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Nick Hallman of the NickPickers Receives the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Award

Nick Hallman Receives Lunsford AwardIn honor of a lifetime commitment to traditional music, old-time musician Nick Hallman, fiddler for the Nickpickers of Pickens, SC, has been named the recipient of the 2014 Bascom Lamar Lunsford Award. The award was presented by festival director Hannah Furgiuele at the evening concert of the Bascom Lamar Lunsford "Minstrel of Appalachia" Festival on the campus of Mars Hill University, October 4.

According to Hannah Furgiuele, Director of the Festival, the Lunsford Award is given annually to an accomplished musician who demonstrates leadership, commitment, and dedication to keeping mountain music alive. Some of the most celebrated musicians in the region have received the award, she said.

Hallman, a jovial man who loves jokes and funny stories, said he was honored to receive the award, especially in light of the caliber of musicians who have received it in the past. Many past recipients were an influence on Hallman and his music, he said. That is especially true of the first three Lunsford Award winners: Tommy Hunter, Byard Ray and Betty Smith, renowned regional musicians and icons of traditional music.

"I can see why they received this award, because they were larger than life and they had a huge influence on me," he said.

Hallman developed an interest in traditional music when he was around nine or ten years old and from then on, he was hooked. He received his first guitar for Christmas and then began learning the stringed instruments one by one.

He graduated from Furman University in 1961 and became an English teacher at Wade Hampton High School in Greenville, SC. There, for a faculty/student talent show, Hallman put together his first traditional music band with some students. Over the next few years, Hallman played guitar, mandolin, dulcimer, and flat-pick banjo with several traditional music groups in the Carolinas.

In retrospect, it seems ironic that at one point in his life, Hallman decided he could not play the fiddle. He borrowed a fiddle from a friend and worked on learning the instrument, but without success.

"I told people I could play anything that had strings on it except a fiddle," he said.

Then, around the late 60s, Hallman said he got tired of telling people that. "So I bought one and used psychology on myself. If I had money invested in it, I had to learn how to do it," he said.

Clearly, the strategy worked. Hallman became the fiddler for the Reedy River Ramblers for a few years, and then formed the NickPickers with his wife, Kathy, and some friends from Pickens. Over time, the NickPickers became a familiar name at numerous traditional folk festivals in the region.

Today, Hallman is one of three fiddlers in the NickPickers. The other two are Kathy (who also plays banjo and guitar) and Becky Stovall. Paul Kirk plays guitar for the group.

Hallman has earned several awards and honors for his dedication to traditional music over the years. He is the former director of the South Carolina Folk Festival, and in the 70s, he was a judge and emcee at Fiddler's Grove in Union Grove, NC. In 1998, he placed first in the Certified Old Time Fiddle category at Fiddler's Grove, and that same year, he received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award from the state of South Carolina for his lifelong efforts to preserve and share traditional folk music.

Despite being honored for his skills and contributions, Hallman says there is always more to learn. "I haven't mastered the fiddle or anything else," he said. "I'm still learning. The fiddle is extremely challenging, probably the most challenging of the strings."

Passing the music on to others, he said, is one of the best ways to learn it yourself. For over 30 years, he has taught individual classes in guitar, fiddle, bass, mandolin and dulcimer.

"The teaching taught me a whole lot. You don't know anything until you try to teach it to somebody else," he said.

Though he is serious about his music, Hallman calls himself "a ham," and enjoys putting humor into his stage presence. A number of "bad jokes" and funny stories and songs make their way into the NickPickers' performances. Humor is clearly a part of Hallman's personality, but he also said he owes the humor to his "iffy" singing.

"My singing never has been all that great. That's why I sing funny songs," he said. "If you have a great voice, you sing serious songs. If you don't, you sing funny songs."

Hallman said he plays music and performs because he enjoys it and he loves the music. As for his favorite tune, well, that depends on what day it is.
“I try to make every tune my favorite when I’m playing it,” he said.

Nick Hallman lives in Pickens with his wife, Kathy. He has two adult children: Tom and Melody.