Last week was special as I was able to spend a chunk of Thursday afternoon doing in-person lessons in a socially distanced way with two sets of kids. These young folks hold the most promise for carrying on the traditional style of old-time music that I have long been promoting. William and Ola Moeckel are twins who have livened up the youth scene around here for the past three years with their dancing and playing on fiddle and banjo.

Ola and William Moeckel

They are only 10 years old but they are inspirations to other youth and adults around the Floyd area. Last summer they won 1st and 2nd in the youth dance contest at Clifftop in West Virginia. They recently applied for and won a Wayne C Henderson Youth Scholarship that will help them afford lessons and admission costs to future events for their musical development. 

Their mother Kirsten Griffiths has been their main supporter. Kirsten is also director of FloydJAMs our local Junior Appalachian Musicians program. Their big sister Sophie has been a student of mine and a big inspiration to them as well.

The second set of kids is Cheyenne and Wyatt Grantham, a brother-sister duo, highly motivated and encouraged by their mom Kady. They live around Boone’s Mill in Franklin County. Andy Buckman and I met with them last Thursday in a local church picnic shelter with plenty of room to spread out. Cheyenne is 12 (I think) and Wyatt is 10 (I think).  Cheyenne has various background influences in her music including classical, bluegrass, and old-time. She’s been taking fiddle lessons for the past year regularly with me. Wyatt has developed in that time into a solid clawhammer style banjo player instructed regularly by Andy Buckman. They’ll be out there for sure someday and contenders in youth contests of the future.

Anyway, this week’s tune is one of our Blue Ridge flatfoot dance standards that I have been showing to my fiddle and banjo students for a while, called Yellow Cat. However, I first heard it in 1979 in Giles County two counties north of here. Maggie Rader, who was in her 70’s back when I was in my 20’s impressed me with her energetic rhythmic clawhammer style.  I would put her in the same class as Matokie Slaughter, Mildred Thompson, and Rhoda Kemp. Back then I was a novice at listening and sometimes had trouble picking out the melody as the style was focused primarily on rhythm.

This recording of Maggie is pretty good, balancing rhythm and melody to carry the tune by herself. It takes a bit of warming up to get that balance in the attack. That balance is not as important for dancers as it is for a listening audience, and it seems that the influence of our dance traditions factor into the sound a player develops in the previous generation.

Listen all the way to the end and you’ll hear some interesting words as Maggie remembered them. This was recorded by folklorist Kip Lornell in the late ’70s after I visited her.

Yellow Cat by Maggie Rader

Here’s a fiddle version from Floyd’s own Ivan Weddle recorded by Shay Garriock.

Yellow Cat by Ivan Weddle