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Volume 24, Number 10 — November 2017

ETSU Celtic, Bluegrass, Old-Time Bands Touring Abroad

Jane MacMorran, second from left, and the ETSU Celtic Band.
Jane MacMorran, second from left, and the ETSU Celtic Band.

Students and Faculty Crossing Atlantic Three Times

June 12, 2011

JOHNSON CITY, TN East Tennessee State University's Bluegrass, Old-Time and Country Music Program will be well-represented internationally this summer, with students and faculty crossing the Atlantic for three separate performance tours.

"Our program attracts students from all over the globe, and performing abroad raises international awareness of ETSU and the music that our students love," said Daniel Boner, director of the program, which is part of the university's Department of Appalachian Studies.

The ETSU Celtic Band, which is celebrating the release of its debut album, "A Carrying Stream," departed May 28 for Scotland and Northern Ireland, where they are traveling as part of a study-abroad program. The band is directed by award-winning Scottish fiddler Jane MacMorran, who leads the Appalachian, Scottish and Irish Studies Program, also part of the Appalachian Studies department.

Band members include guitarist Lindsey Amore, fiddler Marcianne O'Day, vocalist Mary Hayes and hammered dulcimer virtuoso Justin Watkins. Celtic fiddler Alexandra Frank, who is also touring with the band, came to ETSU from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, Scotland.

"Our relationship with the Royal Scottish Academy began when the ETSU Bluegrass Band presented performances and lectures there as part of our tour of England and Scotland in 2005," Boner said. "This led to the development of an international exchange program with their school. Alexandra is the third student who has participated in this exchange."

Mars Hill (N.C.) College's Bailey Mountain Cloggers are teaming up with the ETSU Bluegrass Pride Band for performances at the Internationale Wewelsburg Jungendfestwoche youth dance festival in Paderborn, Germany, at the end of June. Bass player Joshua Argo, fiddler Cara Oliphant and senior dobro player Leah Needham, along with Boner on guitar, will provide dance music accompaniment for the 19-time national champion clogging team.

"The Bailey Mountain Cloggers are a highly competitive and talented group of dancers," said Boner. "They're known to break boundaries by incorporating clogging with modern forms of dance. However, in Germany, we will give the audience a sample of traditional Appalachian clogging backed up by the ETSU Bluegrass Pride Band. The students and I are excited to work with the dance group and their director, Danielle Plimpton."

The ETSU Old-Time Pride Band will make its premier international tour by performing in the Czech Republic at the end of June through early July as part of a study-abroad course led by faculty Roy Andrade and Dr. Lee Bidgood. The band features seven skilled musicians, including graduate student and banjoist Trae McMaken, fiddler Noah Wall, Amythyst Phillips and Quentin Acres on Guitar, Justin Watkins on banjo-ukulele and hammered dulcimer, Stephanie Jeter on autoharp, and Alex Moore on bass.

The trip draws on Bidgood's decade-long ethnomusicological research and performance with Czech musicians and fans of bluegrass, old-time and country music, and will introduce ETSU students to the vibrant Czech communities that have formed around these genres.

"There's a lot of bluegrass, but there's not as much knowledge or experience with old-time," Bidgood says. "So it's exciting that we can bring that to them."

"Three years ago, there was one old-time band, and next semester, we'll have seven," says Andrade, who coordinates the old-time music activities within the Bluegrass, Old-Time and Country Music Program. "I feel proud that the music has grown like it has."

Founded in 1982 by veteran bluegrass musician and songwriter Jack Tottle, the program boasts the world's first bachelor of arts degree in bluegrass, old-time and country music studies. Award-winning alumni include Tim Stafford (Blue Highway), Adam Steffey (The Boxcars), Barry Bales (Alison Krauss and Union Station), and country music superstar Kenny Chesney.

To learn more about ETSU's Bluegrass, Old-Time and Country Music Program, visit www.etsu.edu/das/bluegrass or call (423) 439-7072.