The Piedmont Council of Traditional Music, Inc. (PineCone) partnered with the town of Cary’s Parks & Rec department to showcase some of NC’s finest young talent during the Bluegrass Camp Performance at the Cary Arts Center this past Friday night.
Campers ranging in age from 8 to 16 played for a packed audience after completing a week of intensive music lessons focused in guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and song composition. In his opening statement, the Executive Director of PineCone, William Lewis, proudly stated, “We are in North Carolina, the center of the bluegrass universe.” The general excitement in the auditorium, as well as the absolutely breathtaking talent of the campers, confirmed this is true.
As the campers readied their instruments backstage, camp instructors Lynda Dawson, Pattie Hopkins, Charles Pettee, and Jane Johansson played “The Gasoline Blues,” a twang-y tune taught to the kids over the course of the week.
The showcase featured the campers by class ranked as “beginner” and “intermediate,” but none of the musicians sounded like first-timers. The Mandobakers, (the self-named beginning mandolin class) plucked and strummed along while a vocal duo sang the favorite classic “I’ll Fly Away.” Of exceptional note was the “afternoon songwriting class,” which was open to any camper that wanted to participate. They performed a new ditty called “When Chickens Fly.”
The camp performance wrapped up with a group collaboration by Hopkins’ fiddle camp. As I watched the fiddlers perform, I was amazed to see kids enhancing the sound of others and waiting patiently for their designated solos. Each performance was simultaneously smooth and charismatic, with that down-home feel—just as bluegrass music should be.
Cage Bullard (9), played fiddle accompaniment during his performance with the Awesome PineCone Pickers, the camp’s
intermediate songwriting class. Cage had an exciting stage presence, and his enthusiasm after the performance was contagious.
He told me what he learned about song composition, “The most important things about composing music are rhythm, melody itself, and the lyrics. And with those elements you can express to the world how you feel. If it’s sad it’s going to be sad in 3-4 time with sad lyrics, and if it’s happy it’s going to be probably fast with 2-4 or 4-4 time and it’s going to have happy lyrics.”
When I asked if he was ready to write his own songs he exclaimed “I already wrote ‘The Watermelon Waltz!’”
In the tradition of roots music, Cage and his brother Ben (who participated in the beginning guitar class) come from a musical heritage. Their grandmother, Barbara Bullard, gleamed with pride after the performance and commented that she had been playing bluegrass music for years. In the true form of good musical talent, the Bullard’s hit the road shortly after the camp performance to travel to Kutztown, PA for the Kutztown Folklife Festival. When I asked Cage if he would be performing he responded emphatically, “Of course I will be playing music! I’m always playing music.”
And that was the general expectation of any that witnessed the campers’ musical talent—that they would always be playing music and continuing the bluegrass tradition from good ol’ NC.
After the recital, campers joined their families and friends in the audience for a much-anticipated performance by The Church Sisters from Danville, VA who announced their upcoming record collaboration with voices such as Dolly Parton and Brad Paisley.
Overall, it was a fabulous night of free entertainment. If you didn’t snag a seat in the audience for this year’s performance, be sure to keep your ears and eyes open for next year.
PineCone presents more than 30 roots music concerts per year, in addition to producing the annual Wide Open Bluegrass festival in collaboration with the IBMA, the City of Raleigh, and a local organizing committee. PineCone also promotes area jam sessions, offers bluegrass camps for youth, and more. The PineCone Bluegrass Radio Show on WQDR 94.7-FM has been on the air for 25 years.
Article by Reagan K Reynolds.