2023 Lineup

woman in crinolines jumping and kicking her heels

Bailey Mountain Cloggers
BMC were organized in 1974 by students at Mars Hill University (then college). The Bailey Mountain name is derived from the mountain adjacent to the college campus. This team carries on the tradition from an older championship team in Mars Hill called Bailey Mountain “Square” Dance Team. Today, the students who comprise the dance company, 25+ from 9 different states, come from various dance traditions, representing a number of ethnic and religious backgrounds. The Bailey Mountain Cloggers serve as ambassadors of goodwill for the college and the folk dance traditions of the Southern Mountains. During their 45-year history, the Bailey Mountain Cloggers have won 27 National Titles and performed throughout the United States and internationally in Canada, Mexico, England, Scotland, Austria, Ireland, Palma Mallorca Spain, Germany, England, France, Greece, Poland, Czech Republic,  Colombia, and the Netherlands.The Bailey Mountain Cloggers Folk Dance Company has established a national and international reputation for American clog dance excellence.

Carolina Cold Ones
Carolina Cold Ones are an old-time string band based out of Asheville, NC serving spicy shuffles and bouncy beats on fiddle, banjo, and guitar. They bring out the soul of Appalachia through traditional and neo-trad tunes, as well as tasteful modern originals. The band consists of Emolyn Liden, Corey Johnson-Erday, Zoe Penland, and Brandon Thomson. They frequently have guests (notably Tim Gastrock, and Barbara Benson) on stage for some more instrumentation and flatfooting.

Closeup of a young woman playing the upright bass.Sara Nell Chase
Sara Nell is 17 and started playing fiddle and classical violin at the age of 6. She has played with many old-time musicians and at many venues and festivals, including with her sister’s band, Lillian Chase and the Deadpan String Band; Jack of the Wood; and the North Carolina Museum of History Music of the Carolinas series. She attends the school of arts and will be a high school senior.


Image courtesy of Blue Ridge Music Trails.

Bayla Davis and Cary Fridley
Bayla Davis is an accomplished young banjo player who has teamed up with Cary Fridley as part of the Fine Tuned Project, “a new initiative that connects seasoned musicians with a select group of emerging artists in Western North Carolina.” Cary Fridley is an Appalachian singer, bassist, and educator from Asheville, NC. Her music has evolved to embrace all styles of traditional country, blues, folk, and jazz. She is a published songwriter, recording artist, and bandleader, singing and performing in western North Carolina for over 20 years. Cary teaches old-time music at three regional JAM (Junior Appalachian Musician) programs, Black Mountain, Haywood County and Buncombe County, NC, offers Traditional Classes for Adults at the Black Mountain Center for the Arts, and is a member of the Adjunct Fine Arts Faculty at AB-Tech in Asheville, NC. She plays around Western NC solo and with her band Down South and also collaborates with friends in the bands Ghost Walks and Haywood Ramblers.

ETSU Old Time Ramblers
The Old Time Ramblers are led by Roy Andrade, and are an old-time strong band from the Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Country Music Program at East Tennessee State University.

Josh Goforth 
Josh grew up in Madison County, North Carolina surrounded by the music and stories of his ancestors.  He is a highly accomplished storyteller and oldtime, bluegrass, and swing musician playing close to 20 instruments.  His fiddling was featured in the movie Songcatcher, both onscreen and on the soundtrack.  He has performed in all 50 states, throughout Europe, Asia, and Australia and gracing such stages as the Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and The Grand Ole Opry. He was nominated for a Grammy for his 2009 release with David Holt, entitled Cutting Loose. 

Man playing the fiddle with a young fiddle student in the background.Roger Howell
Roger Howell has had a life-long passion for mountain music. He grew up near Mars Hill, on Banjo Branch, surrounded by the music of older neighbors who played traditional banjo and fiddle tunes like generations before them. He first began to play the guitar at age ten, with the banjo coming a bit later and eventually the fiddle in his mid-teens. Roger developed a keen interest in the regional mountain music of the Madison County area, picking up licks and developing his fluid fiddle style from mentors like Tommy Hunter and Woodrow Boone. He is known these days as a “Walking Encyclopedia” of fiddle tunes. In 2017, Roger finished recording almost 700 tunes from memory—a “Memory Collection,” which is housed in the Ramsey Center’s Southern Appalachian Archives.  In 2015, the North Carolina Folklore Society honored Roger with the prestigious Brown-Hudson Folklore Award for his work in preserving and celebrating regional music traditions.

Young man in checkered shirt playing mandolin on stage.

Brandon Johnson performs at the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Festival in 2016.

Brandon Johnson
Brandon Johnson is a mountain musician from Asheville, NC. While a student at Mars Hill University (then College), he started his quest to learn the songs, stories, and styles of mountain music that he heard all around him. Friends and mentors in Madison, Buncombe, Caldwell, and Watauga counties shared their music with Brandon. Some of his chief mentors include Roger Howell, Bobby Hicks, and Arvil Freeman. He’s taught in the Madison County JAM program and performed with multiple bands throughout Western North Carolina. Much of his career has been devoted to studying and sharing Appalachian music and culture, and he now serves as Program Manager for the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. An award-winning mandolin player, Brandon is also proficient as a vocalist and performer on fiddle and guitar.

Six men and women holding guitars, banjo, fiddle, and an upright bass

Lonesome Mountain Ears
Lonesome Mountain Ears is spearheaded by MHU’s own Gary Spence, a long-time teacher of guitar and banjo. In addition to Gary, the band is made up of Lora Sepion, Mike Bradley, Jack Womack, and Martin Beckman. 


Nobody’s Darling String Band
Nobody’s Darling String Band consists of five Western North Carolina musicians. Barbara Benson on bass, Zena Rubin on banjo-ukulele, Maxine Herring on guitar and vocals, Dona Cavanagh on fiddle and vocals, and Hilary Dirlam on guitar and vocals.

 Barbara, Zena, Maxine, Dona, and Hilary, all from differing backgrounds, come together to play upbeat, traditional old-time music. The band is known locally from appearances at the Jack of the Wood, Shindig on the Green, Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, the Mountain State Fair, The Depot, and other venues.

Don Pedi
Don Pedi is a traditional mountain musician who started playing the dulcimer in 1968. Don is known for developing a playing style for the fretted mountain dulcimer that can match a fiddle, note for note, while maintaining the rhythms and characteristics of traditional music. Over the decades, he’s been recognized and honored for collecting, preserving and performing Traditional Appalachian music. Since 1985 Don has championed folk music as an on-air host at NPR affiliate Blue Ridge Public Radio, BPR Classic here in Western North Carolina. His weekly show “Close to Home” airs on Saturdays, locally from 8–10 p.m. (Eastern Time) and simultaneously streams on the web. Don has appeared in the motion pictures
The Song Catcher and The Journey of August King, as well as a number of documentaries and music specials.


Branson Raines Branson Raines, Asheville born and raised, is a talented multi-instrumentalist and gifted singer of the traditional ballads. He learned fiddle from one of western North Carolina’s most prestigious fiddlers, Arvil Freeman, winner of the North Carolina Heritage Award, who ‘graduated’ Raines after three years of lessons. After meeting Sheila Kay Adams, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, he became her fiddler and protege, learning the old love songs kept alive in an unbroken line for seven generations. While in college, he played and sang with the Davis & Elkins Appalachian Ensemble and graduated in 2021. He returned to Asheville and is busy teaching fiddle and continuing to learn the old love songs. Raines has traveled extensively performing with Adams, which included a tour in Australia in 2016. He also performs locally and nationally with his bluegrass band, The Asheville Cats.” 

Carol RifkinCarol Rifkin & John Mitchell 
Carol Rifkin’s soaring voice shines, uniquely recognizable on stage, recordings or radio. Her performance invites you to the front porch and features regional songs, lively tunes and stories of their history. This award-winning singer, dancer, and multi-instrumentalist co-hosts WNCW’s mountain music show “This Old Porch” and more than 1,000 of her stories about Appalachian culture are published. An early member of the Green Grass Cloggers, Carol later worked with Tommy Jarrell, Doc Watson, David Holt, Dick Tarrier and more, and appeared in the movie Songcatcher and with Jarrell in Down Home, Appalachia to Nashville. Her work earned her Asheville’s 2013 Lunsford Award and Mars Hill University’s 2016 Lunsford Award . Besides performing at festivals and traditional events, Carol directs the French Broad Valley Music Association, hosts a weekly music session and loves to share her songs, music and dance. 

John Roten
Roten has been the Master of Ceremonies at the Lunsford Festival for many years. He has also worn many hats with iHeartMedia but most often can be seen around the region in one his trademark cowboy hats. John was the host of the very popular Kiss Country Classics program, heard Sunday mornings from 8 until noon on 99.9 Kiss Country in Asheville, and was the host of Sunday morning’s WESC Country Classics in Greenville, South Carolina. Roten grew up in Western North Carolina and knows the regions and the people that live in these wonderful mountains.

Sourwood Ridge
Three Western North Carolina string band veterans make up Sourwood Ridge: Craig Bannerman (bass, vocals), Troy Harrison (banjo, guitar, mandolin, vocals), and Scott Owenby (guitar, mandolin, vocals). Each has an extensive musical history and a true love of performing traditional mountain music. They are regular performers in Western North Carolina and beyond. 



Rodney Sutton
Rodney Clay Sutton is a dance performer and teacher of Appalachian step dance – both flatfoot and clogging. He calls dances, tells stories, and sings ballads. Rodney was an early member of the Green Grass Cloggers, a group he continues to perform across the country with. In 2019, he was awarded a Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowship from South Arts.





Southern Heritage
Southern Heritage was founded by Lunsford Award-winner Doug Phillips. This group of Madison County natives have met and played on Sundays for over twenty years in sessions affectionally known as “Sunday School.” In the past, Doug Phillips, Dr. David Robinson, Chris Carter and Dana Carter have formed the core of the group. Since the difficult loss of founding member Dr. David Robinson, Alex Robinson (Dr. Robinson’s son), will honor him by playing in his stead. Sammy Adams, son-in-law of Dr. Robinson, will join the group to honor his memory as well.

White Rock Revival
White Rock Revival are an Appalachian-based bluegrass band, deeply rooted in Madison County. Band members are Jackson Adams, Sammy Adams, McClellan Patterson, and Jamie Roberts. Our goal as a group is to cater to those who are looking for window into traditional music. During our shows you will hear a variety of traditional music, ranging from bluegrass, Gospel, and country music with a bluegrass twist.


Nicholas Edward Williams
Host of the roots music history podcast American Songcatcher, Nicholas Edward Williams is a multi-instrumentalist and storyteller who is dedicated to “playing it forward” by preserving the songs, stories, artists and styles that have shaped our country: Ragtime, Piedmont Blues, Early Country, Traditional Folk and Old-Time. Williams has spent the last 15 years touring three continents, performing all around the US, as well as the UK, Western Europe and Australia, blending the roots music spectrum in his own style. His critically acclaimed sophomore release from late 2021, Folk Songs For Old Times’ Sake has been heralded by well-regarded figures of the roots community such as David Holt, Oliver Wood, Dom Flemons, and JP Harris.


Ballad Singers

Precise performer roster for the ballad swap is fluid and casual. Past performers have included:

Sheila Kay Adams
Sheila Kay Adams is the seventh-generation bearer of her family’s two-hundred-year-old ballad-singing tradition. Her  teachers were her great-aunt Dellie Norton, cousin Cas Wallin, and other kinfolks in the Wallin, Chandler, Norton, Ramsey, and Ray families of Sodom, North Carolina, who have so long been admired by ballad singers and collectors. She has recorded prolifically and performed at dozens of venues and festivals in the United States and Great Britain. In 2013, she received the National Heritage Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. The North Carolina Arts Council honored her with the prestigious North Carolina Heritage Award in 2015. In 2020, Sheila and her daughter, Melanie Rice Penland, were awarded the North Carolina Folklife Apprenticeship grant; follow their project here. Sheila is an alum of Mars Hill University. 

Dee Dee Buckner
Dee Dee Buckner is an eighth-generation ballad singer from Madison County, who has carried on the tradition of her ballad-singing relatives, including her great-grandmother Dellie Norton and aunt Evelyn Ramsey. She is also the granddaughter of Morris Norton, banjo and tune bow player. She learned to clog around age 4 and at 8 was the youngest clogger for the Madison County 4-H clogging team. She is featured in the film The Madison County Project (2005).

Sarah Buckner
Sarah Buckner is a ninth-generation ballad singer from Madison County. She is carrying on the tradition of her ballad-singing family, including her mother, Dee Dee Buckner, and her aunts, Denise Norton O’Sullivan and Donna Ray Norton. She is the great-granddaughter of Morris Norton and the great-great granddaughter of Dellie Norton. Musically and artistically talented, Sarah performed at Ferrum College last year with her aunt Denise and also played the banjo in the Junior Appalachian Musicians Program (JAM) for four years.

Sarah Songbird Burkey
Sarah Elizabeth Burkey’s family has called Appalachia home for over 300 years.  She considers herself to be of this land rather than from it. To Sarah Elizabeth, singing comes as naturally as breathing, earning her the name “Songbird” two decades ago when she began singing the old ballads in public.  “The Ballads bond us to those we learned them from. Through that bond, the stories of their lives live on as we tell their stories and sing. Burkey has worked on 17 albums and numerous film soundtracks.

Aarionna Blu Clackler
Aarionna Blu Clackler is one of the younger members of the Appalachian ballad singers from Western NC. She is a 9th generation ballad singer and comes from a long line of the more well-known musical families of the mountains in Madison County. She is the daughter of ballad singer Donna Ray Norton, granddaughter of singer Lena Jean Ray, cousin of Sheila Kay Adams and the great granddaughter to two of Madison County’s most renowned musicians, Byard Ray and Morris Norton. Aarionna has grown up listening to the old love songs mostly being sung by her mother and cousin, Melanie Rice Penland, as they travel around to different venues and states to perform.

Image courtesy of South Arts

Ian Kirkpatrick
Ian Kirkpatrick grew up in East Tennessee surrounded by gospel music. In 2020, he participated in an In These Mountains Folk & Traditional Arts Cross-Border Apprenticeship, during which he was mentored by Sheila Kay Adams. He also apprenticed with Tennessee ballad singer Carmen McCord Hicks. In 2020 he received an Emerging Traditional Artist Grant from South Arts. He is an alum of Mars Hill University and the Bailey Mountain Cloggers.


Donna Ray Norton
It’s hard to imagine a deeper musical heritage than Donna Ray Norton’s. Hailing from Revere (also known as Sodom Laurel) in Madison County, she is an eight-generation ballad singer, the granddaughter of fiddler Byard Ray and Morris Norton, daughter of singer Lena Jean Ray, and cousin to Sheila Kay Adams and many other prominent Madison County musicians. Norton is a highly regarded member of the younger generation of Madison County ballad singers and storytellers. She was featured in the documentary Madison County Project and was recently featured on the Grammy-nominated album Big Bend Killing: The Appalachian Ballad Tradition. Norton has performed at several regional festivals and venues, the Berkeley (California) Old Time Music Convention, the North Carolina Museum of History, and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, DC. She received the Lunsford Award in 2005 and received the Key to the City of Hickory for her contributions to musical heritage. She will be the Master of Ceremonies at this year’s ballad swap.

Denise Norton O’Sullivan
When Denise Norton spent a year living at her great-grandmother Dellie Norton’s home, she saw in part what life had been like for her ballad-singing forbears, and why music played such a powerful and enduring role in their relatives’ lives. “Granny Dell” lived in a house with no running water and no television. “It was just like stepping in a time capsule,” Denise says, in the documentary Madison County Project. “People didn’t have all the TV and video games and stuff to baby-sit their kids. They had to entertain them other ways.” Though Denise grew up in a very different age, her family still made sure that she heard the old love songs as she grew up. She learned ballads from Dellie Norton and great-aunt Inez Chandler, and learned “knee-to-knee” from cousin Doug Wallin. She has performed at many North Carolina festivals and music events. Her CD Little Margaret was released in 2004, and a second CD, Black Is the Color, was released more recently and is dedicated to her grandparents. Denise received the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Youth Award in 2005.

Susan Pepper
Steeped in the musical traditions of western North Carolina, Pepper is a ballad singer and multi-instrumentalist who lived for a number of years in Boone and now calls Jackson County home. With a master’s degree in Appalachian Studies, Pepper has worked in many capacities with the JAM program and continues to lead workshops in traditional music, ballad singing and storytelling. Pepper also produced an album of NC ballad field recordings and wrote a play about Jackson County native and ballad singer Ethel Brown called A Singer Needs a Song. She is also a co-producer and featured performer in the Appalachian music film The Mountain Minor.

Analo Phillips
Analo Phillips was born and raised and still lives in the Laurel section of Madison County, North Carolina. He learned ballads and hymns from the old folks growing up, and is a veritable encyclopedia of local history and genealogy. View a video about Analo here.


Saro Lynch-Thomason
Saro Lynch-Thomason is an award-winning singer, song leader, folklorist, documentarian, and illustrator from Asheville, North Carolina. She has studied and taught traditional song and balladry from Appalachia, the American South, the British Isles and Ireland for over a decade. She believes that old songs can help us understand the beliefs and struggles that shape human history, and that in turn, these songs enable us to build a more compassionate and just future. She uses teaching, documentary, illustration and more to explore the amazing people and history behind songs ranging from Appalachian lullabies to American labor anthems

Branson Raines (see bio above)

Melanie Rice
Born in 1971, eighth generation ballad singer Melanie Rice Penland was lucky enough to grow up in Sodom Laurel during the Folk Revival Movement of the 1970s. Melanie has been singing on stage since the age of three and started singing ballads regularly at local festivals at the age of eight.  Although Melanie has learned most of the ballads from her mother, Sheila Kay Adams, she was fortunate  to have spent time with such ballad singers as Evelyn Ramsey, Brazil Wallin, Dellie Chandler Norton, and Cas Wallin. In 1994, Melanie Rice Penland graduated from Mars Hill University as one of the school’s first students to minor in Regional Studies (now Appalachian Studies), and later went on to receive an MA in Appalachian Studies from Appalachian State University. Melanie and her mother were awarded the North Carolina Folklife Apprenticeship grant in 2019.

William Ritter
William  is a native of Bakersville, NC, and an alum of Western Carolina University.  He graduated with a degree in Technical Theatre, but spent most of his time in school studying the musical folk traditions of Western North Carolina.  In 2017, William  received his MA in Appalachian Culture and Music from  Appalachian State University.  William plays banjo, fiddle, guitar, and other “string-ed things.” He is particularly interested in old mountain folkways, foodways,  humor–ever eager to swap lies, half-truths, tales and seeds.  William serves as Festival Manager for the Happy Valley Fiddlers Convention.  Recently, he has been performing regularly with Asheville musician, Tim McWilliams.  William is listed on the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Traditional Artist Directory, and also received the 2019–2020 In These Mountains Apprenticeship grant to study under renowned ballad singer and storyteller Bobby McMillon.  William is the founder and owner of Song-to-Seed, which offers programming featuring Appalachian Heirloom Seeds, heirloom songs, and other traditional folkways and foodways.

Amanda Southerland

Rodney Sutton (see bio above)

Lori Allison Trivette
Heiress to the lonesome sound of the Appalachian ballad, folk, and bluegrass tradition, Lori has come into her own style of carrying her family’s unique musical legacy. With a rich musical heritage, her family reigns from the Watauga and Caldwell counties of North Carolina, as well as, Johnson County Tennessee. They carry with them the echoes of a 200-year-old dying culture where truth and fiction often collide into a beautiful tapestry of story and sound. Growing up, the old “love” songs were woven into the foundations of her musical career. With her late uncle Bobby McMillon and her mother Marina Trivette traveling around the country to perform ballads, Lori was often in tow, quietly picking up on the tunes and stories being told. Her father, Douglas Trivette, who is also an accomplished guitar player and luthier, influenced her love for bluegrass and old time. It’s unknown just how far back the ballad singing tradition goes on either side of her family as everyone sings but she is at least a 4th generation ballad singer. She also shares the spotlight with her husband Zach in The Pigeon River Messengers Appalachian folk group. The two perform an eclectic blend of ballads, bluegrass, and original tunes.

Marina Trivette
Raised where the Blue Ridge Mountains meet the foothills of Western North Carolina,  Marina Trivette continues to sing the old songs handed down to her from generations past.  Marina is an established ballad singer from Caldwell County NC whose roots reach deep into the rich culture of southern Appalachia. She began singing as a child, following in the footsteps of her father and later became close friends with renowned balladeer Bobby McMillon.  The two spent many years traveling to various festivals and cultural events along the eastern portion of the United States.  She was a contributing artist on “The Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase” in 2008  and various other recordings that benefit the traditional ballad community.  Marina continues to sing alongside her husband and guitarist Doug Trivette as well as her with daughter Lori Allison Trivette.