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Bluegrass music honored at first Carolina Bluegrass Summit

Today kicks off the first Carolina Bluegrass summit — a chance for bluegrass lovers at UNC and across the community to come together to learn about and enjoy bluegrass music. The UNC Music Department and the Southern Folklife Collection are sponsoring the event. 

“The Carolina bluegrass summit … is a combination of performances and papers and panels … which is to mark the launch of the Carolina Bluegrass Initiative,” Jocelyn Neal, a professor of music, said.

“The Carolina Bluegrass Initiative is something we started this fall to draw together the tremendous resources that the UNC campus holds in archival materials and in faculty expertise and to provide new connection points for undergraduate education, for the public access to this information and to foster new scholarship and research in these areas,” she said.

Steven Weiss, a curator of the Southern Folklife Collection, began planning the weekend in spring 2016 with Neal. He worked to arrange the exhibit in tangent with the summit that will open today at 5 p.m. entitled "Folk Music on Overdrive: Bluegrass Music in the Southern Folklife Collection."

“It was really fun to delve into collections and look at the materials that we have and to see how they map to the history of bluegrass,” Weiss said. “I’m just hoping that the audience comes away feeling that it was a really educational and enjoyable event.”

Neal said she already considers the weekend a success because of all of the academic papers that will be presented. As for the folk music exhibit, she said it is an unparalleled archival resource.

“There’s nothing like it in the world,” Neal said.

The weekend will also include a performance by the newly formed Carolina Bluegrass Band, whose members consist of students enrolled in the course taught by musician Russell Johnson. The students will perform tonight before the Steep Canyon Rangers, a Grammy award-winning bluegrass band from North Carolina.

“If you’re a student you need to get your tickets for the concert, Steep Canyon Rangers,” Johnson said. “You know, many of them are Carolina graduates. I knew them when they were starting out back in the late 90s and early 2000s.”

Johnson said he has never witnessed an event quite like this one throughout his whole career as a bluegrass musician.

“Twenty-eight years I have been playing this music and I never seen this kind of collection of speakers before, I mean, in an academic setting. It’s really great,” he said.

The summit will feature a keynote address from Robert Cantwell, the author of "Bluegrass Breakdown: The Making of the Old Southern Sound."

“This is a chance to hear someone who has written one of the most seminal books on bluegrass,” Neal said.

From exhibits to performances, presentations and addresses, attendees of this summit's festivities will have numerous opportunities to explore bluegrass music in various different ways.

“If you’re not sure you’re interested in bluegrass, this is the time that you will be able to tell because it’s just a great collection of lectures and music,” Johnson said. “So it would be a great opportunity for students to experience bluegrass.”

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