The feeling behind the Surry Arts Council’s Tommy Jarrell Festival was demonstrated simply with the smiles and outstretched hands of dancers welcoming 8-year-old Kenyon Percell of Deep Gap to join in.
The council’s festival was a three-day event which began on Thursday and concluded with the concert on Saturday night. The concert was hosted by Lew Bode and included bands Chester McMillian and Back-Step, Richard Bowman and the Slate Mountain Ramblers, Carson Peters Band and the Buckstankle Boys.
“We are carrying on the legacy Tommy left us and the distinct Round Peak style of old-time music,” said Bode to the concert audience.
Richard Bowman, who frequented Jarrell’s home and was mentored by the musician, told the crowd his teacher’s guidance was what kept the tunes going. He recalled how Jarrell at times feared Bowman would never be able to learn the tune “Rockingham Cindy.” Bowman also was impressed by the Youth Old-Time Talent Competition which took place before the concert.
“Sitting back there and watching all those kids learn to play,” began Bowman. “It’s something to see. Why, they can even use their pinkie fingers.” Bowman encouraged all the parents of the young musicians to take them to play with one of the older players such as himself. He said they could learn so much more in person than from tapes.
A play titled “A Kindly Visitation” was the centerpiece of this year’s festival. The play, written by James Leva, was performed by Riley Baugus, Ira Bernstein, Danny Knicely and Leva. Notes for the production stressed that Jarrell lived in relative anonymity until his 70s and championed Appalachian music, which existed before bluegrass or commercial country music. Along with being a world-class fiddler, Jarrell helped build his legendary status by welcoming visitors from near and far into his Franklin Road home to learn the music.
Although Jarrell died in 1985, the impression made on one of those visitors formed the basis for an award-winning musical.
Leva frankly admitted his play is not a reenactment band piece or a biography or documentary on Jarrell, but wanted to communicate that traditional musicians (such as Jarrell) take their role as carriers of music seriously and take pride in their own innovations and discoveries to the music as they make it their own.
The notes on the production praises Jarrell for sharing his understanding and appreciation for the codes of memory in music, story and everyday life. The production ended with the characters noting that criticism of old-time music “going round and round” is wrong because life’s cycles go around the same way. It likens Jarrell’s generation’s musical contributions to “a kindly visitation” to all of us.
“A Kindly Visitation” was Leva’s first work as a playwright. It premiered two years ago at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., as he and a cast of musicians told stories, played tunes and sang songs learned while visiting Jarrell. The production won the Flournoy Playwright Festival of New Works at Washington and Lee in 2011.
Officials announced the results of the youth competition before the concert. Haley May won first in fiddle in the youth talent competition, ages 5-12. Samuel Tsolis finished second, and Travis Watts was third. Madison Shepherd was first in this division in clawhammer banjo with Liam Purcell second and Bethany Bare in third. Carson Peters topped the field in guitar playing with Tsolis second and Abigail Martin finishing third. Dance competition in this division was won by Shepherd and Kenyon Percell finished second.
In the “other” category in the 5-12 years division was won by Peters, who finished first in mandolin, with Liam Purcell third for mandolin and Watts was second for bluegrass banjo.
Gabrielle Blakley was first in the age 13-18 division for fiddle and Jared Boyd captured first in clawhammer banjo. Boyd nabbed another first in guitar, while Will Whittaker was second in guitar and Brittany Plumley was third. Boyd took first in the vocal competition with Plumley finishing second. The Hopeful Band Aid Band was first in the “other” category of this age division.
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.