The North Carolina Arts Council will honor two of the state’s most prolific traditional string musicians when the 2018 North Carolina Heritage Awards are handed out in May. These honors are awarded annually to artists, performers, instructors, and crafters who help in keeping folk traditions alive in the state.
Among those chosen for 2018 are noted fiddler Avril Freeman from the Asheville area, and mandolinist Tony Williamson from Chatham County in the central part of the state. Both have been active members of the bluegrass and old time music community for most of their lives, and each will receive a cash award during a May 23 celebration where all five honorees will perform and be recognized.
Folks around Asheville have known that Freeman was the top fiddler in their area for the past 50 years. Over that time he has won just about every fiddlers contest, performed on every stage, and taught many of the young musicians coming up in traditional mountain music in western NC. With the reputation for bluegrass and old time music swelling in the wider Buncombe County region, it seems perfectly fitting that one of its own will receive this award.
Tony Williamson is well known in international mandolin circles as an expert in the instrument’s construction, especially the highly-prized Lloyd Loar mandolins made by Gibson in the 1920s. He is also known as a fine player of all the mandolin family instruments, and his shop, Mandolin Central in Siler City, specializes in preserving and reselling vintage stringed instruments of every kind.
Congratulations to Avril and Tony for this recognition by the Arts Council, who had previously honored other Tar Heel pickers like Bobby Hicks, Earl Scruggs, Marc Pruett, Jim Shumate, and Caroll Best since the Heritage Awards were instituted in 1989.
Other 2018 honorees include Asha Bala, a south Indian dancer; Glen and Lula Bolick, potters, folk musicians, and stoytellers; and Robert Knight, jazz trumpeter and R&B vocalist.