Weaverville resident Lillian Chase has a fiddle under her chin and a whole lot of performances under her belt—and she’s just 14 years old. She played at Merlefest in 2018, and performed onstage with Riley Baugus and Bobby Hicks for Song of the Mountains, Virginia’s award-winning public television series celebrating Southern Appalachian music. Last year, at just 13, Chase released her first album, Playing Favorites, and she hopes to find time to record a new album this summer.
Chase grew up listening to fiddle music and attending Shindig on the Green from the time she was a baby. The long-time traditional summer concert series in downtown Asheville inspired her and now she takes the stage there as well. She also plays stand-up bass and studies classical violin, playing with the Asheville Symphony Youth Orchestra, with her strings group at school and at weddings.
“I can’t explain why the fiddle caught my eye,” she says. “Maybe I should say that the fiddle caught my ear because I could always hear fiddle or violin parts in music I listened to. I knew that was the instrument for me.”
Her experience now includes playing before crowds large and small. “It was such an honor and a surprise to be asked to play at Merlefest,” she says, “and it was a lot of fun. It was my first time playing at a big festival, and it was a wonderful learning experience to get to hear and play with other musicians there.”
However, the small venues and the closer connection between musician and audience that they provide excite her as well. “I have played several house concerts now and that’s a great thing: to share music in such a personal way with people. The setting is supportive in a way that illustrates why music is important. It fills your soul up with joy and people there go out into the world with happiness.”
Chase has also begun performing with her younger sister, Sara Nell. “At most of my gigs, we twin fiddle and sing a few songs together,” Chase says, “and Sara Nell has been playing some bass lately. Sometimes we do whole sets together, but bringing her on stage toward the end of a performance is a fun surprise to get the audience excited and change up the music.” Favorite songs include “Humpback Mule,” “Icy Mountain” and “Old Bunch of Keys.”
Music has a place in her future, she says. “Sometime after high school or college, it would be nice to have an opportunity to tour and play music to see if it’s something I want to do full-time or something I want to continue pursuing on the side.” Meanwhile she’s interested in listening to and learning from old recordings of legendary North Carolina fiddlers like Marcus Martin, Manco Sneed and Tommy Jarrell.
“There’s so much old-time and bluegrass music in Asheville,” Chase says, “and I hope there always is.”
Lillian Chase’s performance on stage with Riley Baugus and Bobby Hicks will air on Song of the Mountains on UNC-TV Saturday, August 24, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, August 25, at 1 a.m. and 1 p.m. Learn more at UNCTV.org.