Mill Towns and the Birth of American Music Conference

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North Carolina Ramblers North Carolina Ramblers


Thursday, April 11, 2019 (All day)


WinMock at Kinderton
168 E. Kinderton Way
Bermuda Run, NC 27006

The Blue Ridge Music Center is inviting music lovers to explore the musical history of our country during a one-day conference titled Mill Towns and the Birth of American Music on Thursday, April 11, at WinMock at Kinderton in Bermuda Run, North Carolina. The conference and an evening concert will follow the thread of musical influences and traditions that were born out of mill and factory towns in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

During this period, migrants came from across the countryside to the growing cities and towns in search of work in the factories and textile mills. These newcomers included musicians who introduced each other to the rhythms, techniques, and musical styles they played. At the same time, the business of music was taking off with the burgeoning recording industry, the growing reach of radio, and an economic incentive for writing original songs. The combination of these forces led to the creation of new musical forms which spread throughout the country.

The conference will feature musicians, songwriters, authors, scholars, and others interested in how cultural and economic forces helped shape popular music. The discussion will center on the role of mills and factories in the early 20th century as a catalyst to the creation of new musical traditions that are the roots of today’s American music. Traditional and roots music professionals with expertise in early American folk and traditional music history will lead the sessions.

New York Times bestselling author Wiley Cash, who wrote The Last Ballad, will be the keynote speaker and Patrick Huber, author of Linthead Stomp, will also be presenting.

The conference begins at 8:30 a.m. with a continental breakfast and ends at 5 p.m. A concert follows the conference at 7:30 p.m. in Winston-Salem, and will featuring Ralph Berrier Jr., Sarah Bryan, Bob Carlin, Hunter Holmes, Kinney Rorrer, Lightin’ Wells, and more.

Registration for the conference, which includes breakfast, lunch, panel discussions, breakout sessions, the keynote address, admission to the evening concert, and a copy of The Last Ballad is $130. Cost to attend the lunchtime keynote address only is $50. Preregistration is required for both. Concert tickets are $10 and can be purchased in advance or at the door. For more information, registration and tickets, go to or call (866) 308-2773, ext. 212.

Mill Towns and the Birth of American Music is made possible with support from Come Hear NC, a campaign celebrating North Carolina’s rich musical heritage. Learn more at Additional sponsors include the National Endowment for the Arts, National Council for the Traditional Arts, the North Carolina Folklife Institute, and The Old-Time Herald.

Speakers and Participants

Wiley Cash
New York Times bestselling author Wiley Cash’s latest novel is set in the Appalachian foothills of North Carolina in 1929 and inspired by real events. A chronicle of a single mother’s struggle for her rights in a textile mill, The Last Ballad is a moving tale of courage in the face of oppression. Lyrical, heartbreaking, and haunting, this eloquent novel confirms Cash’s place among our nation’s finest writers.

Patrick Huber
Contrary to popular belief, the roots of American country music do not lie solely on Southern farms or in mountain hollows. Rather, much of this music recorded before World War II emerged from the bustling cities and towns of the Piedmont South. No group contributed more to the commercialization of early country music than Southern factory workers. In Linthead Stomp: The Creation of Country Music in the Piedmont South, Patrick Huber explores the origins and development of this music in the mill villages.

Huber offers vivid portraits of a colorful cast of Piedmont millhand musicians, including Fiddlin’ John Carson, Charlie Poole, Dave McCarn, and the Dixon Brothers, and considers the impact that urban living, industrial work, and mass culture had on their lives and music. Drawing on a broad range of sources, including rare 78-rpm recordings and unpublished interviews, Huber reveals how the country music recorded between 1922 and 1942 was just as modern as the jazz music of the same era.

Linthead Stomp celebrates the Piedmont mill hand fiddlers, guitarists, and banjo pickers who combined the collective memories of the rural countryside with the upheavals of urban-industrial life to create a distinctive American music that spoke to the changing realities of the 20th-century South.

Hunter Holmes
Hunter Holmes is a musicologist and sixth generation Southern musician, hailing from Laurens, South Carolina. He has spent years researching the songs of the Carolinas with a special interest in the music of upstate South Carolina and the songs of the textile mill communities. Holmes has toured in conjunction with the Smithsonian's traveling exhibit, The Way We Worked, to present a show on the music of the mill towns that includes a variety of stories and songs performed with guitar, banjo, harmonica and other instruments.

Sarah Bryan
Sarah Bryan, a writer and UNC-trained folklorist, has worked in the field of folklife documentation for nearly two decades. She serves as the Executive Director of the North Carolina Folklife Institute, Editor of The Old-Time Herald, and Editor of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections Journal.

Kinney Rorrer
Kinney Rorrer taught history for 32 years at Danville Community College in Danville, Virginia, before retiring in 2006. He is the author of Ramblin’ Blues: The Life and Songs of Charlie Poole. Rorrer is also a musician—a member of the group New North Carolina Ramblers, so named in tribute to Poole’s band, the North Carolina Ramblers, a band his uncle Posey Rorrer played fiddle in.

Bob Carlin
Bob Carlin is probably the best known clawhammer-style banjoist performing today. He has taken the distinctive Southern banjo style to appreciative audiences all over the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and Japan. Carlin is a three-time winner of the Frets Magazine readers poll, and has four Rounder albums and several instruction manuals and videos for the banjo.

Carlin is not only highly sought after for his musical talent, but also for his skill as a producer for the music industry and traditional music researcher. He has produced a large number of CDs has authored numerous magazine articles and books for a wide range of publications including String Bands of the North Carolina Piedmont; The Birth of the Banjo: Joel Walker Sweeney and Early Minstrelsy; and The Banjo: An Illustrated History.

Lightnin' Wells
Mike “Lightnin’” Wells brings traditions together in his entertaining, informative, and down-home one-man shows. His latest album O Lightnin' Where Art Thou? displays his range as never before as he plays and sings his way through songs from early country and bluegrass to blues, gospel, and old-time mountain music. Born in West Virginia and largely raised in North Carolina, Wells was smitten early by the famed WWVA Jamboree radio show out of Wheeling, West Virginia. When his family moved to the Chapel Hill, North Carolina area, he discovered a rich vein of Piedmont blues and old-time music as well.

Ralph Berrier Jr.
Ralph Berrier Jr. is a features reporter for The Roanoke Times. He has written extensively about the music of Southwest Virginia and his work has earned more than 20 state and national awards. He learned to play bluegrass fiddle from his grandfather, Clayton Hall, and great-uncle, Saford Hall, who are the subjects of his book If Trouble Don't Kill Me: A Family’s Story of Brotherhood, War, and Bluegrass.

Laurelyn Dossett
Composer and songwriter Laurelyn Dossett lives and writes in the Piedmont of North Carolina, and her songs, both traditional and contemporary, often reflect the stories of the region.

One of the most sought-after voices in creative collaborations, she cofounded the band Polecat Creek with Kari Sickenberger, and has partnered with Triad Stage's Preston Lane on four plays featuring regional folklore and original music: Brother Wolf, Beautiful Star: An Appalachian Nativity, Bloody Blackbeard, and Providence Gap. The song "Anna Lee" from Brother Wolf was featured on Levon Helm's Grammy-winning record, Dirt Farmer.

Dossett is also a regular performer at regional music festivals such as MerleFest, and most recently wrote and performed with the North Carolina Symphony.

For tickets and more information, visit or call (866) 308-2773, ext. 212.