BOONE — Shortly after a group of passionate local residents gathered in December 2011 at the first “Save The Appalachian Theatre” Task Force meeting, a subcommittee met to craft a positioning statement that provided clarity for the organization’s mission, values, and beliefs.
At the top of the list of how the historic theatre could achieve their ambitious mission was the phrase, “through outreach to, and inclusion of, local, regional, and national artists in our programming.”
Twelve years later, the aptly named Appalachian Theatre of the High Country is pleased to announce their newest initiative, “Local Night @AppTheatre,” a series specifically designed to showcase the talents of High Country musicians for whom the venue was restored and renovated.
“This new series, co-presented by the Appalachian Theatre and Joe Shannon’s Mountain Home Music, is scheduled for select Thursday evenings in January, February, and March 2023,” said App Theatre Executive Director Suzanne Livesay. “Each performance features local artists and area student groups as opening acts, with shows starting at 7 p.m.”
The inaugural line-up is as follows:
• Jan. 12 — Trevor McKenzie & Jackson Cunningham
• Jan. 26 — The Page Brothers — Django Reinhardt Birthday Celebration
• Feb. 9 — The Burnett Sisters
• Feb. 23 — Mary Green & Friends
• March 9 — Brooks Forsyth
• March 23 — The King Bees
“We are thrilled to partner with our friends at the Appalachian Theatre to showcase many of the talented performers and future performers in the High Country,” said Courtney Wheeler, Executive Director of Joe Shannon’s Mountain Home Music. “Mountain Home Music has been presenting local artists since its inception almost 30 years ago, and the opportunity to present them on the Doc Watson Stage at the App Theatre was a dream of our founder Joe Shannon. Nothing brings people together quite like the arts, and we feel fortunate to have this beautiful theatre for the community and artists alike.”
In keeping with the App Theatre’s mission to serve, “as a quality home for diverse artists and audiences with a special focus on programs that celebrate our distinctive Appalachian heritage,” what follows are profiles of each artist on the inaugural “Local Night @AppTheatre” series:
Trevor McKenzie is a historian and musician based in western North Carolina. He is the Director of the Center for Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University, where he teaches about regional history, folklore, and music. He has performed with regional groups including Nobody’s Business, The Little Stony Nighthawks, and the Elkville String Band. He is the author of “Otto Wood, the Bandit: The Freighthopping Thief, Bootlegger, and Convicted Murderer behind the Appalachian Ballads,” available through UNC Press. McKenzie is a member of SouthArts’ Emerging Traditional Artists cohort and the recipient of an NC Arts apprenticeship to study regional fiddle traditions with master fiddler and banjo player Paul Brown.
Jackson Cunningham is a luthier and musician steeped in the traditions of his home in Grayson County, Virginia. Cunningham learned his skills as an instrument builder from neighbors such as the late Audrey Hash Hamm and continues these traditions through his own Cunningham Handmade Instruments. Jackson’s skills as rhythm guitarist, mandolin player, and singer are noted both regionally and abroad, with performances and tours at folk festivals and venues across the US as well as Europe and Australia. He is the leader of the string band Nobody’s Business and performs as part of the duo The Whitetop Mountaineers.
The Page Brothers’ performance of “Django Reinhardt Birthday Celebration” celebrates a jazz pioneer born 113 years ago. Reinhardt is widely recognized as one of the world’s greatest guitarists. Django combined his love of early American jazz with elements from his Romani heritage to create an intoxicating style known as jazz manouche. This program will feature his most celebrated compositions, collaborations with violinist Stephane Grappelli, as well as bebop and modern jazz tunes done in Django’s inimitable style.
The group performing on Jan. 26 is modeled after Reinhardt’s classic “Hot Club” ensemble: two guitars, violin, and acoustic bass. The Page Brothers (twins Andy and Zack) will be joined by violinist Meade Richter and guitarist James Schaller for an exciting night of acoustic, string-driven jazz! The Page Brothers are co-led by guitarist Andy Page and bassist Zack Page.
Utilizing a rotating line-up of the finest musicians in Western NC, the group keeps a busy performance schedule in the Southeast playing a variety of jazz styles from manouche to straight-ahead to fusion. They have performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, Japan’s Muroran Jazz Cruise, and for jazz workshops in Germany. Work with various jazz ensembles, theater companies, and the cruise industry has taken them to all 50 U.S. States, the Caribbean islands, the Mediterranean, Australia, South America, Europe and the Far East.
The Burnett Sisters grew up playing music together right here in Boone, North Carolina. The sisters’ sound is focused around the type of breathtaking vocal harmonies that can only come from the unique bond shared by siblings, expertly complemented by tight instrumental arrangements and a bonafide love of the traditional songs they play. To assign a genre to The Burnett Sisters Band would be to oversimplify the breadth of their musical influences – at a typical show, an old-time fiddle tune might be followed by a Patty Loveless song, a driving bluegrass standard or a soaring acapella gospel harmony number.
With a repertoire that’s equal parts old-time and bluegrass, country and gospel, this Billboard charting band navigates the diverse source material effortlessly, diving into the songs with an attention to detail and an appreciation for nuance that lends an authenticity and a feeling of genuine expression rarely matched in today’s traditional music.
Mary Green is a multi-instrumentalist who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Boone and has a master’s degree in Appalachian Studies. Her expertise in the region’s cultural arts coupled with experience as the director of educational services at the award winning Appalachian Cultural Museum, at Appalachian State University, equip her with multiple views of Appalachian culture.
Mary teaches workshops for mountain dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, traditional American guitar styles, traditional song, and concertina (D/G) and has coordinated, and performed at, numerous festivals, events, and concerts presenting regional traditions to schoolchildren, adults, newcomers, and tourists. She has conducted dulcimer playing and traditional arts residencies in the public schools and teaches music in Ashe County Public Schools.
She is joined onstage by Aaron Ratcliffe, who plays and teaches old-time music on a number of instruments, and he is a skilled flatfoot dancer and dance caller with deep roots in western North Carolina. Aaron hails from Ratcliff Cove at the foot of Big Stomp Mountain (Ratcliff Mountain) in Haywood County, NC, where his father’s side of the family has lived for seven generations. His dad played piano and organ, and his mother worked as a choir director and pianist at local churches. Following in their footsteps, Aaron started out playing gospel music on piano, then guitar, in church.
Brooks Forsyth hails from Valle Crucis, North Carolina, and is a musician of Appalachia and beyond. He began playing on street corners and barbecue restaurants and has since become a Nashville recording artist. Brooks’ musical style encompasses a variety of genres, particularly within Americana. He has a large repertoire of original songs and a versatile guitar style consisting of both flatpicking and fingerpicking techniques. Throughout the last 16 years, he has performed solo and with a diverse group of musical ensembles across America.
The King Bees, Rob “Hound Dog” Baskerville and Penny “Queen Bee” Zamagni call the mountains of North Carolina home but travel the world with their Blues and American Roots music. This year marks the 35th anniversary of the band and the 20th year of New River Blues Festival which they created and produce in Ashe County.
All tickets for the concerts are reserved seating at a price of $10 for adults and $7 for students plus taxes and fees. Please note that events, days, dates, times, performers, and prices are subject to change without notice. Follow @AppTheatre on Facebook and Instagram for up-to-the minute event updates throughout the winter season. For tickets and more information on all events, or to join the theatre’s eblast list and purchase memberships, visit the ATHC website at www.apptheatre.org.