Appalachian Road Show is a visionary acoustic ensemble, bringing new-generation interpretations of traditional Americana, bluegrass and folk songs, as well as offering innovative original music, all presented with a common thread tied directly to the heart of the Appalachian regions of the United States. GRAMMY-nominated banjoist Barry Abernathy, joins forces with GRAMMY-winning fiddler Jim VanCleve, fresh off of his recent stint touring with multi-platinum country artist Josh Turner, as well as esteemed vocalist and mandolinist Darrell Webb, who has recorded and toured with Dolly Parton and Rhonda Vincent, among many others. The group also includes 26-year-old “old soul” guitarist Zeb Snyder, whose fierce and versatile playing recalls Doc Watson and Norman Blake as readily as it does Duane Allman and Stevie Ray Vaughn.
“With this group, we want to bring to light the culture and lifestyle of the Appalachian music we grew up in,” says Abernathy.
“We immersed ourselves in our native culture by way of sound and further educated ourselves to our own roots, those which are found all throughout the Appalachian music we grew up with,” says VanCleve. Ready to share its authentic and fresh approach with the public, the band went into the studio in the summer of 2018 and recorded its debut album, Appalachian Road Show. The project landed three multi-week number one songs on Bluegrass Today Weekly Airplay charts and garnered the band a New Artist of the Year nomination and Song of the Year nomination (“Dance Dance Dance”) at the 2019 International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Awards.
Appalachian Road Show invites us to come and sit a spell on its porch as the band shares its dynamic musicianship through songs and stories emanating from the mountains and hollers of North Carolina and Virginia, to the coal mines of West Virginia and Kentucky. On its eponymous debut album, the band delivers powerful songs that range from the gospel-esque “I Am Just a Pilgrim” and “Little Black Train,” to the reeling, kick-up-your-heels “Dance, Dance, Dance,” to the ballad of love and loss “Anna Lee.” “All of these songs came from the Appalachian mountains and from the coal mining regions of Appalachia,” says Abernathy. “They confront topics such as logging, coal mining, trains, a sweetheart that took off, and so on. There’s something universal in the music and its expressed themes. There’s something for everyone.”
Abernathy, VanCleve, and Webb know it well as they were each born and raised in Appalachia. “I was 10 or 11 when I started singing in church,” says Abernathy, who grew up near the head of the Appalachian Trail in northern Georgia. His grandmother had a banjo, and despite being born with only one finger on his noting hand, he knew at the young age of 14 that he wanted to learn to play that banjo and Appalachian music. VanCleve, a North Carolinian by way of Florida, was gifted his first fiddle when he was six. His grandfather, a preacher, played acoustic music, as did his aunt, uncle, and father. By the age of twelve, VanCleve and his father were travelling all over the mountains of North Carolina and Southwestern Virginia, attending dozens of fiddle contests, bluegrass festivals, and old-time music festivals. Webb grew up in the coal mining country of West Virginia where he mastered old-time and bluegrass music through the influence of his father, a coal miner and bluegrass musician who passed away from black lung – an emotional topic which Appalachian Road Show tackles in its music.
“Appalachian music and its stories have been passed down to us, and we’re now passing our own interpretations of this to a new generation, while also shedding a reverent light on this culture,” says Abernathy. “We want to not only keep these traditions alive, but also honor the strong and dedicated individuals who made lives in the mountains over the past 200 years. Appalachian Road Show is meant to be more of a cultural experience rather than simply just a collection of songs. If we were to eventually be viewed as unofficial ambassadors of Appalachian culture, that would be an honor.”
With a full schedule of tour dates lined up and new music already in the works, Appalachian Road Show has big plans for the future. Abernathy, VanCleve, and Webb intend for Appalachian Road Show to become much more than just a concert, but to eventually grow into a full-on production and immersive experience, offering interpretations of culturally appropriate tunes, telling the stories behind the songs, offering visuals which support the emotional content of the songs, as well as offering new original songs which are born out of the emotion and spirit of traditional Appalachian music.
For now, Appalachian Road Show invites us into the music and stories of Appalachia’s culturally-rich heritage. As they say, “It’s part of who we are. It’s natural for us. It is authentic. This music is so vibrant, and it has its own vitality and its own life, and we mean to carry that forward.”