The Carter Family Fold

This post is a contribution from Murphy Henry. Murphy is well know for her instructional method that uses no tab. Be sure to visit her site to learn more about, and purchase, her teaching and instructional materials.

I’m just back from a visit–my first visit, I’m embarrassed to say–to the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, Virginia. I traveled some 300 miles from Winchester, Virginia (home of Lynn Morris and Patsy Cline) to hear the McLain Family Band perform this past Saturday. Although the group has not played together regularly since the mid-80s they try to get together once a year for a reunion concert. Brother Raymond powered the instrumental portion of the show with his banjo (and fiddle), ably assisted by his brother-in-law Al White on guitar (and fiddle), with sisters Alice, Ruth, or Nancy Ann taking turns on bass and rhythm mandolin. Everybody helped with the singing. (Brother Michael was not there and he was missed!)

Janette Carter started the show off by playing the autoharp and singing the old Carter Family favorite Jimmy Brown the Newsboy. It was so good to hear her. She remained seated on stage behind the band throughout the evening, enjoying the show. Occasionally she would remind the musicians to bring out the fiddle for a hoedown. And as soon as the bow touched the strings, here came the cloggers! Being an old buckdancer myself, I scurried down the long row of steps to join in. (The Fold was packed and my friends and I were sitting in the nosebleed section.)

Jack Tottle made a guest appearance, singing and playing mandolin. Twenty-three years ago, Jack established the bluegrass program at East Tennessee State University, and since then he has served as the director. At the end of this month, he is retiring. (And moving to Hawaii!) Raymond McLain, now the assistant director, will step into Jack’s shoes, and as Raymond knows, those are big shoes to fill. But Raymond can do it! A big WELL DONE, THANK YOU, and HAPPY TRAILS to Jack for his pioneering efforts in moving bluegrass into academia. Have fun working on your tan!

Promptly at 10:00 the band played their last number and were, of course, called back for an encore. I hung around long enough to shake and howdy and get three McLain Family Band record albums to add to my collection of women in bluegrass on vinyl. As I left the Fold and stepped out into the cold night air, I could see the constellation Orion, clear as a bell, high above my head. A.P., Sara, and Maybelle–those giants in the music world–had once stood right here and looked at these same stars. I shivered and put my hands in my pockets and walked to the car.