Jack Holt named as winner of jam session contest

By Jessica Johnson

March 1, 2014

Jack Holt was named by Nashville-veteran John Rees as the winner of Surry Arts Council’s jam session contest.

Holt is a regular member of Thursday-night jam sessions at the Historic Earle Theatre in downtown Mount Airy, and was one of four finalists in the contest. The others were Daryll Atkins, Paula Dellenbach, and Ann Miller.

Rees owns and operates a gospel music label, Godschild Records, and has played with Donna Fargo and Skeeter Davis. He was also a member of The Occasions. He recently moved back to Mount Airy after spending many years working in the Nashville music scene, and attended the twice-a-week jam sessions for six months, taking note of the musicians he found.

Holt will receive the chance to launch his career to the next level, with free studio time offered by Rees, as well as post-production work, translating to around 20 hours of free studio time.

“There are many reasons he came out as the winner. He was so supportive of everyone on stage, and worked as hard for everyone as he did for himself, which really set him apart. He is a good team player. At the same time, when he did his own music, he rose above in terms of his ability. He is a good singer, as well as a great writer and musician. He also has the commercial look, which, these days, is certainly a big piece of the pie,” Rees said of Holt.

“Jack is a great representative of North Carolina music, and I hope this will be a good opportunity for him to further his music. He certainly has the right attitude going into what is likely going to be a long journey.”

Holt was born in Stuart, Va., raised in Lawsonville in Stokes County, and moved with his family to Pilot Mountain when he was around 12 years old. He said his dad was a farmer, and was “the real musician in the family, playing guitar, mandolin, banjo — just about any instrument he touched.”

“I thought so much of him, but I never could play anything, to be honest, until later in my life. I started going to a church on the lower side of Pilot Mountain; my brother went there and played guitar a little, and me and him got to playing, just messing around a little bit, and I got a fever for it I could not quench, which started my journey,” Holt shared.

On Christmas day in 1998, Holt received a guitar as a gift from his wife Amity and his son Zarek. Since that time, Holt said he had been playing at his local church and “attending every jam session I could find.”

Holt works full-time as a water treatment plan operator by day, and by night he is a musician — a multi-instrumentalist — playing guitar, mandolin, banjo, twelve-string guitar, bass, and autoharp. He plays for multiple bands, including Cranford Creek Band, The Sounds of Bluegrass band, Harvest Time Singers, Melvin and Gloria Snow with Cross River, and Mountain Road Bluegrass and Gospel. He said he fills the rest of his time with jam sessions, “playing almost every day of the week somewhere.”

Holt shared that his father played music up until the week he died and Holt learned even more about the music while taking care of his father, who had Alzheimers Disease.

“I never got to enjoy playing that much with him, but I put a guitar in his hand and he would play a little something, and I was surprised at what I could actually learn that way. He could teach me some things, even though he didn’t know that much about what he was doing, so we picked and played a little bit before he passed away. I learned how to play the banjo sitting there at night with him.”

The week after Holt’s father died, Holt picked up his dad’s mandolin and the first song he played was Ricky Skaggs’ “The Little Mountain Church House,” which he played at church soon after. This inspired Holt to master the mandolin, and then later added the twelve-string guitar and learned to play the autoharp.

Holt said he loves to play as part of the jam band on Thursday nights at the Historic Earle Theatre in downtown Mount Airy. He also plays at the Lambsburg Community Building Jam, the Willis Gap jam sessions, Jesse Needham’s jams in Tobaccoville, Lonnie Mabe’s jams “off 66 in Stokes County,” and also plays every Monday night at McDonald’s in Pilot Mountain.

He often works with his wife, Amity, on writing original music. “My wife is the poet in the family. She started writing poems here and there and I would run across one, and sometimes, as the good Lord allows, I would get a tune in my head.” He and his wife have copy-written 22 songs through that process. “I haven’t made big money with it, but I love it,” Holt explained.

Holt said, at the time he found out he was a finalist, that he was hoping to win, because “studio time is so expensive.”

“If I could win this studio time, maybe I could get three or four songs recorded, and if they are radio quality, I may get air play, and who knows where this might wind up.”

Holt has a website for his music at

Reach Jessica Johnson at 719-1933 or on Twitter @MountAiryJess.