Toe tappin’ to traditional Appalachian tunes

Last Updated on


Meghan McNeice


Gathered upon the stage of Bondurant Auditorium Wednesday Sept. 19 was a unique blend of neighboring Appalachian county natives who shed some of their musical talents for community members and Radford University students.

The Radford University Scholar-Citizens put on a toe tapping sensation: “An Evening With Ricky Cox and Friends: A Performance and Dialogue on Vocal and Instrumental Traditions in Appalachian Music.” Professor Ricky Cox and ‘friends’ consisted of Josh Blankenship from Floyd County, Montgomery County sisters Shirley Howell and Lodis Sickey, and Keith Webb from Pulaski County. Although they’re from different counties the one thing that has brought the group together is their love of Appalachian music.

Professor Cox is a Floyd County native that teaches Appalachian Folklore and American Literature here at RU. He’s also fond of playing his banjo to his students upon occasion in his classes.

For students who have taken courses with Professor Cox they know that he likes to tell jokes and throughout the night he had the crowd more than entertained with his witty humor. “My students know I can’t resist a good joke,” said Cox.

You couldn’t help but feel the upbeat vibe of the Bondurant Auditorium during the musical performances. Family members of the band, students, community members and faculty filled the audience

all tapping their feet to tunes and ballads of Appalachia.

Instruments from Appalachia were used and each given a brief history as part of the presentation. The band used traditional favorites such as: bluegrass banjos, old time banjos, mandolins, fiddles, guitars, auto harps and an upright bass.

Starting things off, Cox explained the history of music in Appalachia. Some of the earliest songs were brought to the region by the Scots Irish and English. Soon after Cox played a few snippets of “Barbara Allen,” one of the oldest ballads ever recorded.

The ballads and songs performed that evening often had a story behind them, whether it’s based of past experiences or significant events in history. Ballads and lyrical songs are meant to play on the emotions while also telling a story. Howell performed a song with the autoharp. The song was about the cyclone that hit Rye Cove in Scott County, Va in 1929. Howell and Sickey are daughters of a coal minor in Appalachia and together they sang about the minor lifestyle that they encountered such as “The Dream of a Miners Child,” and song Howell herself composed, “Daddy Don’t Go.”

After hearing the way the group all synced together for the performance, you would assume they’ve been a folk group for years. But in fact, Blankenship had only begun practicing with the others around 5 o’clock the day of the performance!

“We don’t have sheet music in front of us, we’re playing by ear,” said Webb. This is the magic of Appalachian music is the learning of tune differences through time and generations.

At the beginning of the performance Cox stated, “We want you to feel like you’re in your living room.” Although there was a crowd of people surrounding you, the performance felt as comfortable as sitting in a living room with a group of band members exchanging stories.

One of the many famous sayings by Cox, “Well we’re going to run out of time,” ended the performance and left the floor open to discussion.

With a great turn out and immensely entertaining hour and a half-educational presentation, the Scholar-Citizens delivered an excellent program.