Polished, Joe Penland is a gem of the Appalachians

Staff reports

Western North Carolina abounds with musicians who have found inspiration in Appalachian songs and dance tunes. To inspire literally means “to breathe in,” a word that perfectly describes how Madison County singer/storyteller Joe Penland came by his deep knowledge of the music nurtured in mountain valleys, coves and hollers.

Joe Penland's internation storytelling career started on his front porch of his house.

Penland heard the songs and stories from birth and is the proud steward of 12 generations of Scotch-Irish and English oral tradition. He and bassist/singer Cathy Arrowood will bring a trove of Appalachian mountain lore to the White Horse Black Mountain on Sunday, Oct. 23.

Penland, who inherited his musical instruments from a grandfather who had passed on long before, was taught to play by his aunts. From great traditional singers in the Sodom Laurel community he learned the ballads, or “love songs” as they called them. But Penland was content to keep his performances to the front porch and hearth of home until his daughter Laurin and close friends Sheila Kay Adams, Mary Eagle and David Holt convinced him to share his music and life experiences with a wider audience.

He’s since gone on to perform at numerous festivals and concert venues, has toured the U.K. eight times, and been awarded the prestigious Bascom Lamar Lunsford Award. Lunsford, by the way, was cousin of Penland’s, a lawyer turned performer and folklorist who founded Asheville’s annual Mountain Dance and Folk Festival.

Penland wants his music to reflect the present as well as the past, so he started writing original songs steeped in tradition.

“Just more stories of love and life here in the mountains,” he said.

Teller of tales

Who: Joe Penland

When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 23

Where: White Horse Black Mountain

Cost: $10 advance, $12 door