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Mountain Music Gatherin’

Episode #102 | First Aired: January 22, 2008

Mountain Music Gatherin logo

“Has anybody seen J.P.?” Annadeene Fraley usually began performances at the J.P. Fraley Mountain Music Gatherin’ with this phrase. Her husband, the esteemed old-time fiddler J.P. Fraley, would be nowhere in sight, so the audience would respond, “J.P. who?” Fraley would then chime in from the parking lot, “I’m here,” make his way to the stage, and another year’s celebration of traditional mountain music would be under way.

Jesse Presley Fraley

The one-hour Kentucky Muse documentary “Mountain Music Gatherin’,” directed and produced by Tom Thurman, takes viewers to the 2007 gatherin’ at Carter Caves State Resort Park near Olive Hill, Kentucky. Through interviews with musicians and fans, live Music Performances, and rare home movies and photographs, the program explores what “mountain music” is and tells the story of how J.P. and Annadeene Fraley created a beloved Kentucky musical tradition.

Jesse Presley Fraley, who grew up near Grayson, learned fiddle tunes from his father and other fiddlers in the area. Annadeene Prater sang and played guitar as one of the Rachel Valley Girls at WCMI radio in Ashland. The two met as teenagers, married, and settled down to raise a family. Eventually they began performing together at contests and concerts throughout the region.

The gatherin’ began as a Fraley family reunion in the early 1970s but soon grew to encompass an extensive extended musical family. The festival attracts performers and music fans from across the United States to share music and swap stories. The annual event attracts champion fiddlers and top players, who share billing with those just learning. And some of the most important music making takes place away from the stage—at parking lot and campground jam sessions that go on day and night.

Alan Freeman

Annadeene Fraley died in 1996, and poor health prevents J.P. from playing. But as “Mountain Music Gatherin’” shows, the unique musical gathering they founded is still going strong, reflecting their—and many others’—love of traditional music and desire to keep the sounds of the mountains alive for future generations.

Opportunities To Learn More

Visit the J.P. Fraley Mountain Music Gatherin’ yourself and enjoy the music live and in person. It’s held each September at Carter Caves State Resort Park in northeastern Kentucky.

About Old-Time Music

Where the Fiddle Reigns Supreme

One Music Lover’s Perspective on the Mountain Music Gatherin’
by John Harrod

Kentucky is known throughout the country today for more than just its horse racing and basketball. When Paul Smith and I visited the West Coast with our fiddles in 2005, we found ourselves instant celebrities because we were representing a musical tradition that has emerged at the center of the current revival in American folk music. Kentucky’s unique geographical diversity is reflected in the diversity of the music styles that were the characteristic artistic expression of its people.

This rich musical culture took root here from the time of the earliest European settlement. Situated along the two major routes of western migration, the Wilderness Trail and the Ohio River, Kentucky absorbed a steady stream of travelers and settlers throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Though the majority of the new inhabitants were of Scotch-Irish descent, many other nationalities and ethnic groups—including the French, German, Dutch, Italian, and African—left their mark on the musical culture that evolved in the state.

Although this music is sometimes referred to as “mountain music,” the development took many different forms throughout the state from east to west. While Eastern Kentucky preserved old Scotch-Irish tonalities in its fiddle music along with new local developments in ways of picking the banjo, Western Kentucky was the home of a thumb-picking guitar style practiced by black musicians and passed on to white players such as Merle Travis, who became a major influence on modern country music. The music of the Ohio River towns showed more of a Continental influence, with discernible French and German inflections in the popular fiddle music that was played on the great steamboats that plied the western waters. The Bluegrass region was home to the purest black fiddle style to be found anywhere in North America, that of the Booker family of Camp Nelson and their white protégé, Madison County’s Doc Roberts.

From an early fascination with bluegrass music, which was just beginning to emerge from the shadows of the rural South when I was growing up, to my first acquaintance with a traditional old-style country fiddler, Bill Livers, a black fiddler from Owen County, I was still feeling my way into the music when I attended my first Fraley Family Mountain Music Festival in 1974. Though already familiar with the bluegrass festivals that were springing up around the country, I was still not prepared for what awaited me: A much older musical world was alive and thriving in the present. This was the world that bluegrass had evolved out of, but it had not given way to the newer sound. Rather it was holding its own with consummate musicianship, confidence, and charisma.

Bluegrass at the time was no more than 30 years old, but I could hear something in this older music that sounded as if it had been around for hundreds of years. I was hooked, I was snake-bit, I was in love. My first encounters with the likes of fiddle players like J.P. Fraley, Alva Greene, Wilson Douglas, and Byard Ray and singers like Annadeene Fraley and Mary Lozier at the Fraley Festival changed my life. My passion became to trace the roots of this music and to make it available to any who would listen, but especially to other musicians embarked on their own journeys of discovery. I was aided and influenced by fellow researchers, players, and friends, especially Gus Meade, Mark Wilson, Bruce Greene, and Nancy McClellan, all of whom I met for the first time at the festival. The history we were all seeking was alive and well in the present. And this awareness of the relativity of time and things past has remained true of the Fraley Festival to this day.

Beginning as a family reunion, the gathering began to attract friends and friends of friends and moved to a state park. Soon it began attracting other old-style singers and players from the surrounding states that the Fraleys had met in their travels. It was here that Gus Meade and Mark Wilson first met Buddy Thomas, Wilson Douglas, and J.P. Fraley himself and learned of the blind fiddler Ed Haley—all of whom became the subjects of a series of field recordings on the Rounder label that brought this vital local tradition to the attention of the wider world for the first time.

The spirit of the family reunion still prevails every year at Carter Caves. Though most of the performers who were present at the festival in the 1970s have passed on, their legacy continues with a new generation. The festival maintains the same identity and the same unspoken understandings—there is no bluegrass music allowed (although one can hear hints of what was to follow in the singing and playing of the older-style music that is preferred here). Even though regular participants have included many well-known professional musicians, such as Robin Kessinger and John Hartford, no one is paid to perform—the amateur and professional participate on an equal footing, and everyone is allotted the same 15-minute set on the stage. The musicians, however, have free rein in the parking lot, on the porch of the lodge, and in the cabins and campground.

Most significantly, though one can hear all the instruments from autoharp to harmonica and from dulcimer to tinwhistle, the fiddle reigns supreme. The reason, of course, is that J.P. Fraley epitomizes the fiddler as shaman and rock star, a niche the fiddler has occupied in folk culture since time immemorial. Nowhere else can one better experience the fiddle culture that Kentucky is so famous for than at Carter Caves State Park each year on the weekend after Labor Day. That this tradition remains vital and continues to attract young people who are carrying the music back to their communities and out into the world is testimony to the wisdom and foresight of J.P. and Annadeene Fraley, their children, and the people who gathered around them over the years. Join KET in celebrating Kentucky’s biggest musical family reunion, and be sure to come visit Carter Caves next year the week after Labor Day.

Kentucky Old-Time Musicians

Interested in learning more about old-time singers and players? Here is a short list of names to start with:

  • David “Stringbean” Akemon
  • Martha Carson
  • “Cousin Emmy” Carver
  • Owen “Snake” Chapman
  • Blanche Coldiron
  • J.W. Day
  • Ed Haley
  • Roscoe Holcomb
  • Marshall “Grandpa” Jones
  • Buell Kazee
  • Bradley Kincaid
  • Lilly May Ledford
  • Asa Martin
  • Doc Roberts
  • John Salyer
  • Morgan Sexton
  • Art Stamper
  • Luther Strong
  • Buddy Thomas
  • Merle Travis

About the Author

John Harrod has documented, recorded, and performed traditional music for more than 35 years. A former Rhodes Scholar and high school teacher, Harrod is widely regarded as an authority on Kentucky’s traditional music. Along with Mark Wilson and Guthrie Meade, he has produced a series of field recordings of Kentucky fiddle and banjo players that is available on Rounder Records. (See John Harrod’s Recording Picks below for a list of exemplary Kentucky old-time music recordings.)

Harrod received the 2004 Folk Heritage Award of the Governor’s Awards in the Arts for his work in preserving traditional music. In the 1970s and ’80s, he played with a number of bands, such as the Progress Red Hot String Band, the Bill Livers String Ensemble, and the Gray Eagle Band, that reintroduced old-time musicians such as Bill Livers and Lily May Ledford to Kentucky audiences. During this time he also worked for three years as a folk artist-in-residence in Kentucky schools. He currently performs with his band Kentucky Wild Horse as well as the Kentucky Clodhoppers and a family trio, Yeller Dog and the Barktones, and teaches fiddle students in Owen County and Frankfort.

KET’s Kentucky Life profiled John in 2002:
Watch the VideoProgram details »

John Harrod’s Recommended Kentucky Old-Time Music Recordings

These recordings are available from Rounder Records. Check Rounder’s North American Traditions Web site for details.

Kitty Puss: Old Time Fiddle Music from Kentucky by Buddy Thomas (Rounder 0032)

Wild Rose of the Mountains by J.P. and Annadeene Fraley (Rounder 0037)

Maysville: Old Time Fiddle Tunes of Northeast Kentucky by J.P. and Annadeene Fraley (Rounder 0351)

Traditional Fiddle Music of Kentucky, Vol. 1: Up the Ohio and Licking Rivers (Rounder 0376)

Traditional Fiddle Music of Kentucky, Vol 2: Along the Kentucky River (Rounder 0377)

Up in Chapman’s Hollow by Owen “Snake” Chapman (Rounder 0378)

Going Back to Old Kentucky by Roger Cooper (Rounder 0380)

Kentucky Old-Time Banjo (Rounder 0394)

Devil Eat the Goundhog by Paul David Smith (Rounder 0409)

Walnut Gap by Owen “Snake” Chapman (Rounder 0418)

Along the Ohio’s Shores: Fiddle Music Along a Great River (Rounder 0544)

Essence of Old Kentucky by Roger Cooper (Rounder 0533)

Mountain Music in the Classroom

Old-time music is alive and well in the 21st century, and you can introduce your students to this music using the “Mountain Music Gatherin’” program. This resources can spur students into investigating the music of their families and communities and lead to an appreciation of music that has been handed down through generations.

Suggested Uses in the Classroom

  • Show “Mountain Music Gatherin’” to help students identify, learn about, and appreciate traditional music styles, instruments, and musicians as well as the culture from which this music originated.
  • Show the program in conjunction with social studies lessons on Appalachia, helping students discover how a region’s music, traditions, and arts help us better understand the people who live there.
  • Have students watch the first section, in which various performers define old-time music, and then write a definition.
  • Have students view the middle sequence, which shows the various fiddle styles and how they are being passed down, then analyze and describe these styles using the elements of music.
  • Ask students about the music their families or groups they belong to listen to. How would they describe it? Do they play music? When, where, and why?
  • Use the program to explore the purposes of music within traditional communities.
  • Watch the segments featuring Rossi Clark, the young fiddler, and discuss her role in continuing a tradition. If you have students who are inspired by her story and interested in this music.

KET Resources for the Classroom

Several other KET resources present old-time music to a school audience:

  • The KET Music Toolkit is a multimedia resource for teachers containing more than 12 hours of instructional and performance video in 150 classroom-friendly segments, a CD-ROM entitled A World of Music that introduces styles and instruments from around the globe, 10 posters about music periods and styles, and a wealth of lesson plans and other teaching ideas—all tied to Kentucky’s Core Content in Music. See the ordering information page for details and a printable order form.The Music Toolkit contains several video segments featuring traditional music, including
    • two segments on old-time music from World of Our Own: Kentucky Folkways, an eight-part KET series exploring Kentucky’s traditional music, art, games, customs, and occupations. “Let the Fiddle Do the Singing” spotlights the traditional fiddle styles of Clyde Davenport, formerly of Wayne County, and Roger Cooper of Lewis County, and “A Full Sound” features the traditional guitar styles of Eddie Pennington and Jesse Aldridge from Princeton.
    • Several singalong performances from KET’s Old Music for New Ears series featuring Jean Ritchie, Mike Seeger, the Gray Eagle Band, the Reel World String Band, Malcolm Dalglish, and John McCutcheon, among others.
    • “Appalachia: There Was a Time,” featuring Ron Short, a fiddler and storyteller with Roadside Theater.
    • “Immigrant Instrument: The Mandolin,” featuring Chris Mullins performing several old-time fiddle tunes mandolin-style.

      All of these videos are supported by guides and lesson plans.

  • KET’s Old Music for New Ears series introduces children to a broad range of music—folk, blues, Cajun, traditional—and cultures: Native American, African-American, and Appalachian, among others. It offers opportunities for children to sing along with such artists as Kentucky’s own Jean Ritchie. In introduces them to a variety of traditional instruments, such as the hammer dulcimer, the lap dulcimer, and the jaw harp. KET’s online instructional resources catalog includes a broadcast schedule so you can watch and use the complete 22-program series (the Music Toolkit contains only a sampling of the performances) and a downloadable teacher’s guide in two parts: Part I: Programs 101-116 and Part II: Programs 117-122.
  • World of Our Own: Kentucky Folkways, KET’s eight-part series exploring Kentucky’s traditional culture, has information about a wide range of folk traditions, music, customs, and arts. The web site includes a downloadable teacher’s guide.
  • Mountain Born: The Jean Ritchie Story is a KET documentary profiling the dulcimer virtuoso, traditional singer, and American folk treasure.

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