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Masters of old-time music join young fiddlers, pickers for benefit concert

Junior Appalachian Musicians will join masters of old-time music for a concert and fundraiser at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 9, at Oklawaha Brewing Co., 147 First Ave E.

A fundraiser for JAM kids, the concert features Roger Howell on fiddle and guitar and George Gibson on banjo. JAM kids play at 6:15, Howell at 7 and Gibson at 7:45. Tickets — $10 regular, $20 for seated and $25 for VIP $25 — are available online and at the door.

George GibsonGeorge GibsonA legendary banjo artist, George R. Gibson is a master musician, collector, historian and nationally known authority on banjo history in the Upland South. Born in Knott County, Kentucky, he learned to play and sing songs (in the old tunings) from his father and neighbors. With multiple recordings on Appalshop’s prestigious June Appal label, Gibson said of his recording “Last Possum Up the Tree,” “I believe that continuing to play banjo was my way of holding on to a past that I glimpsed only briefly. That past is part of a world and time in Knott County that has vanished forever. As far as I know, I am the last person left playing the old Burgeys Creek banjo music. I am the last possum up the tree.”

His performances and playing reflect his powerful skill and thoughtfully charming demeanor. Now a resident of Henderson County, Gibson brings his many years of knowledge to the community. He has performed for the JAM kids in their classroom and graciously donates this rare performance for their benefit.

Roger Howell grew up and still lives on Banjo Branch, on Bailey Mountain, near Mars Hill in Madison County. JAMrogerhowellRoger HowellNeighbors played string band music and his dad bought him a Kay electric guitar. He quickly mastered Travis-style picking and about the same time picked up the banjo. In later years he learned fiddle from regional fiddlers Tommy Hunter and Woodrow Boone. In 1967, he met the famed “minstrel of the mountains” Bascom Lamar Lunsford, who encouraged his playing. Across the years Howell became friends with and played with legendary fiddlers like Fletcher Bright, John Hartford and Charlie Acuff.

Awards line the walls of his luthier’s shop, including first place fiddle (many times) at festivals like Fiddlers Grove, the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, the North Carolina Mountain State Fair and first place in banjo at the Georgia Mountain Fair. He appears on more than 30 recordings, including his solo CD “Hills & Heroes” (JAM kids director Carol Rifkin appears on guitar and vocals) Fiddler for the Carroll Best String Band, the Carolina Old-Timers and the Bailey Mountain Ramblers. He has also played weekly with fiddler Bobby Hicks for many years. In 2015, the North Carolina Folklore Society honored Roger Howell with the prestigious Brown-Hudson Folklore Award for his work in preserving and celebrating regional music traditions.

JAM kids are ever grateful for the his generous donation of craftsmanship to restore or repair instruments at his Bailey Mountain fiddle shop on Banjo Branch and they eagerly look forward to his performance.

Operated by French Broad Valley Music Association, the Henderson County Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM kids) is an after-school program that teaches children ages 8-17 regional mountain music and dance. JAM kids learn music through small group instruction on instruments common to the Appalachian region, such as the fiddle, banjo and guitar. Students learn songs, participate in group “all-play” and string band classes, learning regional music and making friends along the way. Classes currently meet 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays at the Henderson County Parks and Recreation Center, 708 South Grove Street. Nationally known artist Carol Rifkin is executive director of FBVMA and JAM kids.

Charitable donations may be made at French Broad Valley Music Association or by mail to FBVMA, P.O. Box 914, Horse Shoe, NC 28742.