The annual Tommy Jarrell celebration – commemorating the life and music of the influential local musician – is scheduled for February 24th-24th. 26 at the Historic Earle Theater in Mount Airy.
The celebration includes concerts, a youth competition, workshops and a film screening. The popular festival has something for every music lover of yesteryear. The annual event celebrates the music and teachings of Surry County-born and veteran music pioneer and icon Tommy Jarrell, who lived from March 1, 1901 to January 28, 1985.
Many of the activities take place at the Old-Time Music Heritage Hall at the Historic Earle Theater at 142 North Main Street.
On Thursday, February 24th there are free youth classes. Flatfoot dancing is at 4:30pm, violin lessons are at 5:30pm, followed by guitar, banjo and mandolin lessons at 6:15pm. Music instruction is by Jim Vipperman, Brown-Hudson Folklore Award winner as Traditional, teaches musicians and teachers. These classes are sponsored in part by a TAPS grant from the Folklife Division of the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
The Southeast Sirens Tour will hit the stage at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The tour is presented by The Surry Arts Council and Pine State Marketing and features Caitlin Krisko & The Broadcast and Abby Bryant & The Echoes. Tickets cost $15.
Friday at 7pm is the free screening of You Gave Me A Song, a film about Alice Gerrard. The film offers an intimate portrait of ancient music pioneer Alice Gerrard and her remarkable, unpredictable journey of creating and preserving traditional music. After the film there will be a question and answer session with director Kenny Dalsheimer and Gerrard.
The Q&A will be followed by a brief appearance by Gerrard, accompanied by Tatiana Hargreaves and Reed Stutz. This film and event are made possible in part by the significant support of Presenting Sponsor The North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources through their She Changed the World: NC Women Breaking Barriers and Come Hear NC programs.
In a career spanning more than 50 years, Gerrard left an indelible mark on the history of traditional music. Her groundbreaking collaborations with Appalachian singer Hazel Dickens in the 1960s and ’70s spawned four classic LPs (recently reissued by Rounder) and influenced numerous young singers. Her next four solo albums, including Bittersweet, produced by Laurie Lewis, and Follow the Music, produced by His Golden Messenger’s Mike Taylor, further showcased Gerrard’s many talents: her compelling, eclectic songwriting; her powerful, sharp-edged vocals and instrumental mastery of rhythm guitar, banjo and old fiddle. Gerrard’s 2015 album Follow the Music was nominated for a Grammy. Their most recent release, Sing Me Back Home: The DC Tapes 1965-1969 on Free Dirt Records, has garnered critical acclaim for its intimate look at previously unheard Hazel and Alice practice tapes.
Gerrard has appeared on more than 20 recordings, including projects with many traditional musicians such as Tommy Jarrell, Enoch Rutherford, Otis Burris, Luther Davis and Matokie Slaughter; with Tom Sauber and Brad Leftwich as Tom, Brad & Alice, with the Harmony Sisters, the Herald Angels, Beverly Smith and with Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle.
Old-time workshops are held at the Earle on Saturdays from 1:30pm to 5:00pm. The workshops are $25 per person and participants can register online at www.surryarts.org or [email protected] or call 336-786-7998. Through classes, presentations, workshops and performances, attendees will learn from some of the most respected and respected musicians in the industry: Chester McMillian, Martha Spencer and Emily Spencer.
The workshops are held at the Historic Earle Theater and include fiddle, banjo, guitar, bass, singing and dancing – whatever participants want to learn. Martha Spencer is a singer-songwriter, mountain musician and dancer from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Raised in the musical Spencer family, she learned to play multiple instruments (guitar, fiddle, banjo, bass, dulcimer, mandolin) and flatfoot/clog at an early age. She has played shows, festivals and led workshops in the US, Australia, UK and Europe. She has just released a solo album and has been featured in articles such as Rolling Stone Country, No Depression, Wide Open Country, Cowboys & Indians Magazine, Americana Highways and PopMatters.
Emily Spencer is a certified PK-12 teacher and has taught violin, banjo, guitar, mandolin, dulcimer and bass in the schools and at Wilkes Community College and Wytheville Community College. She has been making music since she was a child and began playing with Thornton Spencer in the Whitetop Mountain Band in the 1970’s and continues with the band today.
Chester McMillian was born in Carroll County, Virginia into a musical family and community. He has been playing traditional music in the old-time round-peak style since he was a child. By the time he was 11 or 12, he was living in Surry County and was an active participant in the Round Peak music community. In 1962 Chester married into the Dix Freeman family and the two began making a lot of music together. Chester played guitar with Tommy Jarrell for 15 years and he developed his guitar style specifically for playing with Tommy. He has also played and recorded with Dix Freeman, Kirk Sutphin and Greg Hooven, with whom he formed the group Backstep.
On Saturday, the WPAQ Merry-Go-Round begins at 11 am with workshop leaders and attendees followed by bands including Grace ‘N Grass.
Lew Bode and Jim Vipperman will direct the Tommy Jarrell Festival youth competition on Saturday at 3pm at the Andy Griffith Museum Theater under the Andy Griffith Museum. Categories include Fiddle, Clawhammer Banjo, Guitar, Vocal, Dance and Other (including all other instruments and bands) in two age ranges: 5-12 and 13-18. Contestants are given three minutes to perform and may have an accompanist, although recorded assistance is not permitted. Competitors can register at the event, there is no entry fee and trophies will be awarded after the competition.
The Whitetop Mountain Band takes the stage for the Tommy Jarrell Birthday Concert and Dance hosted by Lew Bode at 7 p.m. Saturday. The Whitetop Mountain Band is a family band from the highest mountains in Virginia. Known for their high energy and charisma on stage, the Whitetop Mountain Band is one of Appalachia’s most popular dance bands. They have performed at all kinds of venues in the United States and abroad, including the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the National Folklife Festival, the World Music Institute, the Carter Family Festival, the Dock Boggs Festival, the World’s Fair, the Virginia Arts Festival, the Floyd Fest and the Ola Belle Reed Festival , and Merlefest. Admission tickets are $10.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.surryarts.org or call Surry Arts Council at 336-786-7998. Tickets can also be purchased at the box office prior to each show, subject to availability. Select Tommy Jarrell Festival events are supported in part by the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.