaelic). Ten fingers work a chanter, and a set of harmony pipes are laid across the player’s lap, and a harmony tapped out with the heel of the hand. One needs almost to be a contortionist to play it, and it is said to take a lifetime to learn. But Joey won the All-Ireland piping championship last year at age 22, an astonishing feat.

Kirk Sutphin is from the famed "Round Peak" area on the NC — VA border, a tiny place which gave the world that storied style played by Tommy Jarrell and others. Kirk is a master player of an astounding variety of old-time banjo styles, and among the best old-time mountain fiddlers playing today. He was a Jarrell neighbor, and Tommy spent much time with Kirk when he was a kid. In addition to the fiddle and banjo, Kirk is also a dead-on back-up guitar player. He is a historian of this music, a keeper of instruments and other artifacts, as well as stories of the players.

Molly Slemp The traditional music of Southwest Virginia is held in good keeping by a number of young artists who infuse it with new energy and vibrancy. Seventeen-year-old Molly Dale Slemp of Wise County has been singing since the age of three. Molly sings mountain ballads and coal mining songs with a voice that is arresting and textured beyond her years. Her rendition of the "West Virginia Mine Disaster" was a standout cut on the award-winning compilation Music Of Coal, released by Lonesome Records in 2007.

Sammy Shelor is the leader of the superb bluegrass band, The Lonesome River Band. He is from a famous musical spot, the Meadows of Dan in Patrick County, Virginia. Nine families have been the primary musicians there since colonial times, and Sammy is related to most of them. When he was only four years old, one grandpa made him a “banjo” from an old pressure cooker lid, and the other grandpa promised to buy him a real banjo if he could learn to play two songs on that contraption. He got his real banjo in no time and has been perfecting his technique ever since. Sammy is one of the finest bluegrass banjoists alive, a legendary player, a notable guitarist, and good harmony singer.

Eddie Bond learned songs, guitar playing, and flatfoot dancing from his mill worker grandma in Fries, Virginia. At age three he was dancing on stage for quarters with his great-uncle’s band. Today Eddie is noted for his powerful singing, and if an instrument has strings, he can play it. He is the brilliant old-time fiddler, banjoist, and autoharp player with The Bogtrotters, a favorite dance band in the Southern highlands. Eddie was born and raised in the tiny New River mill town of Fries, Virginia; a town that played an important role in the early recording history of country music. Eddie performs both nationally and internationally, but he never forgets where he is from, and is always eager to play for a hometown crowd.

Linda Lay is a native of Bristol, Virginia, and began singing solo gospel songs in church when she was a little girl. Her father taught her string instruments, and took her to the Carter Fold where she sang and danced. Linda has a show-stopping voice of great richness and clarity, and is the vocal lead in the acoustic band, Springfield Exit. Her soaring tones are also heard in the spine-tingling mountain gospel of the Stony Point Quartet. Linda is skilled with various instruments, and is a prized session player on the string bass, where her unerring sense of timing has made her a musician’s musician.

Wayne Henderson is a finger picking guitar whiz noted for his stunning performances of old-time fiddle tunes on the guitar, as well as his richly melodic interpretations of ballads and soulful songs. Wayne is known internationally for the handmade guitars he fashions from Brazilian rosewood, mountain red spruce, and ebony. He was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship for his guitar making, and played a Carter Family tune for the First Lady at the White House. Some think he is the best guitar maker on the planet, but such talk embarrasses Wayne. So he retaliates by telling stories from Rugby, the tiny spot where he lives in Grayson County, Virginia. According to Wayne the small population of Rugby (only seven in downtown) requires that some key jobs be shared, including constable, bad girl, and town drunk. This cooperation often creates complications, according to Wayne, and makes Rugby an exciting place to live. He may tell us about some of this Rugby excitement.

Leigh Beamer has something in common with most of the musicians on this tour. Like them, she started playing at a young age. But Leigh is still at a young age, having recently turned fifteen. She started about a year ago, and is excited by songs, guitar, and old-time banjo. What a difference a year makes! Leigh has been described as a beautiful young girl with a big voice. She is from Wytheville, VA.