Bluegrass Bands in Wake County Schools

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Wake County Public Schools continue to benefit from last year's International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) World of Bluegrass programming in Raleigh. Thanks to the United Arts Council of Raleigh & Wake County, the County of Wake, and the IBMA, more than a dozen Wake County public schools have received or will receive a visit from and performance by a bluegrass band!

On Friday, Feb. 28, 2014, third, fourth, and fifth grade students at Wilburn Elementary School in Raleigh will hear the award winning bluegrass musician and educator Charles Pettee with the Iron Mountain Messengers: Michael Booze on banjo, Jef Walter on bass, fiddle legend Jan Johansson, and mandolin wiz Simon Dunson rounds out the group. The band performs music both new and old, including bluegrass favorites, Charles' original songs, and a few surprises, too. (Photo Credit: Jason Beverly)

Pettee started playing guitar and mandolin at an early age. His approach to the traditional arts of flatpicking and folk singing began during his childhood in Asheville, NC. His distinctive mandolin style, voice, and original compositions are an essential part of the Shady Grove Band, which he co-founded 30 years ago. Pettee has hosted workshops on both guitar and mandolin technique at some of the most prestigious music festivals in the United States and Europe (including MerleFest in Wilkesboro, NC and the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, KS). He also performs with Iron Mountain Messenger, and Charles Pettee & Folkpsalm, who will be releasing their fourth album later this year. Pettee also presents school programs called "Hear the Sound," which share the history of Southern string music with audiences of all ages and cultural backgrounds. Either solo or in other musical incarnations with The Shady Grove Band or Iron Mountain Messenger, Pettee has performed more 3500 shows in his many years as a professional musician. Pettee is also a longtime participant in the United Arts Council's Artists in the Schools program. This summer, he will once again be the mandolin instructor for PineCone's Bluegrass Music Camps for Youth, offered in partnership with the Town of Cary.

This past September, 12 Wake County elementary and middle schools got visits from headliner bands that were in Raleigh for the World of Bluegrass 2013 events. The designated elementary schools each received a 45-minute performance and instruction about the bluegrass tradition, while the middle schools received a one-hour master class for their strings students.

Wake County schools involved were: West Cary Middle School (Sept. 24); Fuller Elementary, Knightdale Elementary, and Zebulon Elementary (Sept. 25); Carroll Leadership & Technology Magnet Middle School, East Garner Middle, Dillard Drive Middle, and Creech Road Elementary (Sept. 26); Forestville Road Elementary School, Hodge Road Elementary, Wakelon Elementary, and Aversboro STEM Elementary (Sept. 27).

Bands involved included groups from across the U.S. and around the world (Kristy Cox is from Australia): The Bankesters; Detour; Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line; Henhouse Prowlers; Raleigh's own Kickin Grass; Kristy Cox; The Rigney Family; Special Consensus; Todd Grebe and Cold Country; and Williamson Branch. A number of these are family bands with young players, so many Wake students got to see musicians close to their age who are active in bluegrass music.

Kickin Grass performed at Stough Elementary on December 12, 2013, and one more bluegrass band will work with string students at Moore Square Middle School sometime this spring - the date and artist is still being finalized.

These school visits were made possible by the County of Wake and the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County, in cooperation with the Wake County Public School System. Some funding remained after the original 12 programs, and more schools have benefited, as United Arts has continued to bring NC bluegrass artists into schools in the months since IBMA's first World of Bluegrass in Raleigh.

United Arts also worked with the Wake County Public School System to present a special bluegrass in-service for arts and music teachers in late August, led by IBMA Executive Director Nancy Cardwell and Raleigh's own Kickin Grass Band, and funded in part by the Foundation for Bluegrass Music's Bluegrass in the Schools program. A copy of IBMA's instructional DVD for teachers with lesson plans built around the bluegrass tradition and instruments was also provided to each Wake County Public School System music teacher. Among many other goals and activities, IBMA aims to help educators become more "bluegrass aware."

World of Bluegrass Week is the annual homecoming for the bluegrass music community, taking place this year from September 30-Oct. 4, 2014 in Raleigh, North Carolina. World of Bluegrass features three separate events: the Business Conference (Sept. 30-Oct. 2) that focuses on development and networking for bluegrass professionals, the International Bluegrass Music Awards (Oct. 2) and the Wide Open Bluegrass Festival (Oct. 3-4), which will host the best in bluegrass music as well as multiple workshops, jam sessions and activities.