BOONE — The traditional sounds of Appalachia still carry along the highways and byways of Watauga County, where an AppalCART driver keeps the music rolling.
Keith South, a bus driver by profession and a busker during his free time, has a soft spot for the traditional music of Appalachia. South’s sound — a blend of conventional tunes, gospel and original material — was inspired by the regional music traditions found in the High Country.
“I grew up here, back in the 1970s there wasn’t any cable; we had the old antenna receiver with three stations and there wasn’t really anything ever on, but my mom always had the radio on in the background,” South said. “So, the house was always filled with music. I was just always around it, even today I’d just as soon listen to music than watch TV.”
According to AppalCart, South drives both county buses, as well as the smaller, paratransit shuttles and has never had any complaints.
“Keith’s a wonderful employee. A good, safe, bus driver,” said AppalCart Director, Craig Hughes. “He does an excellent job; one of our veteran drivers.”
Though a longtime player of the harmonica, South claims to have not become serious about his music until he picked up the banjo at a later age.
“I didn’t get started playing until I was about 40. I always had it in my head, but I never thought I had the skills to do it,” South said. “I had mentioned that I had always wanted to play the banjo and then lo and behold one birthday there it was, so it was time to try it.”
Now, at age 51, South enjoys playing and writing songs alongside his daughter, Megan, and son, Keith Jr., who like him, grew up singing along to the radio. At times, the family performs for the public on the corner of Boone’s Depot and King streets, as well in local churches where they perform traditional gospel hymns.
“I just love it,” South said. “There’s so many small, older traditional churches that don’t have any music, and they love for you to come in and play the old hymns, and that’s the kind of stuff I like to play.”
Over time, the family band has undergone some name changes. The group’s first album “Appalachian Bound” was recorded under the name Just Us. However, their second album, “Up and Gone,” named after an original tune by the same title, is planned to be released under the band name Mountain Escape.
Looking toward the future, the group — which prides itself on playing music that everyone can relate to — longs for more live performances, a favorite pastime denied to many musicians since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Hopefully we can start playing more, out and in public. We hope to play as much as we possibly can,” South said.
Carrying with him a lifelong love of music, South who now plays a variety of instruments ranging from banjo, ukulele, to harmonica encourages folks not to give up on their dreams.
“Never stop chasing your dreams, never stop picking and most important never stop praying,” South said.
Those interested in contacting South for a performance or for information about CDs can reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (828) 406-2906.