Along with being a world-class fiddler, Tommy Jarrell helped build his legendary status by welcoming visitors from near and far into his Franklin Road home to learn from the old master.
Although Jarrell died in 1985, the impression made on one of those visitors formed the basis for an award-winning musical that will be a highlight of this year’s Tommy Jarrell Festival in Mount Airy. The 12th annual festival begins a three-day run on Feb. 21, presented by the Surry Arts Council.
“A Kindly Visitation,” based on a musician’s youthful experiences and friendship with the local fiddle player, is to be presented at 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 23 at the Earle Theatre downtown, where festival activities will be centered.
“That’s completely new,” arts council Executive Director Tanya Jones said of the musical tribute to Jarrell, calling it “something special” among this year’s festival offerings.
James Leva, a musician and playwright, based “A Kindly Visitation” on his memories of times spent not only with Jarrell but other local “Round Peak” musicians such as Fred Cockerham in the 1970s and early 1980s.
“A Kindly Visitation,” Leva’s first work as a playwright, 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.
The production portrays Jarrell’s life and the characters who populated the Round Peak area in the early 20th century and features 24 pieces, six dance performances and 100 slides that are projected during the show.
Every tune recalls a story about Jarrell, who was part of the last generation to learn all his music directly from people.
Thomas Jefferson Jarrell lived from March 1, 1901 to Jan. 28, 1985, with the annual festival scheduled near his birth date. A Saturday night birthday concert is always a key part of the gathering.
This year, the concert — at 7 p.m. on Feb. 23 at the Earle Theatre — will feature Chester McMillian and Back-Step; Richard Bowman and the Slate Mountain Ramblers; The Carson Peters Band, led by a child-prodigy fiddler from Johnson City, Tenn.; and The Buckstankle Boys.
Verlon Clifton, another legendary local musician long associated with The Toast String Stretchers, will appear onstage with The Buckstankle Boys.
The ticket price for the concert is $10, or arts council 2012 season passes may be used.
Youth Talent Contest
Another highlight of the Tommy Jarrell Festival will be an old-time music competition involving the age groups of 5-12 and 13-18. Categories include fiddle, clawhammer banjo, dance and vocal, with winners to receive trophies.
Contestants can perform for three minutes each.
The competition is scheduled at 5 p.m. on Feb. 23 at the Earle Theatre. Registration is free and can by completed by calling the arts council at 786-7998 or showing up 30 minutes before the competition at the Old-Time Music Heritage Hall at the theater on the competition day.
Winners will be announced at the start of the Tommy Jarrell Birthday Concert.
The festival also offers various opportunities to learn about old-time music:
• Intermediate clogging lessons by Samantha Wilhelmi will be given from 5:30 to 6:15 p.m., and beginning clogging lessons from 6:15 to 7 p.m., on Feb. 21 on the lower level of the Andy Griffith Playhouse;
• Jim Vipperman will lead youth fiddle and guitar workshops at the Earle at 5:30 and 6:15 p.m., respectively, on Feb. 21;
• From noon to 1 p.m. on Feb. 22, an old-time music workshop is to be headed by the group Back-Step at the Earle, with an old-time dance workshop led by Marsha Todd to be held there at 6:30 p.m. the same day.
• A jam session is planned on Feb. 21 at 7 p.m. at the Earle;
• The Tommy Jarrell Festival Dance is set for 7 p.m. on Feb. 22 at the Old-Time Music Heritage Hall at the Earle Theatre, featuring The Slate Mountain Ramblers and Back-Step.
• Another jam session is planned at the Earle on Feb. 23 at 9 a.m., just before a broadcast there of the “Merry-Go Round,” presently the longest-running live radio show in the nation;
Tours of radio station WPAQ, a longtime exponent of old-time music, are scheduled from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Feb. 21-22 and 2 to 6 p.m. on Feb. 23.
From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Feb. 23 at the Earle, local luthiers will have instruments on display, with artists also to offer Tommy Jarrell artwork and photographs for sale.
Many of the festival activities are free, with a $15 pass available which will cover admission to all events and venues.
A complete schedule and cost information can be found at www.surryarts.org by clicking the “Shows and Events” link and scrolling down to the Tommy Jarrell Festival.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.