Monday, October 11, 2010

The Carter Fold with the Boxcars

The Stage - Carter Family Fold
Nestled in a holler along what is now called the A.P. Carter Highway just off U.S. 58, The Crooked Road, the Carter Family Fold is easy to miss, even if you're looking for it.  As we drove east along the A.P. Carter Highway, we saw one abandoned barn after another, and the Carter Fold looked just like another one until we were past it.  Not wanting to turn around in someone's driveway, Irene continued on for two or three miles before we found a convenient garage with a large enough parking area for her to use.  We drove back to enter into the world where all the strands of country and traditional music meet in one place.  Here A.P. Carter and his storied family lived, Sara and Mother Maybelle Carter, performed their traditional music, wrote songs, and, in nearby Bristol VA/TN created the early recordings that came to be know as country music. Here the "Circle" is complete, never broken.  It's the place where old time, traditional, country, and bluegrass music come together in one hallowed hall that resonates with the tradition the region created and reflects the world it has become.  On Saturday evening we visited the Carter Fold, the nest from which the fabled Carter Family hatched to create a body of work and recordings to support it that became the underpinnings for the entire country music industry, of which bluegrass is a part, whether it likes it or not.  "Keep on the Sunny Side," "Wabash Cannonball," "Wildwood Flower," and, of course, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," are only four of the over 300 songs recorded by this remarkable family that also gave us June Carter Cash and forged the ultimate connection between at least three genres, the great Johnny Cash.

The complex itself includes a performance building seating around 1000 people with a large gap between the seats and the stage to accommodate the large number of dancers who show up each Saturday.  There's precious little parking space available, but somehow people coming to the Carter Fold manage to squeeze in, using a generous hillside across the street as well as every inch of available space on the grounds.  The old A.P. Carter Store has been restored as a museum, now housing a collection of Carter Family memorabilia. The Museum has a separate $5.00 suggested donation, well worth it for those interested in the history and background of this fabled family.  We didn't visit the Carter cabin.

The Museum

The stage area within the Carter Fold building itself also contains a wealth of Carter Family information.  If you arrive early, you can wander around the stage to study this additional material. Admission to performances at The Carter Fold is $7.00.  Children are free.  The idea is provide a venue where everyone is welcome, and can afford to come.  One of the delights of attending a performance here is that it's such a child friendly venue.

A performance at The Carter Fold begins at 7:30 on Saturdays, but the doors open around 5:00 and people begin arriving early to obtain good seating, visit the Museum and Cabin, or mix and mingle with friends.  The concession stand, selling barbecue, hot dogs, sandwiches, home made cake, popcorn, and drinks opens around 6:00 and serves throughout the evening.  You can even meet the house dog, a rescue pup of unknown provenance, who's very much in evidence at the proceedings.  

The Boxcars

Adam Steffey, this year's as well as six years previously IBMA Mandolin Player of the Year, has assembled a first rate band and undertaken an active touring schedule.  Adam, an always engaging person on the stage as well as a fine singer and superb instrumentalist, has become increasingly comfortable fronting his band, which he does with grace and humor.  He has worked with Ron Stewart on banjo and fiddle for many years, and they are a well-oiled team.  The also widely experienced John Bowman, on fiddle, banjo and guitar as well as fine tenor vocals anchors the left side of the band.  Keith Garrett, formerly of Blue Moon Rising, has been included in the band, bringing his excellent song-writing skills and fine lead voice to the mix.  He's a wonderful addition to this group.  Finally, Harold Nixon, also formerly of Blue Moon Rising, on bass, brings a kind of wit and energy to the instrument that's seldom required or expected from a bass player.  The Boxcars' new CD contains nine original songs, which is quite a feat for a new band and speaks well for Steffey's seriousness with this group.  They should progress quickly and attain fan acceptance faster than many other new bands.  

Adam Steffey

 Ron Stewart

 John Bowman

 Keith Garrett

 Harold Nixon

If I Was on Some Foggy Mountain Top - The Boxcars - Video

The Scene

The audience at The Carter Fold is an interesting mix of locals who are regular attendees and outsiders.  Many of these people are enthusiastic cloggers who dance throughout the evening, the taps on their shoes keeping time with the band and raising a significant amount of noise.  The rest of the audience, coming on this night from twenty or more states and at least a couple of other countries, are at the Fold to enjoy the music, bluegrass this week, old time traditional music on other weeks.  Unlike many bluegrass events, the audience is very much a part of the show, eager to dance and have a good time.  The Boxcars, familiar with this scene, provided lots of the kind of fiddle songs to keep the audience working as well as selections from their new CD, Steffey's previous work, and a couple of gospel songs.  The festivities are overseen by Rita Forrester, A.P. Carter's grand-daughter, who keeps things moving along and acts as emcee.  James Smith, the AutoHarpMan from Al-la-Bam entertained during the interlude.

Rita Forrester

James Smith

Perhaps the most interesting and endearing element of an evening at the Carter Fold is the enthusiastic dancing by members of the audience, many of them highly skilled cloggers.  There was also a quartet of country line dancers weaving its way through and around the cloggers as well as a number of inexperienced people from the audience who thought they'd give this easy looking but complex form of dance a try.  Included in the mix were a number of children, whose efforts were supported and encouraged.  Dancers ranged in age from about three to well over ninety.  Even people who needed mobility assistance found themselves joyfully participating on the dance surface.  Here's a sample:

Nearly 80 Year Old Verda Frazier
and her three daughters
Linda, Sandra, and Peggy

Keith Garrett's Daughter

Clogging at the Carter Fold - Video

The Carter Fold provides an enjoyable evening of home town entertainment, part performance by a fine band and part participant experience by the community of attendees.  The audience, in a very real sense, becomes a vital, even essential part of the show.  Combining this with a band as good as The Boxcars or the other bands on the schedule creates an unforgettable experience while helping members of the audience connnect to the history of music in America. 

Adam and Tina Steffey


  1. I can't wait for the day Bill can retire; perhaps we will follow you around the country. What fun!

  2. Ted, Again, great coverage and review of what appears and is known as a great historical venue. I have not been there in all my travels but it will become a "must visit" now since I viewed this report. Keep up the nice work. Al Hawkes