Recent years have seen a blossoming of interest in mountain music among musicians who were born in the 1990s and 2000s. Among the youngest of this cohort, North Carolina fiddler Rhiannon Ramsey epitomizes a blend of great musical chops and continuation of mountain traditions. Her native Madison County is famously musical, a place that the early ballad collector Cecil Sharp referred to as “a nest of singing birds.” She leads her own band, Rhiannon and the Relics, and in 2018 she joined the Stony Creek Boys, a band that has been an anchor of Asheville’s traditional music community for more than fifty years.
The husband-and-wife duo of Natalya Zoe Weinstein and John Cloyd Miller perform under their middle names. Zoe and Cloyd represents not only the partnership between Natalya and John, but a coming-together of two families’ musical traditions. Natalya is the daughter of a jazz pianist, and the granddaughter of a Russian klezmer musician. She herself plays klezmer and classical as well as mountain music. John is the grandson of Jim Shumate, a North Carolina Heritage Award recipient who made pioneering recordings as a member of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys and Flatt and Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys.
Bluegrass banjo player Raymond Fairchild of Haywood County, North Carolina, embodies the spirit of originality found in many of the best mountain musicians. He has always done things his own way. His “Fairchild” style has gained countless admirers over the course of a long music career. Raymond has played many times at the Grand Ole Opry, and recorded more than 20 albums—two of which have sold more than a million copies each.
In 1941, the famed folklorist and field recorder Alan Lomax, along with two colleagues, recorded a banjo player from the Blue Ridge Mountains named Bascom Lamar Lunsford. One of the songs he recorded in 1941, “Swannanoa Tunnel,” tells a very local story about a universal theme – the human cost of progress.
Deep Gap, NC, is known around the world as the home of the legendary Doc and Merle Watsons. Now the rising bluegrass band Cane Mill Road is carrying on the legacy. Born in the new millennium, fiddler and mandolinist Liam Purcell immersed in mountain music through the after school Junior Appalachian Musicians program. As teenagers, Liam joined forces with Tray Wellington, a banjo player from Jefferson. They are joined by two more rising stars of mountain music, bass player Eliot Smith of Watauga County and Southwest Virginia guitarist Casey Lewis.
The Primitive Quartet began in 1973, when two sets of brothers, Reagan and Larry Riddle and Furman and Norman Wilson, carried a guitar and mandolin with them on a fishing trip to Fontana Lake. The boys all sang at home and in church, but that night in Graham County was when they first sang in four-part harmony. After the fishing trip, with the encouragement of their parents and pastor, they began to sing together at area churches. They ultimately called themselves the Primitive Quartet, in honor of the old-time gospel singing that inspires them. They host the Hominy Valley Homecoming every Fourth of July weekend, and afternoon Fall Color Singing gospel concerts on October weekends at Hominy Valley Singing Grounds in Candler.
In a state known for its wealth of eerie legends, few mysteries are as enduring or as puzzling as the Brown Mountain Lights of western North Carolina where strange glowing orbs have been seen. When the early country music star Scotty Wiseman was growing up in the North Carolina mountains, his uncle told him one version of the legend. The lights were said to come from a lantern carried by the ghost of an enslaved man, searching for his master lost on the mountain. In the 1940s, Scotty wrote his song “Brown Mountain Light." The song took off when South Carolina singer Tommy Faile performed it on Arthur Smith's “Carolina Calling” show on Charlotte's WBTV.
George Shuffler is best known for the more than twenty years that he spent playing with bluegrass legends Carter and Ralph Stanley. He’s sometimes even referred to as the third Stanley
Brother. George’s skill as a harmony singer enabled the band to perform hair-raising songs as a vocal trio, and his instrumental contributions, both on the bass and guitar, forever changed the sound of bluegrass music.
Shuffler pioneered a guitar playing technique known as cross-picking.