Old-Time Musicians Tie Together Four Centuries

Mountain Memories: Josh Goforth and David Holt have a 400-year-old repertoire and a smattering of Grammys to their name.

Mountain Memories: Josh Goforth and David Holt have a 400-year-old repertoire and a smattering of Grammys to their name.

Virtuosic old-time musicians David Holt and Josh Goforth — who play ten instruments apiece — validate the notion that the circle does, indeed, go unbroken. Holt and Goforth represent two generations performing the music originated by those who preceded them, and during the upcoming concert “From One Generation to the Next,” they will collaborate to preserve that enduring mountain-music legacy in real time.

Holt, a four-time Grammy Award winner, is recognized as one of the nation’s foremost folk musicians and storytellers. He gained notoriety for his legendary collaborations with the late Doc Watson, and he’s been the host of the PBS series Folkways for three decades.

Goforth, meanwhile, is a Grammy Award nominee descended from many of the musicians who mentored Holt. After winning the top prize at the seminal Fiddler’s Grove Festival three times between 2000 and 2005, while still in his late teens and early twenties, he retired from competition and was named a Master Fiddler.

Holt first came to the Southern Appalachians in 1969, and found a community of older singers and fiddlers who’d been born in the 1880s and ’90s. Singing a cappella renditions of murder ballads and lost-love songs originating as far back as the 1600s, in England and Scotland, they had, thanks to mountainous isolation, developed an utterly individualistic style. They’d shaped their repertoire in the days before radio, records, and mass media — and that gave their music a wild, quirky resonance that Holt loved; that he could not leave behind.

“From folks playing the one-stringed mouth bow to exotic guitar tunings, I gravitated to the old-timey sounds,” he says. This vast array of traditional music was particularly thick in Madison County. People there were living a life from vanished times — “plowing with a mule, growing their own food, making their own moonshine and playing local music. I learned a great deal from folks like Dellie Norton, Byard Ray, and Cas Wallin.”

Goforth was born in Madison County, and is directly related to many of the musicians from whom Holt learned traditional music — although those folks had passed away years before Goforth was born. When he and Holt met, the chemistry was magical. “He had a natural talent for music,” Holt explains, “and our working together for the last 15 years somehow completed the circle.”

Because young people like Goforth are embracing the music of the mountain culture, Holt believes, it is quite healthy — even today. “Traditional music grew out of people’s need to create and express themselves. You take something from the past and play it in a way that satisfies you and your audience today. So it is always fresh and ancient at the same time. That is a powerful combination.”

“From One Generation to the Next” happens at Bo Thomas Auditorium on the campus of Blue Ridge Community College Wednesday, March 30,  at 7:30 pm. The concert/storytelling event is a fundraiser for the Center for Cultural Preservation to help sustain its mountain-elder wisdom project.  $20.  www.saveculture.org. (828) 692-8062. 

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