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Program 1414

1. fiddlers at the Mountain Music Gatherin’
2. painter and sculptor Sam McKinney
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Carter County

For more information:
J.P. Fraley Mountain Music Gatherin’
Carter Caves State Resort Park, 344 Caveland Dr., Olive Hill, KY 41164, (606) 286-4411 or (800) 325-0059

Producer: Tom Thurman
Videographers: John Schroering, David Dampier, Jason Robinson
Audio: Brent Abshear, Noel Depp
Editor: Dan Taulbee

Stringing Along

fiddlers at the Mountain Music Gatherin’

When lovers of traditional mountain music get together each September for the J.P. Fraley Mountain Music Gatherin’, dulcimers, guitars, basses, and banjos abound. But since founder and namesake Jesse Presley Fraley is a fiddler, that instrument is often at center stage. In this visit to the 2007 gatherin’, Kentucky Life gets a sampling of championship-caliber old-time fiddling from four of the best players around: Paul David Smith, Roger Cooper, Jesse Wells, and Michael Garvin.

J.P. Fraley grew up near Grayson, and the festival that bears his name started out as an annual family reunion hosted by J.P. and his wife, Annadeene. As more and more friends and other invited guests drifted in to share in the music making that was always a centerpiece, the event gradually became more of an official festival. Now held at Carter Caves State Resort Park, it features a schedule of workshops, concerts, and storytelling sessions. But it also remains a casual, down-home affair where performances by established artists flow right into open-mic sessions, audience and performers frequently change places, new players can learn from and play with the veterans, and there is always a jam session somewhere.

All of it is in celebration of a form of music that predates both country and bluegrass. Mountain music traces its roots back to the British Isles and the Scotch-Irish emigrants who sought a better life in the New World beginning in the late 18th century. Within the hills of Appalachia, these settlers and their descendants both preserved centuries-old traditional forms and developed their own stylistic innovations, incorporating influences from succeeding waves of European and African immigrants. Though individual definitions of what “mountain music” includes vary a bit, all of it harks back to a time when music was do-it-yourself family entertainment and songs were passed down orally.

Following that tradition, the fiddlers featured in this segment all learned from past masters and are in turn helping to introduce new players to some very old styles. Paul David Smith, from Pike County, has been a featured performer/presenter at numerous traditional-music festivals and plays with the band Kentucky Wild Horse. Roger Cooper of Lewis County, who started out as a guitar player on a Vanceburg radio show at the age of 12, is a frequent presenter with the Kentucky Arts Council and Kentucky Folklife Program. Johnson County native Jesse Wells, who now lives in Morehead and performs with the locally based Clark Mountain String Band, is also a collector and archivist of traditional music. And Michael Garvin, the youngster of the group at 20-something, is a Flatwoods native who grew up in a musical family, started out on guitar, and took up the fiddle in his late teens.

The performances and interviews seen here are taken from footage shot for KET’s Kentucky Muse documentary Mountain Music Gatherin’. The accompanying web pages include more video performances, background on the festival and on mountain music, and links for learning more. Kentucky Life Program 1417 also includes another piece from the gatherin’, focusing on founding couple J.P. and Annadeene Fraley.

Rowan County

For more information:
Serendipity Studios, P.O. Box 82, Elliottville, KY 40317, (859) 873-1564

Producer: Jeffrey Hill
Editors: Megan Goforth, Jeffrey Hill

House of Art

artist Sam McKinney

Painter, sculptor, musician, and self-described “Renaissance hillbilly” Sam McKinney lives inside one of his own works. Serendipity Studios, which adjoins his log house in Elliottville, is an assemblage of 18th- and 19th-century structures built by the artist.

There he creates everything from formal portraits in oil to larger-than-life bronzes and abstract mixed-media works, mostly on commission. Though portraiture has been his mainstay for more than 30 years, his work also includes memorials, collaborative mural projects, and public pieces. One that occupied him for more than a year was Adam’s First Breath, an 1,800-pound figural sculpture in bronze and granite that is displayed at the Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park in Hamilton, OH. That piece, he says, represents the culmination of everything he had learned about art to that point.

Born in Lexington, Sam grew up in Fleming-Neon. He earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Morehead State University and has made Rowan County his home ever since. He is also an adjunct professor at MSU.

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