For three days, May 29-31, during the week leading up to the annual Mount Airy Fiddlers Convention, the Old-Time Music and Radio Conference (OTR) met for the fourth time since 1994 in Mount Airy for a series of workshop/panel discussions and performances, highlighted by the presentation of the Conferences Lifetime Achievement Award. Some 60 folks from all corners of the old-time music world took advantage of the opportunity to get together at the Andy Griffith Playhouse to share thoughts, opinions, experiences, and yes, even a tune or two.
Following a "town meeting" session on Tuesday evening, the heart of the conference got under way on Wednesday with the morning and afternoon workshops and panel discussions, covering topics like recording and producing CDs, starting your own label, journalism in old-time music, Internet resources for old-time musicians and promoters, field collecting, dance issues and opportunities in other folk music organizations. Ray Alden (Chubby Dragon Records) and Pete Reiniger (Smithsonian-Folkways Records) drew a lot of favorable comments following their workshop on recording techniques, and Rays session with County Records founder Dave Freeman on the ins and outs of running a label was also well received. Old-Time Herald editor Alice Gerrard was on the field collecting panel and she was also an important part of the journalism session along with Steve Goldfield (Bluegrass Unlimited, Fiddler Magazine) and John Lilly (editor of Goldenseal magazine). I was privileged to join Steve on the Internet panel, but the real star of that session was Phil Johnson, who talked at length about how he and his wife Gaye have made their web site an integral part of their business as full time, professional old-time musicians. Rounding out the roster of panelists were George Mercer, of the Brandywine Friends of Old-Time Music and WVUD radio in Delaware, and Ralph and Kelly Epperson of Mount Airys historic WPAQ radio.
After the Wednesday lunch break, conference attendees were treated to a keynote address and presentation by Wayne Martin on the Blue Ridge Music Heritage Trail initiative now under way by the NC Arts Council. After wrapping up the workshops in the late afternoon, the Playhouse doors were thrown open to invite the Mount Airy public in as guests of the conference for the evening performances and award ceremony (more than a few early campers from the Veterans Park were spotted in the crowd as well). With Kelly Epperson as emcee, the show began with local favorites the Slate Mountain Ramblers. John Lilly followed with a selection of songs from his recent solo album, and then it was time for the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award.
The previous three recipients of the award had been drawn from different parts of the old-time music worldbroadcasting (Ralph Epperson, 1994), academia/publishing (Dr. Charles Wolfe, 1996) and performance (Wade and Julia Mainer, 1998). For 2001, the OTR Steering Committee chose to honor a pioneer in the recording business, Dave Freeman of County Records, whose decades of dedication to documenting and recording old-time music, and making it available to fans via the County Sales distribution system has been a critical factor in keeping the music alive. For those in the audience with a sense of history, it was more than fitting and appropriate that Dave would be presented the award by his longtime friend (and fellow recipient) Ralph Epperson.
Following the award ceremony, the music picked up again with a set by the Mando Mafia, from Charlottesville, Virginia, and the evening closed out with the Toast String Stretchers, featuring the one and only Benton Flippen. It was a long day and evening for conference attendees, but they were back strong the next morning for a tour of the WPAQ studios before returning to the Griffith Playhouse for a seminar on broadcasting issues, led by Ralph and Kelly Epperson. The final "working" session on Thursday afternoon gave everyone a chance to air their thoughts and opinions about the conferencewhat was good, what was not quite so good, and what they would like to see in future conferences. Having received a lot of worthwhile input, the OTR Steering Committee decided to begin initial planning to hold the conference again on its normal two-year schedule, tentatively set for June 3-5, 2003 in Mount Airy. To keep track of the latest OTR news, visit the web site at www.brandywinefriends.org/otr, or keep an eye out for reports in the Old-Time Herald.
A closing note of thanksthe conference could not have been held without the financial support of the North Carolina Arts Council, the North American Folk Music and Dance Alliance and the Brandywine Friends of Old-Time Music. The hard work of Surry Arts Council Director Tanya Rees and her staff is also vital to the continued existence of the conference. The OTR Steering Committee expresses their gratitude to these organizations for their assistance, and we look forward to working with them again as we look toward 2003.
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