A celebrated figure in old-time and bluegrass music will be in Mount Airy next week during the annual Tommy Jarrell Festival.
Alice Gerrard is scheduled to appear here as part of a new program being held in conjunction with the festival, a retreat that will focus on female participation in old-time music and their contributions to that genre.
Gerrard is scheduled to give a keynote address next Saturday at noon during an event at the historic Earle Theatre downtown. Her topic will be “Influential women in old-time music.”
“We’re thrilled to have the most recent inductee into the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame as our keynote speaker,” said Tanya Jones, executive director of the Surry Arts Council, which sponsors the Tommy Jarrell Festival.
“She is Icon Woman,” Jones said of Gerrard.
The festival, now in its 17th year, honors the life and old-time musical legacy of Jarrell, a legendary local fiddler who died in 1985 at age 83.
In his later years, musicians from around the world made steady pilgrimages to Jarrell’s home on South Franklin Road.
There the old master would gladly teach the tricks of his trade to younger musicians — one of whom was Alice Gerrard, which makes her appearance here next week appropriate.
“Over the years, we have sought out musicians who came here and hung out with Tommy Jarrell, among those David Holt,” Jones said of a notable disciple of Jarrell’s who hosts public television programs.
“And Alice was one of those musicians,” Jones added.
The Surry Arts Council official also mentioned that Gerrard was in Mount Airy when the council worked with UNC public TV to produce documentaries on Surry County musicians for a “Folkways” series.
“She came to Mount Airy to be part of that, which was also due to her connection to Tommy Jarrell,” Jones said of Gerrard, who founded and has served as editor-in-chief of the Old-Time Herald, a magazine devoted to traditional music.
“We have worked directly with Alice over the years because of her connections to old-time music and Tommy.”
Apart from any musical influences involving Jarrell, Gerrard, now 83, has had a distinguished career in her own right as a singer, banjo picker and guitarist.
Born in Seattle, she performed in a duo with Hazel Dickens and as part of The Back Creek Buddies with Matokie Slaughter. Gerrard was married to the late Mike Seeger, a folk musician and folklorist who also visited Mount Airy, Jones recalled.
Gerrard has remained rooted to Tommy Jarrell throughout her musical evolution.
In a National Public Radio interview in Philadelphia in 2014, she mentions her quest to Mount Airy in the 1970s to meet Jarrell and how it remains a vivid memory. In tribute to him, Gerrard included a song written by Jarrell on an album she recorded in recent years.
Gerrard now lives in Durham.
The cost to attend her presentation next Saturday at the Earle Theatre is $8 or a 2018 Surry Arts Council annual pass.
Gerrard’s keynote address will be part of the overall “Women! Mount Airy Old-Time Retreat.”
“This is occurring just before and during the Tommy Jarrell Festival,” Jones said of the first-ever retreat.
It begins with lunch next Thursday, with classes to be held later that day, concluding with a dinner and jam. A Friday slate of classes will be capped by the Tommy Jarrell Dance at 7 p.m., with more classes Saturday.
The classes, to include fiddle, banjo, guitar, bass, mandolin, flatfoot dancing/square dance calling and harmony singing, will take place at the Andy Griffith Playhouse and Earle Theatre.
Before Gerrard’s address Saturday, 18 to 20 instructors and students will perform on WPAQ’s live radio show, “Merry-Go-Round,” at the Earle Theatre.
“Our efforts are ongoing to preserve and pass on the old-time music tradition,” Jones explained. “Hopefully, attendees will be inspired by the females who are instructing, and it will encourage them to get more involved in old-time music and help promote the genre to both women and men across the generations.”
The tuition cost for the retreat is $350, which includes classes, meals, event tickets and a T-shirt. Youth scholarships are available. The retreat is funded in part by the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
Although the conference is geared toward women, it is open to both genders.
Jones said Thursday that the list of retreat registrants so far included people from as far away as Berkeley, California; Ontario, Canada; and New York City.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.