New film connects the fabrics of mountain music


For most people, the mention of Appalachian music conjures up echoes of fiddles and banjos ringing out bluegrass or old-time tunes. That’s true as far as it goes, but each of those styles sprouted from deep roots and traditions that are often not as well known.

“A Great American Tapestry, The Many Strands of Mountain Music,” a new documentary from The Center for Cultural Preservation, taps the voices of those who grew up in mountain communities as well as scholars and revivalists to give a better sense of the whole fabric. It will be screened at the White Horse Black Mountain on Friday, June 30. The event will also feature mini-concerts by the string band Rhiannon and the Relics and ballad singer Bobby McMillon.

Rhiannon Giddens is the co-founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and an Appalachian roots musician who participated in A Great American Tapestry, a new film by David Weintraub and the Center for Cultural Preservation.

The Scots-Irish contribution to Appalachian music is well documented. In remote mountain communities they preserved ballads and fiddle tunes from the British Isles, but the music was also changed by new landscapes and new neighbors. American music sounds different from European music in large part due to African influences, in instrumentation (the banjo), rhythmic syncopation and the introduction of blue notes into the old modal music. Also interacting with white settlers were the region’s first inhabitants, the Cherokee, who have a strong oral tradition of music and dance that continues into the present day.

The makers of “A Great American Tapestry” show how the multi-cultural synthesis that existed in the Appalachians birthed the music we hear today.

Inheritors of the ballad tradition Sheila Kay Adams, Bobby McMillon and Joe Penland appear in the documentary, as do members of The Carolina Chocolate Drops, who spearheaded a black string band revival. Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee illuminate a little known chapter in the region’s musical story, and musicologists like David Holt and others help tie up the loose ends.

A discussion with the filmmaker and principal film participants will follow the screening.

Connecting the threads

What: "A Great American Tapestry: The Many Strands of Mountain Music"

When: 7:30 p.m. June 30

Where: White Horse Black Mountain

Cost: $15