Big Stone Gap, VA — Mountain Empire Community College is highlighting the best of Southwest Virginia’s youth music and the cultivator of those talents with the release of “Youth Movement: A Tribute to Miss Ellie”.
Musician and Home Craft Days Festival Organizer Tommy Bledsoe said the CD release, which includes 28 old-time, bluegrass, gospel and early country music tracks, celebrates the 45th anniversary of the festival as well as the life of festival organizer Sue Ella Boatright-Wells and her remarkable dedication to preserving mountain music. “Youth Movement: A Tribute to Miss Ellie” features performances by Bill and the Belles, the Whitetop Mountain Band, Todd Meade and family, Empty Bottle String Band, Sam Gleaves, Kelsey Rae, The Buttermilk Girls, Brett Ratliff, Brandon Maggard, Corbin Hayslett, The Childress Girls, the Scott and Wise County JAM programs, the Mountain Music School Band, and Sycamore Hollow.
Bledsoe noted that while the establishment of Home Craft Days in 1972 brought attention to traditional music and the musicians who were playing it, the latest CD release demonstrates how that same music is being carried on and reborn through younger generations.
“In making this CD, I thought about what had changed,” said Bledsoe. “The most obvious change was the incredible number of young people who were now included in the festival, mostly due to the dedication of Sue Ella. She started Mountain Music School, helped get the Junior Appalachian Musician (JAM) programs started and created an additional stage at HCD to feature our youth musicians. As a result, dozens of new groups and individual performers had been appearing at the festival and we had a lot of good recording. In addition, some of the second and third generations of our legacy performers, like Todd Meade and his family, Martha and Kilby Spencer (Whitetop Mountain Band) and others were carrying on the music. That was our focus this year.”
Preserving mountain music was a hallmark effort of Boatright-Wells and Bledsoe added that she was able to enjoy the CD and have a hand in the musical selections before her death. Tracks include, “Darlin’ Cory,” by Corbin Hayslett (winner of the 2015 Orthophonic Joy Contest); Loretta Lynn’s “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” by Kelsey Rae and Bill and the Belles; “Skillet Good and Greasy” by Whitetop Mountain Band; and original songs, like “Grandpa’s Working Shoes” by Sam Gleaves.
Several of the musicians featured on the CD started playing at Mountain Music School and in the afterschool JAM programs, including Tyler Hughes, Beth Miller, Maggie Gatley, and the Childress Girls. Bledsoe said not only are students preserving their legacy, but they are shaping the future of our region.
“A good number of those students who started getting interested in mountain culture are going deeper, wider and with more confidence than I could have imagined 25 years ago. Once they are invested with a sense of belonging to mountain culture, everything they do is shaped or influenced by it. If mountain people don’t understand the pathway from where we have come to now, they will be easily misled in the future. And the arts are a window into that history and the ownership of it,” Bledsoe said.
“Youth Movement: A Tribute to Miss Ellie” is available for purchase at MECC’s Bookstore, located in Holton Hall, and online at www.mecc.edu/bookstore. All proceeds benefit the Home Craft Days festival and Mountain Music School program.