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Hiltons, VA -- In the classic mountain ballad “Rank Strangers,” the narrator bemoans the changes that have occurred in his cherished home place. The fact that those changes do occur was brought home to music lovers worldwide with the death of Dr. Ralph Stanley recently. The Stanley Brothers version of “Rank Strangers” is undoubtedly the gold standard for this haunting ballad. Author Thomas Wolfe, himself from Appalachia, wrote that “you can’t go home again.” Some folks may say that modernization happens slower in Appalachia – and it does. When it does happen, it can feel as though the sacred musical traditions we grew up with are fading away.
But then a spark comes along and creates a whole wildfire.
Such was the case at last year’s Carter Family Memorial Music Festival, which will forever be known as the festival in which audiences saw the return of Larry Sigmon. Larry and his longtime musical partner Barbara Poole were known as the Unique Sound of the Mountains, and their lively banjo and bass act was a perfect fit for the Carter Fold. It was something Fold audiences looked forward to for weeks and months in advance. They never failed to fill the dance floor. But with Barbara’s passing in 2009, Larry also quit playing, and many fans wondered if he’d ever sing and play onstage again. Eight years after Larry stopped performing professionally, lovers of old time music got their answer.
Larry came to last year’s festival to do a bit of jamming outside, and he had no intention of playing onstage. But when word got out that both scheduled upcoming acts had band members who were delayed in arriving due to two separate traffic accidents on not one but two interstates they were traveling on, Larry agreed to help fill the time by playing a few songs. Martha Spencer – one of the younger generation’s most talented musicians and fiercest advocates of traditional music – backed Larry on bass.
The duo took the stage, and old time music history was made. The Fold was overwhelmed by both laughter and tears, thundering applause, smiles all around – and hundreds of clogging taps. Larry and Martha onstage together proved that the younger generations are ready to help see that our traditions continue. They received four standing ovations.
This year, the 42nd Annual Carter Family Memorial Music Festival will be presented Friday, August 5, and Saturday, August 6, at the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, Virginia. The Fold is so proud to welcome back Larry and Martha – along with such treasured acts as the Mountain Park Old Time Band, Big Country Bluegrass, and the Whitetop Mountain Band. All this great music takes place on Saturday, while up-and-coming youngster Emi Sunshine headlines on Friday. Emi’s premiere performance at the Fold filled the house and delighted the audience. She isn’t even a teenager yet, and she has her own band. Both days will feature performances by Lorrie Carter Bennett and long-time Carter Family friend, Ronnie Williams. There’s also a possibility that some other surprise guests may be part of the lineup.
The Carter Family Memorial Music Festival was inspired by Carter patriarch A.P. Carter. He recognized the need to preserve our sacred traditions. His daughter, Janette Carter, launched the festival and later weekly concerts to honor her father’s wishes. Today, Janette’s daughter, Rita Forrester, welcomes you to the latest festival, where you will once again see how traditions live on one generation at a time. This is a weekend you don’t want to miss.
This year’s festival is dedicated to Glenn Jones – Helen Carter’s husband, Ray Carter – longtime volunteer and greeter in the Carter Museum, and to Rita’s dog Belle. All three filled a special place in Carter Family history and in their hearts. Helen, eldest daughter of Maybelle and Ezra Carter, married Glenn Jones. Glenn and Helen raised four sons. They had many ups and downs during their marriage – including the loss of their son, Kenny – but their steadfast love for each other never faltered. Helen’s father, Ezra, moved their family all the way from Richmond to St. Louis to deter Glenn’s courtship. Glenn always said that Ezra forgot about his ability to fly. Glenn was a pilot, and he followed Helen to St. Louis. A true southern gentleman, Glenn took care of Helen during the extended illness before her death – rarely leaving her side. A loving father and grandfather, Glenn is very much missed by everyone who knew and loved him.
Ray Carter volunteered at the Fold for over ten years. Most visitors to the Fold remember Ray as the smiling gentleman who always greeted them in the museum. Generous and caring, Ray volunteered almost any place his help was needed. He fried fish every Friday for the Carter’s Valley Ruritan Club, and he volunteered at the Appalachian Fair at Gray every year. Ray loved to tell you about his wife, children, and grandchildren. They were his greatest pride and joy. He served in the Navy and traveled around the world aboard a submarine before retiring to his home in Carter’s Valley. We all miss his cheerful smile and loving spirit.
Belle, Rita’s big white Great Pyrenees dog, often greeted visitors in her own unique, sweet way. She came to Rita’s from a neighbor’s house and decided to stay. Fold audiences are familiar with Lefty, Rita’s other dog, who visits the Fold almost every Saturday night. Lefty also moved from a neighbor’s and refused to go back. You could tell when it was old time music night at the Fold if you saw Belle. She preferred old time to bluegrass, and she loved Folk Soul Revival. The first night they played the Fold, she got between drummer Dan Witt’s legs and refused to move. Dan sweetly continued to play – never missing a beat. Belle often spent time in A.P.’s birthplace cabin with her buddy Burdette who always brought her bones. She guarded the Fold, cabin, museum, and our neighborhood houses dutifully until her death last month. When Rita’s Aunt Nancy got sick, Belle slept under her bedroom window every night, and she visited Rita’s cousin Mary Ann every day until her death. She once kept an overnight visitor who slept in our office across the road from the Fold from sleep walking down the steep steps in front of the house. Walking in his sleep, he got as far as the front porch and fell asleep there. Belle laid on the step below him and watched him until he woke up as if she knew he might fall. Even guarding Rita’s cats, you could see her every night lying awake and watching from the hillside or walking all around the neighborhood protecting it. From her resting place, she can still guard all the things she once did. Neither the Fold nor Rita will ever be quite the same without her. Now she’s on guard in Heaven.
Tickets are available at the gate only; all seats are festival seating. Tickets are $10 for adults on Friday, $20 for adults on Saturday, or both days $25 for adults. Children’s tickets (ages 6 to 11) are $5 a day; under age 6 free. Gates open at 3:00 p.m. Friday and at noon on Saturday. Music on the stage gets underway at 6:00 p.m. on Friday night and at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.
Performing on Friday, August 5th, 2016:
Performing Saturday, August 6th, 2016:
Performing Friday, August 5th and Saturday, August 6th:
Carter Family music will open each set – Friday night, Saturday afternoon, and Saturday night. Friday’s performance by Emi Sunshine will feature her group on two sets. Saturday’s performers will do single sets. The music begins at 6:00 p.m. Friday and lasts until 10:00 p.m. On Saturday, it begins at 3:00 p.m. and runs until 6:00 p.m., with a supper break from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday evening’s performance starts at 7:30 p.m. and lasts until 11:00 p.m.
Ticket gates, craft and outside food booths open at 3:00 p.m. on Friday and at noon on Saturday. Visitors may take chances to win a homemade quilt or a beautiful custom made Carter Fold banjo. This special instrument created by Johnny Gentry of the Mountain Park Old Time Band to help fundraising efforts for the Fold (and the quilt) will be given away to a lucky ticket holder Saturday night. Tickets for the banjo went on sale last year and can be purchased until the drawing takes place. The A.P. Carter Cabin Birthplace and the Carter Family Museum will be open from the time the gates open each day until 8:00 p.m. There will be lots of music and jamming on the grounds in addition to the scheduled performers inside the Carter Fold. Limited rough camping is available.
If you’ve ever been to the annual festival at the Fold, you know you’re going to have a great time. However, if you’ve never been to a festival or the Fold itself, we encourage you to stop on by, do some dancing, and enjoy some old-fashioned mountain hospitality. After only a few minutes, you will surely agree that the music and traditions of Appalachia are by no means fading away – they’re stronger than ever.