Wayne Martin, Margaret Martin and John Beam will be playing at the Earle Theatre on Friday, but they are not a touring band in the usual sense. Their musical relationship is more of the old-time-music variety: friends and family who play together when they aren’t doing the other things that they do.
Wayne Martin is a fiddle player who also happens to be the executive director of the North Carolina Arts Council and a driving force behind the creation of Blue Ridge Music Trails. Margaret Martin is a banjo player (and also married to Martin) who is recently retired from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.
John Beam is a visual artist and teacher by trade, and a guitar and harmonica player who was a longtime member of the Washington, D.C., string band, the Double Deckers, which gained a national following in the 1980s and 90s when Beam provided the band’s signature rhythm and baritone vocals. Bandmate Craig Johnson was a friend of Wayne Martin, and through that friendship, Martin came to know Beam, and to play music with him.
“I came up through the folk-life program that was created in the ’70s,” said Martin, of the career route which led him to running the state’s arts council. “I never really anticipated being the director of an arts agency,” he said with a laugh. “I try to leave my arts administrator hat at home when I play.”
In the process of documenting traditional arts in his early career, Martin learned directly from traditional musicians of the 20th century and from commercial and documentary recordings of the golden age of American music.
Both Martins were mentored by older regional musicians who imparted humor, self-reliance and humility along with their musical skills. They’ve performed with the late musicians Etta Baker, A.C. Overton, Lauchlin Shaw and Joe and Odell Thompson.
Wayne Martin produced recordings of Bascom Lamar Lunsford, fiddler Marcus Martin, ballad singers Doug and Jack Wallin, and blues guitarist Etta Baker.
“I’m really a huge fan of Andy Griffith,” said Wayne Martin. “So I said to John, we really ought to travel to Mount Airy to play the songs we know. It will be a salute to our joint friend Craig (Johnson). We can see the places talked about on “The Andy Griffith Show. We’ll connect the music and the myth of Mayberry.”
Martin said they get together and play sometimes in Virginia, where Beam lives, but this is the first time they will perform in North Carolina.
“This music is something we do and something that was given to us. We are not trying to make a go as touring musicians. We’re sharing the music and the stories. Friday night is about sharing what was generously shared with me. We’ll also be sharing some of the stories about who we learned these tunes from.”
“We’ll be playing music that is the older roots music of North Carolina and Virginia,” said Martin. “Piney Woods Girl of North Carolina” is a song we’ll be playing. It’s a fiddle tune about a fiddler who came down to the Piedmont from the mountains, then came back and wrote this piece.”
Martin said there’ll be some Surry County songs, some Alleghany County songs, some from Virginia, and from other parts of Western North Carolina. There will be a lot of singing, mixed in with fiddle tunes and ballads.
“Margaret and John and I all have a very strong interest in rural blues,” Martin said. “There are many myths about mountain music and how it originated. One huge influence is African-American music. The blues run all through mountain music.”
Wayne Martin, Margaret Martin and John Beam will perform at the Historic Earle Theatre Friday, Oct. 19 at 7:30 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets by phone, please call Surry Arts Council at 336-786-7998 during regular business hours. You may also purchase tickets in person at the Surry Arts Council office in the lower level of the Andy Griffith Playhouse.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.