On March 1, 1901, at the foot of Fisher Peak, a baby was born whose influence in the world of traditional music would survive long after his nearly 81 years on life ended.
Tommy Jarrell came into the world that day, and spent his entire life in Surry County. He was raised in Round Peak and later lived in the Toast community, dying in January of 1985.
When he died, Jarrell left a legacy that still inspires musicians today.
During his lifetime, his home in Toast became a Mecca for musicians wanting to learn from Jarrell and his fellow musicians. A master of his craft, in 1982, Jarrell received the nation’s highest honor for artists, the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Award.
Now in its 16th year, the annual Tommy Jarrell Festival serves to keep his memory and legacy alive.
Kicking off Thursday, March 2, the Tommy Jarrell Festival will span three days and offer programming for community members of all ages and musical abilities.
This year’s edition of the event will include musical performances, youth competition, workshops and a concert with the Bryan Sutton Band.
Bryan Sutton is a ten-time International Bluegrass Music Association Guitar Player of the Year.
“One of the most accomplished and awarded acoustic guitarist of his generation, Sutton is an innovator who bridges the bluegrass flatpicking traditions of the 20th century with the dynamic roots music scene of the 21st,” according to the Surry Arts Council, which sponsors the festival.
Sutton came to prominence as part of Ricky Skagg’s band, Kentucky Thunder. After leaving Kentucky Thunder, Sutton became a sought after sideman, touring with the Dixie Chicks, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Hot Rize, Chris Thile and Tony Rice, among others. In 2007, Sutton won a Grammy Award for his guitar duet with Doc Watson on “Whiskey Before Breakfast.”
He has recorded with Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton, Eric Church, Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood, and Dolly Parton. Supplementing his instrumental work, Sutton is a band leader, record producer, mentor, educator and leader in online music instruction.
The Surry Arts Council recently received a grant from South Arts for a school performance on Thursday, March 2 and workshops on Saturday, March 4.
On Thursday afternoon Sutton will perform an educational concert for students at North Surry High School. Area musician, scholar and educator Jim Vipperman will introduce Sutton and discuss how his musicianship and styling compare and contrast to local and regional music.
Thursday afternoon, Marsha Todd, award winning old-time dancer and musician, will lead classes in flat-footin’ at the Historic Earle Theatre on Main Street in Mount Airy from 4:30-5:00 p.m. Following the dancing, Jim Vipperman will teach free youth fiddle and guitar workshops at the Historic Earle Theatre from 5:30 until 6:45 p.m. The Earle’s free weekly jam will begin at 7 p.m.
The Tommy Jarrell Birthday Celebration concert and dance is Friday, March 3, at 7 p.m, at the Earle Theatre, and features the Slate Mountain Ramblers, Buckstankle Boys, and Zephyr Lightning Bolts Old-Time Band. Admission is $10 or a 2017 season pass. Lew Bode will host the concert again this year and reminisce about Tommy Jarrell between bands.
On Saturday morning WPAQ Merry-Go-Round welcomes “Almost There” at 11 a.m. and “Uncle Joe & Shady Rest” at noon. The Tommy Jarrell Youth Competition begins at 1:30 p.m. Competitions are held for ages 4-12 and ages 13-18 in categories including fiddle, clawhammer banjo, guitar, dance, vocal, and other. Winners will be announced immediately following the competition.
Following the youth competition, Bryan Sutton and his band will be hosting an open sound check workshop which is open to the public. Saturday evening, the Bryan Sutton Band will take the stage at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $40 for preferred seating, $30 for orchestra seating and $25 for balcony seats.
The Tommy Jarrell Festival is partially supported by grant funding. Bryan Sutton’s concert at North Surry High School and workshops are funded in part by a Traditional Arts Touring grant from South Arts.
Tickets can be purchased online www.surryarts.org or at the door. For additional information, contact Antonia at the Surry Arts Council, (336) 786-7998.