On Saturday, March 11, the Madison County Arts Council (MCAC) in downtown Marshall will come to life for the 11th Annual Fiddlers of Madison County Show.
Benefiting the MCAC, the spring concert showcases master fiddlers, young fiddlers and the talented musicians who back them up on stage. While the show has become a mustsee that many locals look forward to all year, it has also drawn fans from as far away as Alabama and Illinois and even attracted German hikers passing through on the nearby Appalachian Trail.
The fiddle was a favorite instrument of early settlers due to its easy transport and versatility in providing entertainment. It could be played as a rhythm instrument for square dances or be used to play the sweet melody of a waltz. Traveling inland, settlers found the Southern Appalachian Mountains to be reminiscent of the highlands left behind and chose to settle in the coves and along the rivers of the rural mountain regions. These early Madison County residents were of Scots-Irish and English descent, and they brought with them the unique tunes and styles of their homelands. The music we hear today drifting out of the Blue Ridge Mountains is still deeply tied to these roots.
Every spring, the concert honors one of the elders in the community, featuring his or her history, style and talent. This year, the show will honor master musician, Ralph Lewis. “We love having Ralph and his boys, Don and Marty, in the house. Their music comes from the heart of Madison County,” says Laura Boosinger, MCAC executive director. “There is nothing more fun than watching Ralph and his sons tear it up on stage.”
Ralph Lewis was raised in a musical family in Madison County, just like the one in which he raised his own sons. Prior to Lewis’ family band, Sons of Ralph, he was recruited in the 1970s to tour as one of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys. Performing on stages like the Grand Ole Opry, his commitment to playing is only rivaled by his passion for teaching.
Steeped in talent and generosity, Ralph Lewis represents a generation of musicians deeply committed to the preservation of the music through sharing with the younger generation. Just as Ralph started his sons playing before they could walk, Master fiddlers Arvil Freeman, Roger Howell and Bobby Hicks welcome young fiddlers to the stage or into the jam circle. Joining them for the show will be Elizabeth Sauls, Kathryn Parham Brickey, Emma McDowell, Rhiannon Ramsey, Lillian Chase and students who participate in the Junior Appalachian Musicians, a program of the Arts Council that teaches traditional music to Madison County’s youth.
“We want folks to hear this next generation of Madison County musicians and are pleased to showcase them,” says Boosinger.
Two shows, at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., will be held at the Madison County Arts Center, 90 South Main Street, Marshall. Tickets are available at madisoncountyarts.com or by calling 828.649.1301.