It’s not often that you get to be in the presence of a living legend. But that’s exactly what happened at Sheila Kay Adams’ show at the Brunswick Music Festival. The Appalachian singer and storyteller showed the audience why she’s praised as one of the best bluegrass musicians in the U.S.
Give her a bit of a Google and you see the accolades pile up. There’s the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship Award. The North Carolina Folklore Society’s Brown-Hudson Award. Why all the praise? Sheila Kay is the seventh generation in her family to carry on an unbroken tradition. She knows how to do a cappella ballad singing, which Scotch-Irish settlers in the 1600 and 1700s brought when they settled the western mountains of North Carolina. As a young girl, we learned, she started ‘collecting’ the songs from her relatives, all of whom live in the community of Sodom, North Carolina. (You can better believe that was the making of a joke or two.)
Her banter was beyond compare. Stories – all told in her inimitable Appalachian accent – came after more stories. She had us all in stitches as she regaled us with tales about her great-aunt, her aunt’s friends. These ladies have all passed on long ago, but they live on in her tales – just as their songs do in her show. Every now and then, she’d break out into a tune. It was a joy to listen to her talk. But then she got out her claw-hammer five-string banjo and regaled us with even more bluegrass. 22-year-old Branson Raines (a member of The Scofflaws, a band they both play in) got out his fiddle, and away they went.
Before Sheila Kay and Branson went on, the full house was warmed up with the Appalachian Heaven String Band. The four-part ensemble had many a fan in the audience. ‘Play something we’d like,’ shouted a wag. ‘Thanks, Ken’, came the retort. They played lots of old-timey bluegrass, and explained what most of their songs were about: the sea, death, and dogs and drinking.
There’s just something about bluegrass that everyone can relate to. Combine it with the rich cultural heritage that people like Sheila Kay Adams bring to the fore, you have yourself a wonderful night out.
Co-founder of The Plus Ones, Theresa can never have too much bluegrass in her life.
The Brunswick Music Festival runs 15-20 March 2016. Read our guide to the best of the festival.
Some venues are accessible.