Rhonda Vincent at 2008 Clinchfest

The cicadas were the first thing I noticed at Natural Tunnel State Park last Friday the 13th. They were the loud too and although cicadas appear every year in our region, the old-timers say these are the “13-year locusts” and although they sing their songs here in the mountains during the summer, they’re not the only ones.

Last weekend, we worked the Clinch Mountain Music Festival which is a three day music festival in Scott County, Virginia celebrating old-time mountain music. Along the way, we discovered plenty of new talent and appreciated a tradition of music that’s as natural as the rivers that flow from the mountains of Virginia.

Clinchfest is in its third year and this year GoTriCities participated as a media sponsor and we also worked with them on their website. We had a great time too hanging out with lots of new friends and even got on the bus with Rhonda Vincent. The rain hardly dampened the spirits on Saturday and I got to experience my first show at the Carter Family Fold on Saturday and Sunday.

Over the weekend, we captured many video interviews and performances with Tennessee Skyline, The Appalachian Dream Spinners as well as several newcomers including Heather Berry at Carter Fold in Hiltons, Virginia.

Here are the photos – Click
Here are the videos – Click

Clinchfest Day 1 – Natural Tunnel State Park, Duffield, VA

The Natural Tunnel State Park is a wonder of nature (the eighth wonder of the world so they say), but they also have a terrific facility that includes historical sites like the Blockhouse Museum which is part of the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail, a pool, recreation area and an amphitheater – the perfect setting for a hillside concert last Friday.

The weather was hot too when we arrived late afternoon and I guess that’s what made those cicadas (we used to call them jar flies) so loud. It wasn’t long though before the sound of music muffled the songs in the trees and the sounds of tuning instruments got the show ready as the Appalachian Dream Spinners kicked off the festival to a crowd of close to 300 people.

Matthew and Carson helped me get all of our camera gear setup before the bands started playing and we got plenty of pictures and media content but more important, we got to shake hands with some old friends.

Tony Vines was an important part of this festival. This year, his master-crafted A.P. Carter guitar was raffled away to winner Doug Carson of Kingsport. Tony cut the wood for this guitar from the A.P. Carter homestead and this was a terrific conversation piece this weekend, but Tony and I go a long way back. We enjoyed catching up too and I was glad to hear he had come through some tough times and was enjoying a long weekend of entertainment.

I was excited to run into Charlie Sigmund too. It was almost 24 years ago that Charlie took a chance on me by hiring me at The Kingsport Times-News. Charlie was advertising director at the time and I was surprised to see him serving as a volunteer at Natural Tunnel. He was selling raffle tickets for the Vine’s guitar and we talked about the past and all the new things we’re working on at the paper.

The only disappointment was the concessions. I think we paid $6.00 for a philly sandwich that could have easily come from a convenience market. Other than a snow cone, we didn’t have too much to choose. Maybe they can fix that next year.

Matthew spent a good part of the daylight hours interviewing many of the coordinators of the festival and by the time the show started, we had captured great footage of the some of the opening bands including The Appalachian Dream Spinners and my favorite Tennessee Skyline.

Since we launched the website, I’ve grown attached to the song ‘Briars, Brambles and Me” by this band. We programmed the song into the website, so I heard it every time we visited the link, but I was most impressed by their live performance, talent, camaraderie and the professional manner in which they shared their music. Local icons G.C. Matlock and Audie Ratliff make up this band and they have a great future as Bluegrass statesmen and will be appearing all over the region this Summer.

The Whitetop Mountain Band is an original family band from just above Damascus, Va. I enjoyed meeting the mother/daughter/sister group and we talked about the Creeper Trail and the beauty of their hometown. The delightful young lady that sings and plays guitars with this group had on a short skirt and cowboy boots and a glowing smile that seemed to indicate they were thrilled to play the show tonight.

During the White Mountain set, Diana motioned for us to move to the Martha White bus for a personal interview with Rhonda Vincent.

Jared Bentley is our usual interviewer, but he was on vacation so I had the role of the man on the mike. I didn’t have time to second guess my thoughts either and within moments, we were aboard this caravan with a slender blonde in a green sequined dress and turquoise eyes who greeted us with grace and frustration as she was cleaning tiramisu off the curtains.

We sat down for a few moments and Matthew and Carson recorded the interview that included questions about her new album, bluegrass and mountain music across the South, Dolly Parton and her two children.

Rhonda has won several national awards for her songs and her talent – most notable Female Vocalist of the year for the past seven years by the IBMA. She’s from Missouri and I discovered her music at Bristol Rhythm and Roots a few years ago. She was very friendly, focused and a pleasure to hang out with for our short time together.

After the formal video interview, Rhonda introduced us to her two daughters who were with her on the bus tonight.

An interesting side note is that these two young ladies are enrolled in the ETSU Bluegrass Program and live in Johnson City where they have a band that we will look forward to hearing soon, because if they sing like their mother, they’ve got a bright future ahead.

Rhonda performed for over an hour and had a up-tempo, front porch style of bluegrass that kept fans in their seats till about 10.00.

It was still early by the time we left Natural Tunnel that night, so we decided to visit Matt Carroll’s home place in Yuma.

His father, Odell Carroll is one of the characters from the movie “October Sky.”

One of the original “rocket boys” and friend of Homer Hickim, Odell has a mesmerizing collection of memorabilia and as we walked through this wonderfully rustic farm house, I was amazed to see various rocks on bookshelves with magic markers documenting beaches in Germany and other places around the world. I feel much better about my own rocks now.

We all had a couple of Cervazas on the porch that night and listened to the crickets sing gentle lullabies as the fog from the mountains settled near the creek-beds.

I’m starting to develop a new appreciation of Scott County and would love to hang my hat on a place like this in the country. Someday.

Clinchfest Day 2 – Downtown in The Streets of Gate City, VA

Day two of Clinchfest is held on Jackson Street in the middle of Gate City, VA. They close down the streets in this little city and present two stages at both ends. When we arrived around 2.00, the sprinkles turned into a light shower and that was the way it was for the rest of the afternoon, but that didn’t dampen the spirits.

Carson and I made our way to the “Pickin’ Porch” behind the courthouse and watched several singers/players sitting in a circle exchanging folk songs.

In the crowd was a father/son from Church Hill, TN who caught my attention. Harley is about 12 years old and a guitar virtuoso. His flat-picking style and wavy blonde hair was comfortable in the large group and I’m certain this young man will appear on many stages in the coming years.

My favorite moment was when Carson put the video camera down and pulled out his harmonica. He was fortunate to have a G-harp and played perfectly with the guys and even led everyone singing ‘Folsom Prison Blues” as the rain fell on the tin-roof above the porch.

The Roan Mountain Hilltoppers are genuine mountain treasure. One of their singers played a washboard and they usually have Robbie Spencer playing with the band too, but not today. He was in Pigeon Forge at another performance, but they played a great set in the rain.

We were all gathered under the business awnings along Jackson Street watching flat-footin’ cloggers under umbrellas dancing in the streets and young boys and girls whirling around laughing as their mothers chased them down in the crowd.

There were a couple of “firsts” for me this weekend in Gate City. I’ve never had a drink in this city and for lunch, we stepped in from the rain to have a cold beer at El Potrillo. This Mexican restaurant on Jackson Street is a nice road-stop downtown and we enjoyed the time in the dry listening to Darryl Jane sing his heartfelt Gospel music from the steps of the Gate City courthouse.

The rest of the afternoon was spent recording the ‘flat-footin’ contest and shortly after that, we made our way to Hiltons, VA for performances at The Carter Fold.

I mentioned earlier that I have never experienced a performance at “the fold” and was intrigued by the stage, the museum and the general feel of this place. It’s become hallowed ground too since the days of A.P. Carter, Mother Maybelle Carter, June Carter Cash and the original man in black – Johnny Cash.

The crowds had already started to swell for the J.D. Crowe performance and my dad and his date were already in the crowd – about midway up this auditorium that seats 800.

I spoke briefly with Rita Forrester who now promotes the Carter Fold and told her about Earl Carter’s wonderful pictures he took back in the seventies. She mentioned that Earl had been shooting pictures of this mecca for mountain/gospel music since the seventies and had wonderful things to say about my friend and colleague.

We shot a few scenes from the Saturday performance, but spent most of our time inside the A.P. Carter Museum. Inside this small house is a rare and rustic collection of albums, cassettes, photos and apparel wore by everyone in the Carter Family. My favorite was a black suit on the back wall worn by Johnny Cash in 1970 when he met the president, Richard Nixon.

We shot an interview with Tony Vines too inside the museum and was delighted to meet the red-dressed Francis who was minding the store that day.

Clinchfest Day 3 – The Carter Family Fold in Hilton’s VA

Sunday at Clinchfest was centered around Gospel music and for me, that’s one of the most distinct forms of music to drift through the Southwest Virginia hillsides.

I’m reminded of this every time I see Lee Smith. Lee and his family have a Gospel group and sing at funerals, weddings, radio shows, tv shows and furniture stores – smiling, they perform anywhere folks want them to be. I saw him on Saturday and was thinking about his love for music as I drove past the small churches that provide the character in these small Virginia towns, I knew we were in for a treat.

Jay Dixon is one of the organizers of Clinchfest and a heroic Vietnam vet who works with his wife Carol to bring Clinchfest to life. Jay and “friends” were one of the first acts on the stage at the Carter Fold on Sunday and I was glad to hear his daughter sing.

Over the past few months that I’ve known Jay, he has shared many proud stories about his daughter and her successful singing career in Germany. She travels all over the world with an a variety of bands including Colorful-Live, MegaBite and an all-girl AC/DC tribute band called Hell’s Belles.

Janie Dixon was dressed in white and I was fortunate to get several father/daughter photos inside the green room at The Carter Fold on Father’s Day. She had a powerful soul voice that dominated the Carter Fold Sunday morning and the crowd seemed to really enjoy their special chemistry on stage.

During the performance, it was bothering me to stand in front of folks with a video camera for long at the Carter Fold, so I went back outside to see what I could find. Earlier, a young woman was singing bluegrass under a shade tree and I was glad to see her still there with her band.

Heather Berry was one of the people organizer Diana Meredith urged me to hear while at Clinchfest and I’m glad we got to meet at that Shady spot in Hiltons. It seemed appropriate too because as I walked up, the songbirds were singing in the trees, a couple of dogs were laying casually under the canopy panting from the heat and Heather’s voice was like an angel in paradise.

Heather and her husband are from North Carolina and together they have an extraordinary, natural style that keeps them busy playing their music. She treated me to several songs before the camera and I was joking her about making her a You Tube star. When she picked up the auto-harp, I couldn’t help but think Mother Maybelle was smiling as she sang a gentle gospel songs outside the old home place.

We had a busy weekend in Scott County and look forward to several more trips back up into this area as we begin to work on a new Scott County Tourism website in the coming weeks. There’s a lot of genuine Southern charm to this region and a musician at every corner and we certainly wish the Clinchfest folks continued success with their venture.

I know that some of the organizers would like to see a performing arts center in Gate City and they certainly deserve, because there’s no shortage of talent and we appreciate everyone for treating us so well this past weekend.