Breaking Up Christmas serves music and memories

David Broyles Staff Reporter

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More than a half hour before the start of Saturday night’s Breaking Up Christmas program, musicians and those wanting a holiday treat of old time, bluegrass and gospel music stood outside the history Earle Theater sharing memories of music and shows from the past.

Minutes later deejays and musicians Junior Dunn and Lisa Smith, who works at WDSL, a 5,000 watt AM radio station in Mocksville, took part in an impromptu jam session on Dobro and guitar.

“I didn’t hear about Breaking Up Christmas until after it happened last year,” said Smith. “I said wow. That’s something I am going to have to go to. I listened to it on WPAQ (Friday) and we had to come down this year.”

Like many of the musicians present Saturday, tradition and ties to bluegrass and old time run deep with Dunn.

Dunn explained that he played in previous years with groups who participated in the Earle’s jam sessions. He said the 1929 Dobro Smith was playing was originally played by the late musician Bob Epworth for 23 years. Later, the late Richard Fulp picked up the instrument before Smith eventually ended up with.

“I’m the old time music fan,” said Smith. “I’m just dragging him along with me tonight.”

Richard Hiatt had brought his son, Breven, to the show and said it was his first time at Breaking Up Christmas. He went to the show see his brother, Grant Cockerham, play. Eleven musicians tuning up their instruments later came to a quick agreement that Mike Teague, or “Tuba Mike,” should be known as the “avowed and aficionado on old time tuba.”

Teague said he plays claw hammer banjo normally but decided to give the tuba a try in connection with the music, much to the apparent delight of the audience. Teague said one of his favorite situations the brass instrument has gotten him into involved a jam session with a German accordion player who insisted she had a song he would know. He had no idea until she later sang the chorus to a song that turned out to be “Rocky Top.”

“Thank you for coming out and supporting music and the Surry Arts Council. It’s an important thing to do,” said Ivy Sheppard, who has hosting the jam sessions with other members of the group The South Carolina Broadcasters. Other members of the group included David Sheppard and Sarah Osborne.

Melvin Sheppard affirmed another tie to the music’s history, saying he is the fifth cousin of the famed Easter Brothers.

A part of Breaking Up Christmas is as deeply rooted as the trees in the mountains of northwestern North Carolina and southwestern Virginia.

Breaking Up Christmas sprang from traditions which celebrated Old Christmas or Epiphany, also known as “Three Kings Day” and “Twelfth Day.” This is a Christian holiday commemorated on Jan. 6, the twelfth day after Christmas, and for some denominations it signals the conclusion of the twelve days of the Christmas season.

In Mount Airy’s Earl Theatre Saturday night musicians turned back the clock and churned out the music in a free celebration for everyone with an open invitation to bring their instruments and join in. The event was also held on Dec. 26 as well and will be held on Dec 31 for New Year’s Eve starting at 7 p.m. each night. Tim Chadwick is also set to host jam sessions on Jan. 2 at 7 p.m. and group Backstep will play on Jan 4 at 7 p.m. as well.

Reach David Broyles at or 336-719-1952.




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