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Carter Family Fold

ETSU bluegrass bands play on historic stage

Published: Sunday, February 16, 2014

Updated: Sunday, February 16, 2014 23:02

On the way to a gig last weekend, Nathan Morrison, a banjo player and student in the Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music program, felt a bit nervous, and understandably so.

He, along with other members of ETSU bluegrass bands, was about to perform at a historic venue: the Carter Family Fold.

Located in Hiltons, Va., about an hour from ETSU, the Carter Family Fold is a performance venue that hosts live bluegrass and old time music every Saturday night.

The place is steeped in history dating back to the birth of country music in 1927.

That was the year A.P. Carter, his wife Sara Carter and his sister-in-law Maybelle Carter first recorded their music.

The trio made up The Carter Family, an American folk music group who is sometimes referred to as “The First Family of Country Music.”

The place is also well-known as the last place where iconic musician Johnny Cash, who married into the Carter family, performed before his death in 2003.

The Carter Fold was officially founded by Janette Carter, one of A.P. and Sara’s children, in 1979, but the venue has presented weekly performances of bluegrass and old time music since 1974.

It is now directed by Rita Forrester, Janette Carter’s daughter, who hosted the show on Saturday.  
The Bluegrass Ambassadors and Bluegrass Firelight, two of about 40 bands in ETSU’s program, played at the Fold on Saturday night.

The building, deceptively simple on the outside, supplies seating for over 800 people.

A large crowd appeared not only to hear some traditional music, but also to dance.

As the musicians played lively tunes, audience members descended from their seats to the floor in front of the stage to dance. Many clogged, taking part in one of Appalachia’s oldest social customs.

Faculty member and fiddle player Colleen Trenwith appeared with both bands to play a few songs.

As Bluegrass Firelight, the second group to perform, neared the end of their set, they invited the Bluegrass Ambassadors to share the stage with them for the last few songs.

For all but one member of the Bluegrass Ambassadors, playing at the Carter Fold was a first-time experience. Members appeared to be enjoying themselves, and joked with each other and the audience between songs. Members of Bluegrass Firelight also expressed their excitement at playing at such a historic venue.

Aaron Foster, singer and guitar player, said, “It was such an honor to play on that stage. For me personally, it has been a goal of mine since I started school here in the fall of 2010 to play at the Carter Fold.”

Morrison added, “It’s such a welcoming environment and a neat tradition to be a part of.”

Kiley Ellingson, bass player, expressed her appreciation of the people on and off the stage: “One of the greatest things about Bluegrass music is the people. I mean, the music is great. But without amazing friends and musicians to play with, it wouldn’t be nearly as fun ... The people who run the Carter Fold are amazing, too. They were very gracious and hospitable and welcoming.”

Karl Smakula, mandolin player, summed up the students’ feelings as he said, “It’s a difficult venue to play for because you can barely hear what your band mates are doing, but it’s so alive with the spirit of country music that I couldn’t care less. I doubt there’s a place I’d rather play than the Carter Fold.”


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