Tommy Jarrell Festival kicks off Thursday

Staff reports

February 25, 2014

The 13th Annual Tommy Jarrell Festival will be held Feb. 27 through March 1, with renowned old-time musicians coming to town to celebrate the musical influence of the festical’s namesake.

Among the activities anticipated are jam sessions, music, films, dancing, luthiers, and the popular youth talent competition.

The festival, sponsored by the Surry Arts Council, commences with free youth fiddle and guitar lessons and a free jam session on Thursday.

On Friday screenings of the documentaries “Sprout Wings and Fly” and “Music of Surry County” will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., as well as a jam session, at the Old-Time Music Heritage Hall at the Historic Earle Theatre in downtown Mount Airy.

At 7:30 p.m. on Friday, the festival continues with the Tommy Jarrell Festival Dance featuring the Slate Mountain Ramblers and Back-Step.

Festival events kick-off Saturday with a jam session from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m.

The WPAQ Merry-Go-Round, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 pm on Saturday, will feature Slate Mountain Ramblers and Buckstankle Boys. The admission armband is $5, and includes all festival events from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m., including the afternoon Old-Time Workshops.

For Saturday’s old-time music workshops, Nick McMillian of Back-Step returns to conduct the fiddle workshop at 1 p.m. and Paul Brown — musician, journalist, and Surry County native who retired last year from NPR News — will be joining him this year.

Brown will also be joining SC Broadcasters’ Ivy Sheppard for the banjo workshop at 2 p.m.

Marsha Todd, of the Slate Mountain Ramblers, is back with her dance workshop at 3 p.m.

Local Luthiers David Sheppard and Larry Dumas will have their instruments on display and artists will also have their CD’s for sale.

At 4 p.m., Uncorked in Mayberry, located at 126 N. Main St, will have a tasting of Round Peak Vineyard’s Fiddlers Red, which was named for Tommy Jarrell. Uncorked in Mayberry will open at 10 a.m. and remain open during the Tommy Jarrell Birthday Concert.

The Youth Old-Time Talent Competition begins at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday. The competition is for ages 5 to 12 and 13 to 18 in fiddle, clawhammer banjo, guitar, dance, vocal and others. There is no registration fee. Interested parties may contact the Surry Arts Council to register, or register on-site 30 minutes prior to competition. Winners will be announced at the beginning of the Tommy Jarrell Birthday Concert that evening at 6:30 p.m. and trophies will be awarded.

The festival culminates with the Tommy Jarrell Birthday Concert, with so many performers that the start time had to be moved to 6:30 p.m. Hosted by Lew Bode, the concert will feature many award-winning artists including:

- Chester McMillian and Back-Step — McMillian frequently played and recorded with Tommy Jarrell and was recently awarded the Brown-Hudson Folklore Award for his commitment to preserving and passing on Old-Time music.

- SC Broadcasters, with Sarah Osborne, Ivy Sheppard and David Sheppard. In addition to the fiddlers’ conventions, music halls and festivals they play, many people know Ivy for her Surry Spotlight show on WPAQ, 740 AM, and as host of the Earle’s weekly Old-Time Jam.

- Richard Bowman and the Slate Mountain Ramblers — Staples at both fiddler’s conventions and dances, Slate Mountain Ramblers are a family string-band from the Blue Ridge. In addition to numerous awards won as a band and individually as musicians, Marsha Todd is an award-winning dancer.

- The Fiddlin’ Carson Peters Band — featuring 9-year-old Carson, who has won numerous awards and in August of last year gained a nationwide audience as a guest on “The Tonight Show.”

- Buckstankle Boys — Featuring Wes Clifton (grandson of the legendary Verlen Clifton), Andy Edmonds (mentee of Benton Flippen), Seth Boyd (same Boyds as The Dryhill Draggers), and Todd Hiatt (whose musical career began in church with his grandfather, Elmo Hiatt), Buckstankle Boys are old-school, dyed-in-the-wool bluegrass and Old-Time.

- Paul Brown and The Toast String Stretchers — A musician since childhood, Brown spent years collecting and documenting traditional music. Local residents may remember him from his time at WPAQ and many more will recognize him from his time with National Public Radio. As a musician, Brown studied with Tommy Jarrell, Verlen Clifton and Paul Sutphin, to name a few.

- Adams, Queen and Rifkin — Sheila Kay Adams, 2013 NEA National Heritage Fellow, is a seventh-generation ballad singer, storyteller and musician; a member of the Queen family as the daughter of the late 2001 National Heritage Award winner Mary Jane Queen and Claude Queen; and Carol Rifkin has been sharing traditional music, writing songs, teaching dance and engaging people to sing along with her for years. This is Adams, Queen and Rifkin’s first appearance at the Tommy Jarrell Festival.

All events are held at the Old-Time Music Heritage Hall at the Historic Earle Theatre, located at 142 North Main St. in downtown Mount Airy. For additional information, contact the Surry Arts Council at 786-7998 or visit