Religion, Booze and Youth Helped Spark Creativity in Some of the Best Appalachian Music

Aug 28, 2015

This time of year, it’s the perfect temperature for people to gather on their back deck, maybe over some drinks, to play music. So for this week's episode of Inside Appalachia, Jessica Lilly and Roxy Todd spent some time uncovering a few, shall we say, mysteries behind Appalachian music. We’ll also hear how young people are reviving this old time music.

We’ll travel to meet a young fiddler at Galax, Virginia’s Old Fiddler’s Convention and hear more about how music tourism from Southwestern Virginia is helping the local economy.

Gospel Ranger Inspired Country Music in the Heart of Appalachia

First, we hear the story behind the song “Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down.”

It was written by a Pentecostal preacher known as Brother Claude Ely. Some people believed God gave Ely that song. This story comes to us from the fine storytellers at Radio Diaries, Joe Richman and Samara Freemark.

Musician Who Couldn't Walk Created One of The Longest Running Bluegrass Bands in W.Va.

The Black Mountain Bluegrass Boys, taken in Cass, W.Va. Front Row, L-R: Richard Hefner, Uncle Dude Irvine, Dwight Diller, Back Row, L-R: Bill Hefner, Harley Carpenter
Credit Laurie Cameron

While a lot of the music that sprouted from the hills of Appalachia has its roots in church gatherings, booze fueled the self-indulgent square dances that also kindled the flames of some of the best old-time tunes. And some musicians and old timers still remember the wild days, when square dancing was actually avoided by Christians who wanted to keep a clean reputation. Things could get crazy out there on the dance floor with enough moonshine- or on a late night at one of the many beer joints that used to exist. Bluegrass musician Richard Hefner knows many of these stories. His band, the Black Mountain Bluegrass Boys, is said to be the longest running band of its kind in West Virginia. He and his brother Bill learned to play from their Uncle Dude. As Roxy Todd learned, Uncle Dude’s mandolin almost never left his side.

What’s in a Name?

This week for our What’s in a Name? segment, we travel to a little street in Hindman, Kentucky.

Marteka and William provide us with our What's in a Name theme music. They're teenaged siblings from West Virginia who are emerging young voices in the bluegrass community. Marteka plays banjo and William plays guitar. Here's a video of them playing “We’ll meet Again Sweetheart”.

Host Jessica Lilly Talks with Larry Groce, Host of Mountain Stage

For more than 30 years, the Mountain Stage Radio Show has been bringing mountain music from Appalachia to radio stations across the country. But these local musicians have also been joined on stage with mainstream pop, country and rock and roll musicians. Over the years, the show has featured the music of R.E.M., Phish, Barenaked Ladies, They Might Be Giants and Norah Jones, as well as lesser-known artists. Host Jessica Lilly recently sat down with Larry Groce to hear him reflect on where Appalachian music is today, and how it might help our region economically.

Crooked Road

Credit Doug Arbogast, West Virginia University Extension Service

The Crooked Road is a tourism trail in southwestern Virginia, created for people to drive along rural roads and hit dozens of music venues. Some tourists spend days or even weeks at a time driving the Crooked Road and exploring Appalachian music. It stretches from the Blue Ridge to the Cumberland Mountains for 333 miles, crossing some of the poorest areas in this country. And like Mountain Stage, the Crooked Road is bringing visitors from near and far to communities in need of an economic boost. This episode of Inside Appalachia also features a report by Desire Moses, who traveled the Crooked Road recently.

Music in today’s show was provided by Emily Miller and Jesse Milnes, the Mountain Stage Radio Show and the Glennville State Bluegrass Band. Our What’s in a Name theme music is by Marteka and William with “Johnson Ridge Special” from their Album Songs of a Tradition.

We’d love to hear from you. Chat with us on Twitter @InAppalachia. You can also talk with our host, Jessica Lilly, at JessicaYLilly, and our producer, Roxy Todd, at RoxyMTodd. You can also send us an email at: feedback@wvpublic.org. You can subscribe to our Inside Appalachia podcast here or on iTunes here, or on Soundcloud here or on Stitcher here.