Americana On TV

“When you think of the Blue Ridge Mountains, your first thought is probably not of stringed musical instruments playing authentic and unique American roots music; however, this rural backdrop is the raw source of much of the sounds we hear today and consider our American musical legacy; including rock-and-roll and jazz,” writes Ross Moonie, spokesperson and head of media relations for David Holt’s PBS series “State of Music.” Now in its second season, “David Holt’s State of Music” is his latest foray into his lifelong passion of preserving the rich history and culture of the Blue Ridge Mountains. PBS describes “David Holt’s State of Music” as a program in which Holt “shares tunes and stories with modern masters of this historic music that has a growing legion of contemporary fans.”

And the number of fans is indeed growing to the point that in 2009 the Grammy Foundation created an award for Best Americana Album. The term Americana has come to embrace a unique style of traditiona based music which is influenced by an eclectic collection of American roots music. This includes folk, bluegrass, alternative country, blues, and old time music as well as other acoustic styles. “State of Music” reflects this diversity in its line up. Bluegrass veteran Doyle Lawson has been featured as well as “Swiss born masters of American Bluegrass,” the Kruger Brothers. Master guitar builder and picker Wayne Henderson has made an appearance as has self described “Southern Gothic, alt-country blues singer/songwriter” Amythst Kiah. David sees Americana as “modern music derived from American roots music influences.”

David Holt is no stranger to fans of all types of traditional American music and folklore. The four time Grammy Award winner has collaborated with many musical legends including Doc Watson, Chet Atkins, and Earl Scruggs. In addition his collections of rural cultural gems are now part of the permanent collection of the Library of Congress. A Texas native who found himself living in California as a teenager, graduated with degrees in biology and art from the University of California before heading east to study the culture of the Blue Ridge. Immersed in the regional songs and folklore, his interest grew to the point that in 1975 he founded the Appalachian Music Program at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, North Carolina. His prolific career has found him traveling internationally to share the music and tales of the rural South as well as playing to sold out crowds at the Ryman Auditorium.

Rhythm Bones
Holt’s own interest in music developed from rather humble beginnings. He explains, “I grew up near Dallas, Texas. My family was not particularly musical, but we had one quirky piece of musical tradition handed down from generation to generation. My great, great grandfather, John O. Holt moved from Alamance County NC to Texas in 1858. He played a pair of wooden rhythm bones and each generation of men was required to learn how to play them. So, I learned from my father and grandfather. I think bones playing gave me an ear for unusual instruments and rhythm. When I was 14 I started taking drum lessons and fell in love with the banjo in my early 20s.”

In addition to becoming a proficient musician, David also developed an appreciation for the stories and tales of rural America. He continues,”I grew up in a family of informal storytellers, and there was plenty to tell about our wild and wooly Texas forefathers. Storytelling was just a natural part of family life for me. I never thought about telling stories in public until I began to collect mountain music and came across interesting and unusual anecdotes from mountain folks. I began to use these stories in concerts and realized the power storytelling holds.”

Top Priority
Although maintaining an active concert schedule and promoting his latest CD “Good Medicine” occupies much of his time, his current PBS show is a top priority. The idea for the show came about when his long time friends, photographers and film makers Will and Deni McIntyre, were looking for a new project. David knew both of them from U.S. State department musical tours of South America and Africa. Having always wanted to do a PBS show together, they came up with the concept of on-location performances and interviews with Americana acts. He describes the show as an “ongoing project. The promoters have to raise money for each season. PBS supplies the outlet but no money. It is a huge undertaking. We are also constantly thinking about who to feature on the show and organizing the next season.”

Perhaps part of the attraction of Americana music is that it also uniquely connects us to our cultural past. The stories the songs tell as well as the harmonic devices, musical forms and rhythmic variety continue to inspire artists today. David believes that American roots music “affects most of the music we have in this country.” Hopefully “David Holt’s State of Music” connects the musical past and present in way that acknowledges where we have been while looking to how the music continues to evolve.

Check out the link below to see where you can see “David Holt’s State of Music” in your area:

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