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Volume 24, Number 5 — May 2017

2009 Rhythm & Roots Reunion Features Five-Year-Old Fiddler

Five-year-old Carson Peters is already making a name for himself as an accomplished fiddler.
Five-year-old Carson Peters is already making a name for himself as an accomplished fiddler.

Youth will Join Michael Cleveland in Workshop

By ANGELA WAMPLER | A! MAGAZINE FOR THE ARTS | August 25, 2009

The 2009 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion will take place Sept. 18-20.

Among the youngest musicians will be Adam Larkey, who was featured in A! Magazine for the Arts in 2008 (visit our archives) and Carson Peters from Piney Flats, Tenn.

At age five, "Fiddlin' Carson Peters" is the youngest one of all. On Sunday, Sept. 20, this pint-sized musician and his Rockhouse Stringband will play bluegrass, Celtic, gospel, and a little bit of folk and country, too. Their style has been described as "Roan Mountain Hilltoppers meets Old Crow Medicine Show meets the Carter Family."

Also on Sunday, Carson will join Michael Cleveland in a music workshop entitled Passing the Torch. Cleveland is a five-time winner of the International Bluegrass Music Association's Fiddle Player of the Year award and is considered one of the premier bluegrass fiddlers of his generation. Like Carson, Cleveland picked up a fiddle at a young age (four), and his talent was recognized early. He made his Grand Ole Opry debut as a guest of Alison Krauss, and his list of guest appearances over the years is a who's who of bluegrass legends. Carson is hoping to follow in Cleveland's footsteps, including a performance at the Opry.

Carson is quickly making a name for himself, winning music competitions and entertaining audiences throughout our region.

His parents, Robin and Jamie Peters, noticed from a very early age that Carson could keep time with his hands or feet with any tune being played.

When Carson was two years old, his grandmother bought him a ukulele at a yard sale, and he started picking out tunes like "Mary Had a Little Lamb," "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," "Jesus Loves Me" and "Old Joe Clark."

While on vacation in 2006, Carson's parents bought him a little fiddle at an Amish flea market in Pennsylvania, then set out in search of a music teacher who would take a 3-year-old child as a student. Their search led them to Morrell Music in Johnson City, Tenn., where he is still a student today.

When he was three, he began taking music lessons. About nine months later, he began entering fiddling competitions and, at his very first one, he won first place in a youth competition in Big Stone Gap, Va.

In 2008, Carson and his parents started attending old time and bluegrass festivals where Carson could hear and jam with older musicians as well as compete in youth fiddle competitions. So far, he has won or placed in every competition he's entered, including categories with adults.

One of his most noteworthy wins was first place (age 17 and under) at the Bluegrass and Old-time Fiddlers Convention in Mount Airy, N.C., where he also received the Most Promising Young Talent Award.

Most recently, Carson placed second in the youth category at the 2009 Old Time Fiddlers Convention in Galax, Va. The event is for young and old alike. Its mission is to preserve and "pass on" the tradition of Appalachian music.

Carson says winning trophies and getting your name in the papers aren't the reasons he works so hard at his music. "It's all about making people smile," he says.

His music teacher, Sarah Fletcher Collins, says, "Carson's special. I was almost getting burned out with teaching until I met him." Now she finds herself on stage with her student, backing him either with a twin fiddle or other instrument, and continuing to help him grow and polish his playing.

Other band members include Sarah's uncle Mike Elliott, her aunt Kay Elliott, their neighbor (and poet) Rita Quillen, and Carson's dad Jamie.

In addition to the Rockhouse Stringband, Carson plays with a gospel group at area churches. He also visits local nursing homes and the Veterans Administration hospital in Johnson City, with his dad and band member Mike Elliott. Carson gets lots of requests to play gigs and has performed for festivals and charity events.

For such a young fellow, Carson has a lot of confidence and stage presence. When he steps up to a microphone, he proudly introduces himself and the song he is about to perform. He even cracks a few jokes. When he's finished, he always remembers to thank the audience for letting him play.

Even at the tender age of five, like many young people today, Carson has a page on MySpace.com and has started a blog. He says, "Even though I can play the fire out of a fiddle, I can't type yet, so [my music teacher] is typing this for me."

Peters says, "My dad Jamie [is] a really smart guy and mom says I'm just like him! Which is just all right with me. My mom, Robin, is awesome and, even though she does not play in the band, she is still a big part of our group. Who do you think dresses me so stylish and cleans me up real good? Dad? Yeah, right!"

You can see and hear Peters playing his fiddle on MySpace.com and YouTube.com.