John Cloyd Miller, half of 'Zoe & Cloyd,' wins bluegrass songwriting award

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News

Local musician and Warren Wilson instructor John Cloyd Miller won the 2022 Hazel Dickens Songwriting Contest for his song "Chestnut Mountain," released in 2021 with his band Zoe & Cloyd. 

"I don't like to make a big deal about stuff," Miller laughed, humbly expressing his gratitude for the award. 

Warren Wilson instructor John Cloyd Miller won the 2022 Hazel Dickens Songwriting Contest with his original song "Chestnut Mountain."

Along with Natalya Zoe Weinstein, Miller makes up half of the duo Zoe & Cloyd, a fixture of the Asheville music scene for many years. Both Miller and Weinstein are traditional music instructors at Warren Wilson.

Presented by the DC Bluegrass Union, the Hazel Dickens Songwriting Contest memorializes songwriter Hazel Dickens, a renowned bluegrass musician in the mid-1900s. Dickens was known for her lyricism, illustrating the lives of everyday Americans, coal miners, unionization and feminism through song. 

"I thought the song I submitted would be a good fit," Miller said. "It has sort of an Appalachian theme."

The contest in Dickens' name honors the music of other mountain musicians whose primary income, 50% or more, is not derived from songwriting or music publishing. The winner of the annual contest receives a $500 prize, followed by $250 for second place and $100 for third. 

Miller's song "Chestnut Mountain" brings together memories of his grandfather's homeplace in Wilkes County and Appalachian displacement. He said his grandfather, born in a cabin on Chestnut Mountain, was a prolific bluegrass fiddler, playing with many household names in the genre's heyday. 

"When I was a young kid, the mountain was just game land," Miller said. "Later on, a developer came in and bought basically the whole mountain and they wanted to turn it into a gated community." 

The developer tried to bully Miller's grandparents into selling their roughly 40 acres of land. Miller said the song deals with trying to hang onto a legacy while battling displacement. 

Zoe & Cloyd recorded the song along with another Warren Wilson faculty member, Kevin Kehrberg, the chair of the music department. Miller wrote the song as the second track on the band's most recent album, "Rebuild," released in 2021. 

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Along with fellow band members Natalya Zoe Weinstein, Kevin Kehrberg and Bennet Sullivan, John Cloyd Miller recorded "Chestnut Mountain" for Zoe & Cloyd's 2021 album "Rebuild."

Accompanied by Weinstein on fiddle, Kehrberg on bass and award-winning musician Bennet Sullivan on banjo, Miller leads the vocals on "Chestnut Mountain." Miller also plays guitar on the song. 

Zoe & Cloyd's music, including "Rebuild" and the award-winning "Chestnut Mountain," can be found on popular listening platforms such as Apple Music and Spotify. 

Ezra Maille covers the town of Black Mountain, Montreat and the Swannanoa Valley. Reach him at 828-230-3324 or emaille@blackmountainnews.com. Please support local journalism with access to more breaking news by subscribing.