NC Folklife Area Features Generation Now!

The North Carolina Folklife Area at the National Folk Festival in downtown Greensboro, Friday, Sept. 8 to Sunday, Sept. 10 will celebrate North Carolina traditions that are flourishing in the hands of millennial artists.

North Carolina enjoys an international reputation as a cradle of traditional arts, and more young people are practicing traditional arts than ever before. The North Carolina Traditions Stage presents a dynamic line-up of young musicians who like to play at the boundaries of tradition, at times holding to the classic styles of their communities and mentors, at other times breaking out with riffs and rhythms all their own.

Curated by the N.C. Arts Council, the North Carolina Folklife Area will be divided into three distinct visitor experiences:

Hear My Words Stage presents millennial storytellers representing oral traditions from the timeless qualities of Cherokee legend to the immediacy of contemporary spoken word. Some of the stories were first heard centuries ago; others may be having their first hearing today.

North Carolina Traditions Stage will feature millennial artists performing a wide range of traditional music and dance. These young performers have learned to take full advantage of modern technology that may help to preserve and continue their art.

The Craft Gallery will combine innovation and tradition in ways that may surprise you. Sometimes the artists make “old wine in new jugs,” and sometimes they make “new wine in old jugs.” See if you can tell the difference.

Here’s a list of the artists participating in the North Carolina Folklife Area:

Dom Flemons, African American songster
Hillsborough, North Carolina

Dom Flemons has a deep feeling for old music. Drawing from ragtime, Piedmont blues, and spirituals, as well as string band, fife and drum, and jug band music, Dom shapes the sounds of America’s rich musical vernacular into a style that is both deeply rooted and unmistakably contemporary. As a founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and a solo artist, Dom has become an innovative and influential part of North Carolina’s musical legacy.

Since relocating to North Carolina, Dom has added the seldom-heard sounds of bones, quills, jug, and fife to his banjo, guitar, and harmonica, while undertaking projects that explore the importance of African Americans in string band and cowboy music. Finding new audiences and new understanding for traditional music, Dom reimagines and reinvigorates the role of the African American songster.

Cole Mountain Cloggers
Mars Hill, North Carolina

The Cole Mountain Cloggers are a team of 16 cloggers between the ages of five and 15, hailing from Madison, Buncombe, Henderson, and Avery counties in western North Carolina. Madison County holds a particularly important place in the history of American clogging: it was the home of Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in the 1920s, the birthplace of team clogging.

The group is led by acclaimed clogger Jeff Atkins, who founded the team in 2001 after realizing that no local clogging teams were available to children. An alumnus of Mars Hill College’s Bailey Mountain Cloggers himself, Atkins teaches traditional clogging, freestyle mountain clogging, and smooth mountain clogging. The Cole Mountain Cloggers are long-running North Carolina State Fair champions and winners of the Ruth Jewell Trophy for best dance performance. With a busy schedule and first-rate footwork, the Cole Mountain Cloggers are upholding their motto: “Keep a Mountain Tradition Thriving.”

Eric Xavier Band, Eastern North Carolina funk, jazz, R&B
Kinston, North Carolina

Growing up in Kinston, North Carolina, music was a way of life for Eric Xavier Dawson. His father, Edward, hosted late-night jam sessions with local players from Kinston’s thriving music scene — long a hotbed for jazz, soul, and R&B, it is the hometown of R&B and funk legend Maceo Parker. While listening to these sessions, and digging through his father’s record collection, Eric fell in love with the music that has been the backbone of Kinston’s musical legacy. By age 10 he was playing keyboards, joining the music-making at home.

When these sessions became infrequent in his high school years, Eric stopped playing music until he discovered the soprano sax at Eastern Carolina State University and joined the jazz/soul group the Jazz Connection. With the encouragement of the group’s leading members, Eric went on to finish his music degree at North Carolina Central University, a renowned home of North Carolina jazz, while playing at jazz sessions throughout the Triangle. Eric has performed alongside Fred Wesley, Joe Chambers, Branford Marsalis, John Faddis, and many others. With the Eric Xavier Band, Eric upholds eastern North Carolina’s important place in the story of jazz, funk, soul, and R&B.

Leela School of Dance, Bharata Natyam (Indian classical dance)
Fayetteville, North Carolina

Based in Fayetteville, North Carolina, the Leela School of Dance teaches one of India’s most ancient classical dance forms, Bharata Natyam, to aspiring young dancers. Director and dancer Asha Bala has taught classical dance since 1984, when she opened her first school in Mumbai. Trained herself by renowned gurus, Asha Bala has garnered worldwide recognition as both a dancer and an educator.

In Sanskrit, leela means the effortless interplay of the physical and the sublime, of power and beauty. As Indian classical dance is itself a form of prayer, dancers must become one with the dance itself. A 3,000-year-old tradition from South India, Bharata Natyam demands strength, coordination, posture, rhythm, and the alignment of mind and body in order to reach rasa, the sublime bliss for which all art strives. Bharata Natyam has two basic forms: Nritta, purely rhythmic movement with intricate footwork, and Nritya, which incorporates interpretative miming to tell the story of the song being sung. Today, Bharata Natyam has a global presence. With percussion by Asha Bala and singing by classical vocalist Smitha Prasad, dancers Partha Aji, Visrut Sudhakar, Tulsi Patel, and Reshma Goud carry this ancient language of movement forward in North Carolina.

Spencer Branch, Old-time music
Crumpler, North Carolina

Spencer Branch is the collaboration of Virginia-born siblings Martha and Kilby Spencer and North Carolina native Kelley Breiding. With a repertoire drawn from their shared mountain roots, they play traditional bluegrass and old-time country alongside original songs.

Martha and Kilby Spencer come from a musical family from Whitetop, Virginia. “There were always good people coming to the house to play,” says Kilby. “I missed a lot of good musicians, but I guess the music is in my head even if it's not in my memory.” An award-winning fiddler and respected guitarist, Kilby also collects and digitizes rare local music recordings. Martha, a multi-instrumentalist and flatfoot dancer, learned old-time fiddling from her father, Thornton Spencer, and now teaches in the N.C. Arts Council-sponsored Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) programs in Ashe and Alleghany counties.

Kelley Breiding followed her interest in Appalachian music to the clawhammer banjo. She plays in the Round Peak style, known for a bluesy feel with a distinctive rhythm and drive, learned from living in Round Peak, North Carolina and playing with the old-time band Back-Step. Recognized for her powerful vocals and multi-instrumental talents, she has performed with such artists as Peter Rowan and Ralph Stanley.

Le’Andra McPhatter, Gospel, R&B, jazz
Kinston, North Carolina

Le’Andra McPhatter is a self-taught pianist from Kinston, a small town in eastern North Carolina whose reputation for great jazz and R&B music belies its small size. Le’Andra’s gift for gospel, R&B, and jazz gives her a versatile touch at the piano and a soulful approach to both performing and teaching.

Raised in a family of singers and musicians, Le’Andra became a musician at the age of three. Like many great gospel, R&B, and jazz artists, she got her start in the church, playing piano for Sunday services in her hometown. She went on to pursue independent studies in music theory and notation, and is currently a student in the illustrious Jazz Studies program at North Carolina Central University. Studying in the wellspring of North Carolina’s jazz heritage, Le’Andra currently explores innovative techniques of harmony and melody, while simultaneously earning her certification in teaching. She works with students of all ages while continuing to minister at her local church. Le’Andra has performed with artists like Branford Marsalis, Kierra Sheard, and Shana Tucker, spreading the word to audiences across the country about eastern North Carolina’s deep tradition of gospel, R&B, and jazz.

Jeremy Berggren, Veteran’s spoken word poetry
Durham, North Carolina

Jeremy Berggren is a writer, poet, and visual artist, who uses spoken word to critically examine the challenges veterans like himself face as they navigate military service and mental health. A Marine Corps veteran who served in the reserves from 1998-2006, Jeremy was left stateside when his unit was deployed to Iraq. The knowledge that he did not serve with his unit haunts Jeremy to this day; he explores feelings of separation, loss, betrayal, and guilt through spoken word performances. Jeremy’s poetry opens ways to speak about his own experiences, and those of his fellow service members, while the theme of military suicide is central to his visual art. Through spoken word, Jeremy advocates for the needs of veterans, educating the public while breaking the silences surrounding life in the military as well as the difficulties veterans face as they reenter civilian life.

Jeremy has facilitated and organized with Warrior Writers — a veteran-focused arts organization that uses art to encourage healing and to understand experiences of trauma and emotional disruption — and has worked with Iraq Veterans Against the War/About Face. He is featured in the documentary Truth Underground, alongside other spoken word artists from North Carolina’s Triangle area.

Dani Cook, Veteran’s spoken word poetry
Charlotte, North Carolina

Dani Cook never intended to become a poet, but today she lives behind the mic. Born in the hills of northeast Tennessee, Dani served in the military following high school before starting a family and eventually relocating to Charlotte with her two daughters. In Charlotte, Dani discovered her voice through writing and spoken word poetry, finding the power to help, if not completely heal, both herself and her audiences through words. As a poet, Dani has gained a reputation for honesty and directness in her work, transforming the obstacles she endures and overcomes into wisdom for others. Dani’s poetry speaks of her own struggles and observations in a way she hopes will resonate with all audiences, often using humor in such a way that brings to mind the saying, “you have laugh to keep from crying.”

Among her many accomplishments, Dani is the author of the book The Rantings of Dani, a regular poet on Charlotte’s Power98FM, a stage performer, and a member of the Charlotte Respect Da Mic 2009 Slam Team. Dani’s boundary-defying voice has earned her acclaim as the SlamCharlotte December 2009 Slam Champion and Respect Da Mic WOW (Women of the World) Qualifier Slam Champion.

Lawrence “Life” Dean II, Veteran’s spoken word poetry
Jacksonville, North Carolina

When not in the camouflage uniform of a Gunnery Sergeant, Lawrence E. Dean II is known as “Life,” an acclaimed spoken word artist who shares lessons gleaned from his own lived experience with audiences “from projects to the pulpit.”

Born in Conway, South Carolina, Life has served nearly two decades in the United States Marine Corps and currently lives in North Carolina. He began performing almost 15 years ago, earning his stage name at a spoken word event--a nod to his tendency to construct poetic themes by drawing upon his personal experiences. Life garnered national attention a decade ago; a YouTube video of him performing “She Called,” a poem he wrote to his grandmother explaining the call to serve his country, received several hundred thousand hits. With a loyal following in eastern North Carolina, he performs at local churches and clubs, sometimes traveling further afield, including the House of Blues in New Orleans. Whether at home or on the road, Life often brings audiences to their feet. In the words of a fellow Marine, “Life talks with such an aura, it moves you. You’re just hearing it and at the same time you are just like, ‘That’s so true.’”

El’Ja Bowens, Veteran’s spoken word poetry
Raeford, North Carolina

LeJuane “El’Ja” Bowens is an award-winning spoken word poet and author. Born in Detroit, El’Ja joined the United States Army in 2000. During his six years of service, including two deployments to Iraq, El’Ja began to commit his thoughts to paper. In 2005, at the urging of a friend, El’Ja posted several poems online. The positive feedback opened his eyes: poetry was his calling. In 2014, El’Ja became the first poet to win three Grand Slam Finals in three cities across North Carolina. With the Bull City Slam Team, Bowens won the 22nd Southern Fried Poetry Slam, and was nominated for Spoken Word Artist of the Year at the 5th Annual National Poetry Awards in 2015. A featured poet at All Def Poetry, a YouTube channel presented by hip hop legend Russell Simmons of Def Jam Records fame, he has published two books of poetry, So Many Things to Say (2007) and Anywhere ... But Here (2017). For El’Ja, spoken word is a process of understanding. “It is a mechanism for coping with the world,” he explains. “Poetry is more of a conversation. Telling you what I have gone through but sometimes what other people have gone through.”

Tyris Jones, Storytelling
Laurinburg, North Carolina

Hailing from Laurinburg, North Carolina, Tyris Jones grew up listening to elders tell stories and recall memories in his native Scotland County. Tyris was moved early on by his love of learning and narrative. “We would get the old discarded library books, and ... at my grandmother’s picnic table ... sit there and teach ourselves [stories]. Sometimes I was the lead teacher. Me and my cousins, we would rotate who would teach this and who would teach that--and I laugh today at how it all comes full-circle today, using storytelling as a craft.”

While studying at North Carolina Central University, Tyris began telling stories. “It was there that the bug bit me,” he says. He learned to use voice and motion to breathe spontaneous life into story. Tyris is not only a storyteller but also a story collector; he has gathered oral histories from African American elders in Scotland County. Although Tyris has traveled nationally as a professional storyteller, and performed at the 2009 International Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, Tennessee, his richest experiences are still at home in North Carolina, where he is able to see the impression his art makes on his own community.

The Two Bells, Storytelling
Hillsborough, North Carolina

Kevin and Tracy Bell are a husband-and-wife storytelling team from Hillsborough, North Carolina. Performing as the Two Bells, they enthrall audiences young and old with their interactive tandem storytelling style. In 1999, the couple began telling stories through their children’s ministry, carrying on African and African American oral traditions like Anansi and Brer Rabbit, while creating stories of their own.

As members of the National Black Storytellers Guild and the North Carolina Association of Black Storytellers, Kevin and Tracy are inspired by renowned storytellers such as Willa Brigham and Beverly Burnette. “You can find stories in everything,” Tracy says. “We laugh a lot, and make up stories all the time.”

With careers in education and libraries, Kevin and Tracy use inspiration from their mentors and their love of reading to both keep the African American oral tradition alive and help children learn the value of their own life narratives. “Everybody has a story to tell,” Tracy says. “We feel strongly that we are supposed to be that pebble that makes that big ripple. I think that we’re compelled to do it, because we know that it does change lives. We know that we have a gift together.”

Matthew & John Tooni, Storytelling
Cherokee, North Carolina

Brothers Matthew and John Tooni are storytellers and flute players from the Eastern Band of Cherokee. The Tooni brothers were raised in the Qualla Boundary, the Cherokee territory of western North Carolina; they cite the church as the strongest cultural influence in their household growing up. After taking an interest in Cherokee culture as they became older, together Matthew and John have immersed themselves in Cherokee tradition, exploring their history and culture and passing their knowledge onto others through song, dance, and engaging, sometimes hilarious storytelling.

Both Matthew and John are former cast members of Unto These Hills, the long-running outdoor drama depicting three centuries of Cherokee history, performing key lines in the Cherokee language and contributing flute to the production. Matthew recently produced an album of flute and storytelling entitled Through Their Eyes, featuring the voices of local storytellers, including John as well as their parents, Carolyn and Larch Tooni. “I have found an exceedingly great amount of inspiration from my culture,” Matthew says. “Everything that comes from our hearts is genuine inspiration.”

Tarish “Jeghetto” Pipkins, Puppetry
Chapel Hill, North Carolina

After working for years as a poet, visual artist, and barber, Tarish Pipkins had a life-changing conversation with Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, inspiring him to take up the art of puppetry. He chose the stage name “Jeghetto” to reflect his youth growing up in the projects of Pittsburgh, and their influence on his art and vision.

Tarish has lived in North Carolina since 2005, where he has worked with Paperhand Puppet Intervention and taught at the Just Right Academy. Tarish uses his puppets to connect with young students with special needs, teaching social and academic skills through creative communication. Pipkins’ puppetry can also be seen in Missy Elliot’s music video for “WTF (Where They From).”

Building the puppets himself takes talent and creativity, but Tarish says the true work is in bringing them to life. “It’s a craft to build a puppet, but it’s a gift to actually breathe life into it.” According to Tarish, he does not control the puppets but rather influences them, suggesting their motions and guiding their organic actions. “Puppetry is high art,” he says. “It’s like composing an orchestra in 3D.”

The Ink Well featuring Big Mike, Tattooing and Piercing
Durham, North Carolina

Tattooing gave “Big Mike” Corbitt a new chance at life. When he got his first ink, he was a young man looking for a distraction from personal tragedy—tattooing, as the Ink Well’s slogan goes, hurts so good.

For millennia, people have expressed identity through body decoration and adornment. Tattooing and piercing in the 21st century belongs to this tradition. Big Mike learned by watching his childhood friend, who ran the first black-owned tattoo shop in Durham. Later, when he inherited that friend’s tools, Big Mike started seriously practicing tattooing, first on family members, and began to combine mobile tattoo parties with car washes and airbrushing work. Eventually, Big Mike established Ink Well locations in Durham and Fayetteville as places for people to come together for friendship and support, offering tattoos, piercings, auto detailing and car washes.

When Big Mike sees promise in his up-and-coming employees, he invests in them even at the risk of creating competition. “Somebody helped me,” he explains. “And I’m a church guy. I know I’m okay, I’m taken care of. If I help somebody, I know I’ll be rewarded. I have people who call me to this day and say I just want to thank you.”

Chad Brown, Handmade pottery
Ether, North Carolina

Chad Brown makes masterful wood-fired pottery inspired by four generations of family tradition in Seagrove, North Carolina’s renowned pottery community. The confidence and understatement of his pots reflect lifelong immersion in the craft. One of his earliest memories is of playing in the studio of master potters Dot and Walter Auman. Chad recalls, “Dot told Momma that I should be a potter, since I stayed so interested all day long.”

Chad never let his ties to Seagrove ebb. Upon leaving home for college, he brought a carload of work from local potters—pots they hired him to paint in his spare time. After college, he spent a decade in Seagrove’s informal journeyman apprenticeship system as a production thrower for numerous potteries.

Chad struck out on his own in 2010, setting up shop near the kiln site of his great-great-grandfather, William Henry Criscoe. This setting is revered in Moore County history; Criscoe’s original cabin workshop resides in the Smithsonian. Chad channels that legacy into his work. “Many of the shapes that I make today are like the ones that my grandfather and great-great grandfather made,” he says. Chad also earns accolades for his innovations on tradition, which include perfectly formed large-scale pots.

Levi Mahan, Handmade pottery
Whynot, North Carolina

Levi Mahan throws and wood-fires clay pots on the site of his parents’ former pottery, Wild Rose, located a few miles from Seagrove, the Piedmont community famous for its pottery tradition. He grew up there, surrounded by the family business, but didn’t consider a pottery career of his own until college. There, he rediscovered the craft in an introductory course; his life quickly changed course. Levi left his engineering program and moved home to work for his father at From the Ground Up Pottery. In the ensuing years, Levi did production work and became a regular on local kiln firing crews, honing his skills in hand-thrown and wood-fired ceramics.

The log cabin that originally housed Wild Rose now operates as Levi Mahan Pottery. “In 25 years I moved a quarter mile, physically,” Levi sometimes jokes. He plans to transform the pottery back into a family collaboration. The new incarnation of Wild Rose will sell work by Levi’s parents and sister. Reflecting on the unexpected continuity of his experience in pottery, Levi observes, “The Piedmont region of North Carolina--the people, the culture, the food, the ground underfoot--are what made me and in turn they are what I make from today.”

Jessica Spaulding Dingle, Beadwork and jewelry
Lake Waccamaw, North Carolina

Artist Jessica Spaulding Dingle sought to learn beadwork when she was a young girl, a passion she developed from watching dancers’ colorful regalia when attending pow-wows. Women in the Waccamaw-Siouan Indian Tribe in southeastern North Carolina have a strong quilting tradition known for its skillful handwork; Dingle was more interested in doing beadwork but could find no Waccamaw-Siouan artists carrying on the tradition. Learning the basics through books, Dingle acquired a loom and taught herself. As she improved, her reputation as a bead worker grew within local and regional American Indian communities.

Desiring to expand her beading repertoire beyond regalia symbolism and decoration, Dingle began designing unique jewelry pieces, fusing beadwork, stone, and other contemporary materials. With a residency in the North Carolina Museum of History's Artist at Work program, awards from the North Carolina Indian Unity Conference and other honors, Dingle is recognized for her skill as an artist within Native and non-Native communities of eastern North Carolina.

Dingle is proud to represent the Waccamaw-Siouan, and hopes her beadwork will help the tribe reclaim an important tradition in its cultural arts heritage.

Josephus Thompson III, Spoken word poetry
Greensboro, North Carolina

When Josephus Thompson III began writing poems in school, his teachers had to tell him what he was doing was poetry. “My teacher said, ‘This is a nice poem.’ And I was like, ‘This is a poem?’ It didn’t read like any of the poetry we had been reading.” In class, poems were written by the likes of Shakespeare, Frost, and Dickinson. How could Josephus's journal scribblings about his life be considered poetic? But they were. Learning this changed his life.

An accomplished slam poet, Thompson has rocked stages with the Last Poets, Kanye West, and Floetry. Whether performed solo or with dancers and a backing band, his work explores the theme of raising self-consciousness—that his life and the life of everyone in the audience is worthy to be heard.

This conviction motivates his work coaching the Gate City Youth Slam Team, teaching through the Poetry Project, and developing the voices of young Greensboro poets. “So often in schools we’re reading other people’s work and trying to analyze it. Seldom could we see ourselves in it.” says Thompson. For him, the power of spoken word is it allows people to see themselves in it, “to be a part of the piece.”

Dasan Ahanu, Spoken word poetry
Durham, North Carolina

Dasan Ahanu’s poetry is like a hot dish of jambalaya: a creolized concoction of African American artistic cultures that is distinctly southern and soulful. Resident artist for St. Joseph’s Historic Foundation in Durham, Dasan crafts dynamic performances that riff on the rhythms of hip hop, blues, and jazz, and blends personal narratives with imagery and language particular to black southerness.

Introduced to slam poetry in 2001 by fellow poet Terry Creech, the Raleigh native has helped build the foundation for Durham’s slam community. In 2005, Dasan brought the Jambalaya Soul Slam to the Hayti Heritage Center, where each month local poets compete and commune. As founder, coach, and teammate, Dasan has led the Bull City Slam Team in representing Durham nationwide, winning two Southern Fried Poetry Slam titles and finishing in the National Poetry Slam finals in 2010.

For over a decade of slamming, Dasan’s mission has been to “push back on [the] idea of what it means to be southern and a poet.” Through the poetry he makes with Bull City and the space he facilitates at the Jambalaya, Dasan encourages North Carolina poets to relish “the richness of the South and what it feeds into our art.”

The Poetry Project, Spoken word poetry
Greensboro, North Carolina

After spitting at a Poetry Project open-mic, students will be asked why they wrote that poem? The inspiration can come from geopolitical events, social issues, or even awkward high school mishaps. Yet, in the end, every poem is a mediation of the student’s place in their larger world, proving the everyday lives of these Greensboro kids are the matter and material of art.

The brainchild of educator and spoken word poet Josephus Thompson, the Poetry Project originated as a twice-a-week, after-school workshop at McGirt-Horton Branch Library, where students would meet with Josephus to recite, write, and workshop their pieces. Since beginning in 2010, it has expanded into developing literacy and creative writing curricula, hosting poetry slams, and sponsoring the Gate City Youth Slam Team.

Through the Poetry Project, Greensboro youth have been able to not only create and share poetry that resonates with their lives but form a community through which they become role models.

Dark Water Rising, Lumbee Indian rock and soul
Robeson County, North Carolina

Drawing from varied musical influences, including blues, rock and roll, soul, and gospel, Dark Water Rising creates a dynamic, powerful sound. Hailing from the Lumbee Indian Tribe of Robeson County, North Carolina, their name references the black water of the Lumbee River that flows through the heart of their community. Although the group’s Native heritage is evident in their music, they aren't playing “traditional” American Indian music. Rather, they are blending the diverse sounds they heard growing up in a southern Native community, particularly southern rock and soul, and writing songs that address their experiences as well as the complex, tangled lives of American Indian people. Lead singer Charly Lowry says the song “‘Brownskin’ … was written to bring awareness to some of the things that we were seeing back home in our communities. The song is just saying we are a minority, yes, but always be proud of where you come from.”

Since forming a decade ago, the band has received three Native American Music Awards. Dark Water Rising--Charly Lowry (vocals/rhythm guitar/percussion), Aaron Locklear (keys/guitar/drums), Corey Locklear (lead guitar), Zack Hargett (bass), and Emily Musolino (vocals/lead guitar)--will release their third album this year.

Patrick Heavner, Luthier
Asheville, North Carolina

A teenaged Patrick Heavner made his first banjo under the guidance of Charlie Glenn in Beech Mountain, North Carolina. This early project created a lifelong passion, influencing Heavner’s college years and career plans. At Appalachian State University, Heavner took woodworking classes to hone his craft, and absorbed lessons from his professor, Phil Armstrong. He also learned from such banjo-builders as Tim Gardner and Bart Reiter. In 2012, Heavner founded Pisgah Banjos. The company has grown significantly since its opening; every year it turns out 300 fine, affordable, sustainable, and locally made banjos sourced from native hardwoods like persimmon, walnut, cherry, and maple. Patrick’s banjos are available at many instrument retailers, and directly from his company’s website.

Building and repairing stringed instruments requires specialty parts, many only available from international markets. In 2014, Heavner started Balsam Banjoworks, which provides 100% American Made parts to banjo-builders nationwide. Pisgah Banjos and Balsam Banjoworks take sustainability seriously, from installing solar panels at the factory to producing affordable, quality instruments. Patrick says, “It just went along with who I am, and the millennial generation wanting to be more sustainable, and basing their daily lives off of what we do to, and for, the environment.”

Strictly Strings, Old-time string band
Boone, North Carolina

Five years ago, four students in the North Carolina Arts Council-sponsored Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program found themselves together in an advanced strings class with master fiddler Cecil Gurganus at the Jones House in Boone. Soon, Gurganus, Kathleen and Anissa Burnett, Willow Dillon, and Caleb Coatney were playing widely at festivals and dances across the region. According to Gurganus, “When they first started performing, there was not really any singing, and they took that name [Strictly Strings] because it was a fiddle band. But then I heard the Burnett sisters doing a little singing and it kind of got my ears perked up, and then it sort of morphed into a band that was not strictly strings.”

Rooted in old-time, bluegrass, Irish, and swing, the band values how traditions are passed from generation to generation, yet each also cherishes the freedom of pursuing their own musical inclinations and artistic tastes. High on a Mountain, the band’s first CD, is available for download on their website.

Chris Testerman, Luthier
Lansing, North Carolina

“I feel that handmade instruments are really going to be a lot better than anything you buy in the store,” declares luthier Chris Testerman, who builds and plays fiddles, banjos, and dulcimers. He also gives private lessons on fiddle and banjo, and teaches in the Alleghany County Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program.

Testerman grew up in nearby Whitetop, Virginia, a region known for great instrument builders and musicians like Wayne Henderson and Albert Hash. Hash’s daughter, Audrey Hash Ham, a skilled luthier herself, once challenged Testerman to carve out the back of a fiddle with nothing more than a pocket knife and some sandpaper. When he succeeded, she took Testerman under her wing. Testerman studied in the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program with dulcimer maker Walter Messick, and spent time working under Mountain Park, North Carolina-based banjo-builder Johnny Gentry. Now he passes the craft onto those who have an interest.