Old Time Musicians Riley Baugus and Dirk Powell perform in York, PA on December 3rd

dirk-and-rileyAmerican traditional music icons Riley Baugus and Dirk Powell come to York for a Saturday, December 3rd concert at 7:30 PM sponsored by Susquehanna Folk Music Society to be held at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York, 925 S. George Street.

This will be a very rare opportunity to see these two important folk music luminaries perform together.

The Powell and Baugus concert will be preceded by a 6 PM 45-minute square dance workshop with caller Kim Forrey who grew up in York County and now lives in Annapolis, MD. She has been calling dances for 10 years. There is a $5 separate fee for the workshop. Dancers are also encouraged to free-style dance during the concert.

Concert tickets are $24 General Admission, $21 for SFMS members and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets online at www.brownpapertickets.com or toll-free (800) 838-3006. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website at http://www.sfmsfolk.org.

Because of the expansive histories of each of these two old-time music masters, we will be presenting separate Folkmama Blog Posts for each musician. Todays will focus on Riley Baugus. Look for the companion Blog Post, this time on Dirk Powell, later in the week.

About Riley Baugus

For a long time Riley Baugus has been one of the Susquehanna Folk Music Society’s heroes of Appalachian old-time music. Riley Baugus is the real deal. He grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and learned fiddle and banjo as a young man from all the greats, especially Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham. He not only grew up with old-time music; briley_lsr_largeut also with the deep religious singing of the South.

In fact it was his haunting and authentic singing style that encouraged producer T Bone Burnett to tap Riley for the soundtrack of the major motion picture “Cold Mountain” where he contributed key vocals and also made all the banjos that appeared in the movie.

He has been part of other big projects also, including appearing on the Willie Nelson album “Country Music” and the famed Alison Krauss/Robert Plant album “Raising Sand”.

Riley and his mentor Tommy Jerrell

Riley Baugus first met Tommy Jarrell (an influential fiddler, banjo player, and singer from the Mount Airy region of North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains who Riley names as one of his biggest influences) when he was just 17 years old. Riley says that his first exposure to the great old-time musician was when he went to his house one time to play music. At the time Jarrell was 81 years old. (He died three years later.)

Riley says this about what he learned from Jarrell:

“Tommy had a lifetime’s worth of knowledge about all sorts of things. Life in general, tunes, how to play them in the archaic style that he learned as a boy, hundreds of stories about things that happened to him in his life, stories about his family, the community, other musicians that he played with over the years, where he first learned the tunes that he played, stories relating to particular tunes, how to attack a tune….. and the list goes on and on.

When you went there you didn’t just go to learn one thing. You might go with the idea that you would learn, “Sally Ann,” but come away with three versions of the tune from different time periods, but the stories of why it was changed at certain times and what the song lyrics in the tune meant. I learned and still learn from him about tunes on the banjo and fiddle and guitar and mandolin and singing that are from the 1800s that he learned from his father and his uncles and his neighbors.

To learn from Tommy Jarrell was like having a time machine at your disposal. He was in his 80s, learned most of his music as a teenager at about 15 or 16 years old, from men and women who were in their 80s and 90s at the time he was learning, so the information you were getting was one person removed from the mid 1800s, and to people removed from and even earlier time, likely the late 1700s.”

Meeting and playing with Dirk Powell

Riley and Dirk first met at The Galax Fiddler’s Convention in the mid 80s. They started hanging out in jam sessions together with mutual friends and became friends themselves. Through the years they have performed together often, although both musicians have been more active with other projects.

Riley has this memory of one of his favorite times that he played with Dirk:

“Dirk and I have played tunes for a long time, but one of the best times was a few years ago at Tonderfest, in Tonder, Denmark. You are literally playing for 10s of thousands of people at any performance at that festival, and usually on a huge stage with really big time professional sound systems.

He and I sort of went over into a little shed that was provided back stage at the festival, away from the sound of the stage and the other performers and the spectators and the whole big scene. We just played a Round Peak tune together. It was the most magnificent feeling to be there at that moment, just the two of us, right in the midst of that huge environment, playing with total abandon and pure emotion, feeling each other’s music and soul and talking with each other using the instruments as our voices. We knew we loved playing with each other and being with each other, but that moment was really special. “


Riley talks about old-time music:

“The performances of the music that I give today are not merely recreations nor an attempt at preservation, but a living, breathing example of music and tradition that still lives in the mountains near my home, where my family has been living since the 1700s.

In these mountain communities you can still go to several dances every weekend, jam sessions within the community, and to performances of old time music all over this area. It is not an art form that is dead and simply being recreated by people as a spectacle, but the music and culture of people from the Southern Appalachians. “


Riley talks about the church singing that is associated with the region where he is from:

“The singing that is done in the Baptist churches takes many different forms in the mountains. The style that is done by the Old Regular Baptists in Eastern Kentucky and the Mountain Primitive Baptist styles are similar. They sing old songs in a lined-out fashion. That is to say that a song leader “Chants” the first line of a verse and the congregation repeats the line to the melody. This continues for each line of each verse. That way no one except the song leader has to have a book or know the words to a song.

This method is also still used in the churches in the Hebrides, on the Isles of Scotland, except they sing the songs in Gaelic. It is called Psalm singing there and the melodies are very similar to the ones used in the Southern Appalachians for many of the old songs. “

Material for this Folkmama Blog was mostly obtained from the following source: http://nodepression.com/interview/hearth-music-interview-riley-baugus


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