Instructor Bios

Roots of American Music Instructors

Chris Brashear

For more than three decades, Chris Brashear has been a highly sought-after performer and versatile sideman, singing and playing fiddle, mandolin, guitar, banjo and bass. Since his co-founding in 1988 of the bluegrass band, Kentucky Rose, Chris has earned a reputation as a creative and visceral songwriter. A founding member of a super-group of bluegrass musicians in Perfect Strangers (featuring Jody Stecher, Peter McLaughlin, and former Bluegrass Boys Bob Black and Forrest Rose), he was also the fiddle and mandolin player for seven years with Robin and Linda Williams and Their Fine Group. He has performed for over twenty years with long-time collaborator and champion guitarist Peter McLaughlin.

Chris’s most recent album, Heart Of The Country, was produced by Grammy Award winning producer Jim Rooney. Chris also tours with the Piedmont Melody Makers, a group that includes Alice Gerrard, Jim Watson and Cliff Hale. The culmination of a creative writing project through the Museum of Northern Arizona and the Flagstaff Friends of Traditional Music (FFOTM) is the recording The Colton House Sessions: Songs for the Southwest, a 2017 release from Chris Brashear, Peter McLaughlin and Todd Phillips.

Website  YouTube

Alice Gerrard

‘Alice Gerrard has one of those voices that harkens back to the likes of Sara and Maybelle. She is the real deal with the right stuff and hasn’t forgotten where country music came from.’
– Emmylou Harris (June, 2014)

Simply put, Alice Gerrard is a talent of legendary status. In a career spanning some 40 years, she has known, learned from, and performed with many of the old-time and bluegrass greats and has in turn earned worldwide respect for her own important contributions to the music.

Alice is particularly known for her groundbreaking collaboration with Appalachian singer Hazel Dickens. The duo produced four classic LPs  and influenced scores of young women singers — even The Judds acknowledge Hazel and Alice as an important early inspiration.

Alice has released 4 solo records including her Grammy nominated “ Follow the Music”.   These superb recordings showcase Alice’s many talents: her compelling, eclectic songwriting; her powerful, hard-edged vocals; and her instrumental mastery on rhythm guitar, banjo, and old-time fiddle. She has appeared on more than 20 recordings, including projects with many traditional musicians such as Tommy Jarrell, Enoch Rutherford, Otis Burris, and Matokie Slaughter; as an expert with in-depth knowledge of mountain music, she has produced or written liner notes for a dozen more. She also co-produced and appeared in two documentaries.

A tireless advocate of traditional music, Alice has won numerous honors, including an International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Distinguished Achievement Award, a Virginia Arts Commission Award, the North Carolina Folklore Society’s Tommy Jarrell Award , and an Indy Award,

In 1987 Alice founded the Old-Time Herald and the Old-Time Music Group, a non-profit organization that oversees publication of The Old-Time Herald. Alice served as editor-in-chief of The Old-Time Herald from 1987 till 2003.

Currently Alice plays with The Piedmont Melody Makers (along with Chris Brashear, Jim Watson and Cliff Hale) and with Kay Justice.  A documentary about Alice’s life, “You Gave Me a Song”, is in the making.

Website  YouTube

Ernie  Hawkins

“Ernie Hawkins is an important link in the unbroken chain of blues and gospel artists…. From the Rev. Gary Davis into the future with his own style Ernie is one of the special ones!” –Jorma Kaukonen

Ernie was born in Pittsburgh in 1947. His childhood mentor was a worker on his uncle’s farm, who taught him country guitar, mandolin, guitar and bones. As a teenager, already playing some blues, he was so taken with Rev. Gary Davis’s guitar style that he left home right after high school for New York to learn from Davis directly. His quest for the country blues led him to learn from other blues guitar masters including Lemon Jefferson, Henry Thomas, and Lightnin’ Hopkins.

Since his early encounter with country blues, Ernie Hawkins has gone on to perform and teach multinationally (Europe, Japan, Canada). He has performed with Son House, Mance Lipscomb, Fred McDowell, Jim Brewer, the Rev. Gary Davis, and others.

Ernie has appeared on A Prairie Home Companion, Mountain Stage,  on Woodsongs Radio ,XM Radio and has been featured in Sing Out!, Acoustic Guitar, Dirty Linen, Blues Revue and Vintage Guitar. He has taught at most of the major guitar camps in the world.

Ernie’s instructional videos on Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, as well as other blues guitar players and music theory are on his website, where his acclaimed CDs are also for sale. He has instructional DVDs available through Stefan Grossman and Happy Traum’s Homespun Video’s also.

Website  YouTube

Frank Lee

A passion for traditional songs and tunes from the rural South has fueled Frank Lee’s love of performing for the past 40 years. As a founding member of The Freight Hoppers, he has shared this passion with audiences all over the United States, Canada, and northern Europe. His repertoire has a range of old time music from raw Blues from the Mississippi Delta to the hillbilly music recorded in the 1920s to classic bluegrass. Frank first began playing banjo while lying in traction with a broken femur in 1976. Through the 80s, he performed in several touring bluegrass bands, with one album produced by Rhonda Vincent. In the early 90s, he began studying and playing Round Peak music, inspiring him to explore the tones of fretless and nylon-stringed banjos. Though known as an exceptional clawhammer player, Frank’s Gibson Mastertone has never been too far from his reach. His clawhammer instructional DVD on Homespun and recordings with The Freight Hoppers inspire banjo players all over the world to study and emulate his signature sound. He is excited to share his knowledge of both clawhammer and bluegrass banjo at Roots Music Week.

Website  YouTube

Del Rey

Del Rey started playing guitar when she was four years old. At thirteen, she was immersed in the world of folk music, via the San Diego Folk Festival. She has tried to get a whole band onto her solo instrument from the beginning. This gives her music an interesting complexity, especially when applied to the ukulele.

Rags, blues and tunes of the early 20th century are her specialty, even as she writes new music to add to the tradition.  Del Rey also has fashion sense that would make Minnie Pearl smile.

Del Rey has taught and played all over the world, and brings her distinctive finger-style approach to guitar and ukulele to her teaching DVDs on Homespun’s “Boogie-Woogie Guitar” ” The Music Of Memphis Minnie” , “Memphis Uke Party” and “Blue Uke. Her website is and her albums can be found at

What they say:

“Del Rey, who plays a syncopated style of guitar based on prewar blues and barrelhouse piano traditions, is one of the best fingerpickers of this or any generation. “ Ian Zack, Acoustic Guitar

“Whilst known for her amazing instrumental skills … it should not be overlooked that she always provides a very entertaining show, full of variety, drama and humour.”  Blues In Britain

Website  YouTube

Suzy Thompson

Suzy Thompson is one of the rare musicians today who has mastered the acoustic blues and ragtime violin, following in the footsteps of Lonnie Chatmon, Clifford Hayes and Eddie Anthony. A powerful blues singer in the styles of Memphis Minnie and Bessie Smith, and a highly respected blues fingerpicking guitarist, Suzy is unique in her ability to combine fiddle, vocals and guitar in the blues and ragtime idioms. In addition to her work as a solo artist and with her husband, guitarist Eric Thompson, she also performs and records in a duo with Del Rey, and occasionally with Jim Kweskin and Geoff Muldaur. Current bands include Thompsonia (with Eric and their daughter Allegra), the Todalo Shakers (vintage 1920s party music) and the Aux Cajunals (Cajun dance music). Past projects include: California Cajun Orchestra (two award-winning CDs on Arhoolie), Blue Flame String Band (with Kate Brislin and Alan Senauke), the all-woman Any Old Time String Band (featured on the Grammy-winning Arhoolie box set), and the Bluegrass Intentions (with banjo ace Bill Evans.)  Suzy served as Artistic Director for Festival of American Fiddle Tunes (Port Townsend, WA) for six years and is the founder and director of the Berkeley Old Time Music Convention, now in its 15th year. She has been an instructor at many festivals and music camps, including Centrum’s Country Blues Week, Menucha’s Blues in the Gorge, Grand Targhee Music Camp, Augusta Heritage Cajun-Creole and Old Time Weeks, Fiddlekids, California Bluegrass Association Music Camp, Port Townsend Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, Walker Creek Music Camp, California Coast Music Camp, Puget Sound Guitar Workshop, and Lark In the Morning.

Website  YouTube

Staff Musicians

Hunter Dowdle

Hunter Dowdle is a multi-instrumentalist and singer From Dawsonville, Georgia, and has become very competent in the music and history of Appalachia for his age. He is an alumni and former student at the Georgia Pick and Bow Traditional Music School, located in Dahlonega, Georgia.

Hunter is a seasoned performer, and has made appearances at the highest and most prestigious of venues, from the Holly Theater in Dahlonega, to the Pickin’ Porch in Bristol, Tennessee, and even the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee!

Hunter is so excited to be part of this wonderful experience at Mars Hill!

Mary Gordon

Mary Gordon was proprietor of an acoustic roots music store in Brevard, NC for 20 years, where she led a weekly old time jam, taught fiddle, and helped countless customers get going on guitar, clawhammer banjo, mandolin, ukulele, and singing. More recently, she has been backing up uke groups on bass ukulele. Mary has performed in string bands for over 3 decades, and for many years organized an annual old time music competition. In addition, she has written or co-authored four fiddle instruction books, and has taught workshops in the Eastern US and abroad. She has been a staff musician at the Blue Ridge Old Time Music Week for more than 10 years.

Ann Whitley

Raised in the Piedmont of North Carolina, Ann was singing and playing music from a very young age. Though she was always drawn to country and bluegrass music, her first exposure to old-time music in the country dance scene in Atlanta told her where she belonged.  Her violin came out of the closet and she listened and played and worked to make the instrument become a fiddle.  Soon she was playing with the Peavine Creek String Band, the Atlanta Swamp Opera Cajun Band, and now with Whistlin’ Rufus and the Rosin Sisters.  Her love of singing caused her to take up the guitar in 2001, then the bass, then the ukulele, and now the clawhammer banjo.  A retired public school educator, she is Curriculum Director and a fiddle teacher for the Georgia Pick & Bow Traditional Music School, an after-school program teaching Appalachian Music to 4th graders through high school in Dahlonega, Georgia, where she lives and also teaches private lessons for youngsters and adults.  For many years now she has co-directed the Blue Ridge Old-Time Music Week at Mars Hill University, and has taught singing and fiddle at the Alabama Folk School for the past five years.


Beverly Smith

One of the most respected guitar players in old time music today, Beverly Smith is also in demand as a singer, fiddler, and dance caller. Besides her highly praised recordings of early country duets with Carl Jones, Alice Gerrard and John Grimm,  her guitar playing has been featured on recordings of fiddlers Bruce Molsky, Rafe Stefanini, Tara Nevins and Matt Brown, and her singing with Mick Moloney, John Doyle, Laurie Lewis and others.  Along with June Drucker, Rose Sinclair and Tara Nevins, she was a founding member of The Heartbeats Rhythm Quartet.   She has taught guitar, fiddle and dance at music camps including Ashokan Southern Week, Augusta Heritage, Swannanoa Gathering, Blue Ridge Old-Time Music Week, Festival of American Fiddle Tunes and Summer Acoustic Music Week as well as Sore Fingers UK; Haapavesi, Finland; and La Fuente del Musica in Spain.  She has been a featured guest on A Prairie Home Companion, ETown, Mountain Stage and Voice of America, has toured extensively in both the US and the UK, and has played concert halls and festivals all over Europe, Canada and the US. Her guitar playing was featured in the October 2000 issue of Acoustic Guitar Magazine.  She is happy to call Marshall NC home.

Hilary Dirlam

Hilary has extensive performance experience. She recently completed a month long tour of Australia with her present band, the Orpheus Supertones. She performed and recorded with North Carolina Heritage Award winners Luke and Harold Smathers and Carroll Best, who also was the recipient of the National Heritage Award.

Several of Hilary’s original tunes and songs have been recorded by other traditional artists. She recently completed a recording project combining banjo with traditional Nepali instruments, including Sarangi Master Parashuram Bhandari and Tabla Master Achyut Ram Bhandari. She has recorded over ten albums of traditional Tibetan vocal music, which are internationally available.

Hilary, along with Alice Gerrard and others, founded The Old-Time Herald in the mid-1980s. She helped to start the Blue Ridge Old-Time Music Week at MHU and was director of the program for many years thereafter. She has taught at numerous music camps including the Alabama Folk School, the Western North Carolina Banjo Clinic, as well as in the UK for FOATMAD.

With fiddler Mary Gordon, Hilary has co-authored several books in the All-In-One series, an innovative approach to old-time music including banjo tab and fiddle notation on facing pages. Her book Banjo Without Tears includes interesting tunes for aspiring banjo players. All books include CDs.

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For information on the All-In-One books and workshops, visit the All-in-One Facebook page