The “Music on the Mountaintop” concert series at the Church of the Ascension (Episcopal), 311 Washington St., continues 7 p.m. Friday featuring “Rich and the Po’ Folk,” an old-time string band that explores the full range of traditional mountain music.
“Rich and the Po’ Folk” play fiddle tunes, ballads, coal mining songs, Carter Family pieces, and contemporary mountain songs. The band’s repertoire comes from the members’ home territory of eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia, hot spots for one of America’s great musical traditions. Band members bring a wealth of experience to the stage.
Fiddler and mandolinist Rich Kirby, a Kentucky native, has lived in Scott County, Va., for 30 years and has performed across the region and nationally. Prize-winning banjoist John Haywood brings a deep store of songs, tunings, and techniques learned from Kentucky banjo legend George Gibson.
Bassist Nate Polly, a native of Letcher County, took up old-time music after playing for years with Kentucky bluegrass bands. Guitarist Brett Ratliff hails from Van Lear, the home of Loretta Lynn. Two years ago he left an active performing career to become the station manager of WMMT, Appalshop’s community radio station in Whitesburg. All four are enthusiastic singers and Kirby and Ratliff DJ music shows on WMMT.
“Rich and the Po’ Folk” got together in the spring of 2006 after playing together informally at jam sessions and festivals. Their performances include pieces they have learned from such artists as Art Stamper, Uncle Charlie Osborne, Thornton Spencer, George Gibson, ballad singer Addie Graham (Rich’s grandmother) and Hazel Dickens.
Their CD, When the Whistle Blew, appeared in 2010.
The band members have long been involved working to keep Kentucky’s traditional music alive. Having learned music in the traditional way — face-to-face — from older folks, they have spent a lot of time passing their skills on to others, in venues such as the annual Cowan Creek Mountain Music School and Appalshop’s Passing the Pick and Bow program in Letcher County schools.
Kirby and Ratliff also view their radio work as a way of keeping the traditions alive and well.
“A community that can’t control its own culture can’t expect to control its own destiny,” said Kirby.
Coal mining makes up a theme that runs through the band’s work. As a band, they tackle such issues through songs like “Dyin’ to Make a Living,” Nate Polly’s original “When the Whistle Blew,” and Jean Ritchie’s classic “The L&N Don’t Stop Here Any More.”
The “Music on the Mountaintop” concerts, held the second Friday of each month, are aimed at helping to promote a sense of community in downtown Frankfort while highlighting Kentucky’s unique musical heritage. For more information about “Music on the Mountaintop, visit ascensionfrankfort.org or call 502-223-0557.
The performance is free and no reservations are needed. Light refreshments will be available.