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STORY SONGS: Carolina Pines Fest History Spotlight debuts with Stray Local

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Wilmington’s Stray Local will kick off the first Carolina Pines Fest History Spotlight of old-time music, featuring guest emcee Deb Bowen. Courtesy photos

THIS EVENT HAS BEEN CANCELLED BECAUSE OF THE NC STATE OF EMERGENCY OVER COVID-19.

 

History, storytelling, art and music are natural bedfellows. As a history major at UNCW and Carolina Pines Fest founder, Anna Mann has found a way to marry a few of her passions in the new History Spotlight music series at Live at Ted’s.

“I’ve been wanting to incorporate historical music somehow [into shows] for a while now,” Mann shares. “Our goal is to have one every third Thursday at Ted’s for the foreseeable future. Each month we’ll have a different topic, emcee and musical guest.”

Carolina Pines Fest’s History Spotlight series debuts Thursday, March 19, with Stray Local and emcee Deb Bowen. They’ll take a deep-dive into Southern old-time music in two 45-minute sets, with time for questions at the end.

“Old-time music has special, culturally convergent roots and that history has just recently begun to be revived in musical and scholarly circles,” Mann says. “Stray Local was the obvious choice; they have studied old-time music pretty extensively. They already had a whole list of songs they know, too.”

Although Stray Local’s Hannah and Jamie Rowen have never strictly been an “old-time” Southern music band, the Wilmington indie-folk duo (now trio with Jessica Landes on fiddle) have incorporated Southern roots and traditional songs into their repertoire. As they continue writing original music and pulling influences from other genres, Hannah says their sound has taken a departure from the folk genre.

“[We] now incorporat[e] electric guitar, keyboards and synths,” she explains, “but we keep a few of those traditional old-time songs in our set. It is a part of our musical journey after all. . . . This will be a rare, purely old-time set for Stray Local.

Stray Local’s sets will focus on bluegrass and Appalachian songs, such as “I’ll Fly Away,” “Cornbread and Butterbeans,” “In the Pines,” “Cuckoo Bird,” “As Time Draws Near” and “Omie Wise.” Though, Rowen says their vocal choices depart a bit from the traditional take. “Some of our embellishments may reflect a more modern style, but just like Lead Belly’s ‘In the Pines’ differed from Bill Monroe’s, who differed from Dolly Parton’s, who differed from Nirvana’s, we cannot help but let our unique musical experience color our performances and shape a completely new experience for listeners as well.”

Exploring academia behind the music is not uncharted territory for the Rowens; in fact, they met while studying music at UNC-Greensboro. Mann, on the other hand, just finished a semester studying Southern Appalachian old-time music and only recently heard most genre favorites in the last few years.

“The first time I heard ‘In The Pines’ was actually by Stray Local, and someone had to tell me it was an old tune!” she remembers. “The more I learn, the more I’m excited to share the history of these songs. I am particularly eager to highlight the black history of a lot of this music. Many people don’t know the banjo came from Africa and a lot of playing styles were influenced by African slaves.”

Bowen is a family friend of Mann’s who also taught at UNCW’s School of Social Work. Mann credits her for helping navigate the deep cultural and social justice history behind classic bluegrass and Appalachian music. Her commitment to social justice issues and her understanding of Jim Crow history made sense to incorporate into this first show. Her courses would include “soundtracks” with her lectures, emphasizing day-to-day life, hardships and joys.

 

 

“Music born of the pain of the Jim Crow era, of the plight of coal miners, and yet of the faith of a better life to come, touched me deeply,” Bowen notes.

Bowen jokes about “old-time” music being ‘“new” bluegrass when she first started listening to it as a child in the ‘50s. “And there was only AM radio,” she says. “My grandma sang ‘I’ll Fly Away,’ as she rocked me in the swing in her yard. When I was a young teenager in the early 1960s, emerging urban folk singers sang me back to my British Isles roots with songs that eventually traveled to Appalachia, and I began a lifelong study of British broadside ballads, child ballads, and music born in the Southern mountains.”

Bowen will offer a general introduction to the genre and provide context to each tune. While Stray Local will speak specifically about the history and importance of the songs, Bowen will add more details about the zeitgeist of the times. She’ll explore how the songs played a role marking history and more so how they’re relevant today.

“While this might sound quite formal,” Bowen admits, “my plan is that the spoken material I’ll share will be casual in style, entertaining and informative.”

DETAILS

CAROLINA PINES FEST:
HISTORY SPOTLIGHT
Featuring Stray Local
Thursday, March 19, 7 p.m.
Live At Ted’s, 2 Castle St.
Cover: $10
www.straylocal.com

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