17th Tommy Jarrell Festival tuning up

By Tom Joyce - tjoyce@civitasmedia.com
The Becky Buller Band will be a special guest for this year’s festival. -

If legendary old-time fiddler Tommy Jarrell were here today, he’d likely be pleased that many people remain interested in that music more than 30 years after his death — especially female performers and fans.

For the 17th-annual festival in Mount Airy celebrating his life and music which starts later this week, there will be a big emphasis on the role women are playing to help keep it alive.

“That is absolutely an intention of the festival,” said Executive Director Tanya Jones of the Surry Arts Council, which sponsors the event. It will begin Thursday and continue through Saturday.

Activities are scheduled at the Old-Time Music Heritage Hall at the Historic Earle Theatre, unless otherwise noted, and will feature traditional music workshops, concerts and dancing.

In addition to a new festival attraction — a “Women! Mount Airy Old-Time Retreat” that will focus on female participation in that music and their contributions to the genre — a woman-led performing group will have a prominent role this year.

“Our highlight for the Tommy Jarrell Festival is The Becky Buller Band,” Jones said.

This will include performing at a Saturday night concert in the Earle Theatre, a highlight of the Tommy Jarrell Festival that is traditionally held on the weekend of his birthday. Jarrell, who lived on South Franklin Road, was born on March 1, 1901 and died on Jan. 28, 1985.

Jones, the Surry Arts Council official, is extremely pleased about Buller’s upcoming appearance.

A native of Minnesota, Buller arguably has taken the acoustical world by storm, including being named fiddler of the year and female vocalist of the year in 2016 by the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA).

“Becky is the only person to win both in the same year,” Jones pointed out. Buller also captured IBMA songwriter of the year honors in 2015.

In addition to the Saturday night concert and other appearances, local students will be directly exposed to Buller’s music.

“We received a South Arts grant for her band to perform an in-school concert and they’ll be at North Surry High School on Friday,” Jones said. South Arts, based in Atlanta, is a nonprofit regional arts organization founded in 1975 to build on the South’s unique heritage and enhance the public value of the arts.

The grant also will support Tommy Jarrell Festival activities on Saturday, when The Becky Buller Band will hold an open sound check at the Earle Theatre after a question-and-answer session.

Jones says the array of events planned for this year’s festival reflects efforts to keep old-time music relevant and viable in a changing world.

“We were in communication with the (N.C.) Department of Natural and Cultural Resources regarding something we could do to increase the focus of Surry County on old-time music, our role in the old-time music world,” she explained.

“And we came up with old-time retreats and we talked about doing one this year with women instructors.”

Jones said this is part of an effort to show that females not only are highly regarded musicians, “but leaders in old-time music — it’s a niche thing.” The retreat also is geared toward increasing participation by that gender in the old-time music genre.

Scheduled from Thursday through Saturday, it will include female-led classes, jams, dances, concerts, workshops and lectures.

“Growing up here, you kind of take the music for granted,” said Marsha Todd, a lifelong old-time and bluegrass musician and coordinator of the retreat. “It’s amazing to see people come here from different states and countries because of what the music has meant to them.”

A sampling of events for the Tommy Jarrell Festival includes:


• 8 a.m.-2 p.m., free tours of local radio station WPAQ at 2147 Springs Road, which specializes in traditional music.

• 4:30-5 p.m., free old-time flatfoot lessons by Marsha Todd, Earle Theatre, 142 N. Main St.

• 5:30-6:15 p.m., free youth fiddle and mandolin lessons by Jim Vipperman, Old-Time Music Heritage Hall, Earle Theatre.

• 6:15-6:45 p.m., free youth guitar and banjo workshop by Vipperman, Old-Time Music Heritage Hall, Earle Theatre.

• 7 p.m., free jam session, Old-Time Music Heritage Hall, Earle Theatre.


• 8 a.m.-2 p.m., free tours of local radio station WPAQ.

• 1 p.m., Becky Buller Band educational concert at North Surry High School, with an introduction by Terri McMurray.

• 7 p.m., Tommy Jarrell Birthday Dance and Concert featuring The Slate Mountain Ramblers and The Whitetop Mountain Band, hosted by Lew Bode, Earle Theatre; admission will cost $10 or a 2018 annual pass.


• 8 a.m.-2 p.m., free tours of local radio station WPAQ.

• 11:00 a.m., WPAQ “Merry-Go-Round” featuring “Women! Mount Airy Old-Time Retreat” participants and instructors, Earle Theatre; $8 admission.

• Noon, Alice Gerrard presentation on “Influential Women in Old-Time Music,” Earle Theatre, $8 or 2018 annual pass.

• 2:30 p.m., open question-and-answer session and sound check with The Becky Buller Band, Earle Theatre.

• 4 p.m., Tommy Jarrell Festival Youth Competition, fiddle/banjo/guitar/vocal/dance/other, for ages 5-12 and 13-18, with trophies awarded after the competition, Andy Griffith Museum Theatre.

• 7:20-7:30 p.m., introduction of The Becky Buller Band by Terri McMurray.

• 7:30 p.m., The Becky Buller Band in concert, Earle Theatre, with tickets $30/$25/$15.

Other information about the Tommy Jarrell Festival is available on the Surry Arts Council website (www.surryarts.org).

The Becky Buller Band will be a special guest for this year’s festival.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/web1_Becky-Buller-this.jpgThe Becky Buller Band will be a special guest for this year’s festival.

By Tom Joyce


Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.