Cat in the Hat hits the stage this weekend

The annual Tommy Jarrell Celebration – to commemorate the life and music of the influential local musician, is scheduled for February 24-24. 26 at the Historic Earle Theater in Mount Airy.

The celebration includes concerts, a competition for young people, workshops and a film screening. The popular festival has something for all lovers of early music. The annual event celebrates the music and teachings of Surry County music pioneer and icon Tommy Jarrell, who lived from March 1, 1901 to January 28, 1985.

Many activities are planned at the Old-Time Music Heritage Hall in the Historic Earle Theater at 142 North Main Street.

On Thursday 24 February there are free courses for young people. The flatfoot dance is at 4:30 p.m., violin lessons are at 5:30 p.m., followed by guitar, banjo and mandolin lessons at 6:15 p.m. Music lessons are taught by Jim Vipperman, recipient of the Brown-Hudson Folklore Award as a traditional musician and teacher. These lessons are sponsored in part by a TAPS grant from the Folklife Division of the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

The Southeast Sirens Tour will take to the stage at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The tour is presented by the Surry Arts Council and Pine State Marketing and features Caitlin Krisko & The Broadcast and Abby Bryant & The Echoes. Tickets are $15.

Friday at 7 p.m., free screening of “You Gave Me A Song”, a film about Alice Gerrard. The film offers an intimate portrait of early music pioneer Alice Gerrard and her remarkable and unpredictable journey in the creation and preservation of traditional music. A Q&A with director Kenny Dalsheimer and Gerrard will follow the film.

A short performance by Gerrard accompanied by Tatiana Hargreaves and Reed Stutz will follow the Q&A. This film and event are made possible in part by the vital support of Presenting Sponsor, the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources through their “She Changed the World: NC Women Breaking Barriers” and “ Come Hear NC”.

In a career spanning over 50 years, Gerrard has left an indelible mark on the history of traditional music. Her groundbreaking collaboration with Appalachian singer Hazel Dickens in the 1960s and 1970s produced four classic albums (recently reissued by Rounder) and influenced many young female singers. His next four solo albums, including Bittersweet, produced by Laurie Lewis, and Follow the Music, produced by Mike Taylor of His Golden Messenger, showcased Gerrard’s many talents: his captivating and eclectic songwriting; his powerful, cutting voice and instrumental mastery of rhythm guitar, banjo and old-school fiddle. Gerrard’s 2015 album Follow the Music was nominated for a Grammy. His latest release, Sing Me Back Home: The DC Tapes 1965-1969 on Free Dirt Records, won critical acclaim for its intimate insight into unreleased Hazel and Alice practice tapes.

Gerrard has appeared on over 20 recordings, including projects with many mainstream musicians such as Tommy Jarrell, Enoch Rutherford, Otis Burris, Luther Davis and Matokie Slaughter; with Tom Sauber and Brad Leftwich as Tom, Brad & Alice, with the Harmony Sisters, the Herald Angels, Beverly Smith, and with Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle.

Old-Time workshops take place on Saturdays from 1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the Earle. Workshops are $25 per person and participants can register online or [email protected] or call 336-786-7998. Through classes, presentations, workshops and performances, attendees will learn from some of the most esteemed and respected musicians in the field: Chester McMillian, Martha Spencer and Emily Spencer.

The workshops will take place in the Historic Earle Theater and will include fiddle, banjo, guitar, bass, singing and dancing – whatever participants want to learn. Martha Spencer is a singer-songwriter, mountain musician and dancer from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. She grew up in the Spencer musical family and learned to play multiple instruments (guitar, fiddle, banjo, bass, dulcimer, mandolin) and flatfoot/hooffoot at a young age. She has performed shows, festivals and led workshops across the US, Australia, UK and Europe. She just released a solo album and has been featured in articles such as Rolling Stone Country, No Depression, Wide Open Country, Cowboys & Indians Magazine, Americana Highways and PopMatters.

Emily Spencer is a certified PK-12 teacher and has taught fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin, dulcimer, and bass in schools and at Wilkes Community College and Wytheville Community College. Since childhood she has played music and started playing with the Whitetop Mountain Band in the 1970s with Thornton Spencer and continues with the band today.

Chester McMillian was born in Carroll County, Virginia to a musical family and community. He has been playing traditional Old-time Round Peak style music since he was a child. By the age of 11 or 12 he was living in Surry County and actively involved in the Round Peak music community. In 1962 Chester married into the Dix Freeman family and the two began playing a lot of music together. Chester played guitar with Tommy Jarrell for fifteen years, and he developed his guitar style specifically for playing with Tommy. He has also performed and recorded with Dix Freeman, Kirk Sutphin and Greg Hooven, with whom he founded the band Backstep.

On Saturday, the WPAQ Merry-Go-Round begins at 11 a.m. with workshop instructors and participants followed by bands including Grace ‘N Grass.

Lew Bode and Jim Vipperman will preside over the Tommy Jarrell Festival Youth Competition Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Andy Griffith Museum Theater under the Andy Griffith Museum. Categories include fiddle, clawhammer banjo, guitar, vocals, dance, and others (which includes all other instruments and bands), in two age levels: 5-12 and 13-18. Competitors will have three minutes to perform and may have an attendant, although no recorded saves are permitted. Competitors can register for the event, there is no entry fee and trophies are awarded after the competition.

The Whitetop Mountain Band will take the stage Saturday at 7 p.m. for the Tommy Jarrell Birthday Concert and Dance, hosted by Lew Bode. The Whitetop Mountain Band is a family band from the highest mountains in Virginia. Known for their high energy and charisma on stage, Whitetop Mountain Band is one of Appalachia’s most popular dance groups. They have performed at all manner of venues across the United States and abroad, including the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, National Folklife Festival, World Music Institute, Carter Family Festival, Dock Boggs Festival, Exposition universal, the Virginia Arts Festival, the Floyd Fest, the Ola Belle Reed Festival. , and Merlefest. Tickets are $10.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit or call the Surry Arts Council at 336-786-7998. Tickets can also be purchased at the door before each show if available. Select Tommy Jarrell Festival events are supported in part by the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

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