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Not your grandparents’ folk: Bluegrass musicians bring Southern music into the future

Williams learned how to play guitar after beating the video game Guitar Hero II at age 11. Now, in her unorthodox style of playing, Williams imitates the tapping of the buttons on the guitar-shaped controller from the game. 

She also lays her guitar flat on her lap, taps notes with her left hand and plays percussion with her right hand on the body. Williams said she also uses a thumb piano, tap shoes, a cello bow and alternate tunings. 

“‘Unorthodox’ means that I don’t use the traditional techniques that a bluegrass guitarist or an old-time traditional guitarist would use,” Williams said. 

Williams describes her music as a fusion of contemporary inspirations and more traditional bluegrass and folk playing. She said that at the upcoming concert, she will be playing her original work, a song by left-handed guitarist Elizabeth Cotten and a cover of a well-known rap song.

Williams said she is a bridge between the traditional songs of the American South and the songs of the future, and she thinks UNC students will connect to her music because it is more contemporary. 

“I hope people gain a new appreciation for what’s possible on the guitar and I hope I can expand people’s minds a little bit,” Williams said. 

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Guitarist Daniel Bachman. Photo courtesy of Aldona Dye. 

Bachman is another unorthodox guitarist. He uses sound sources from nature, like the recordings of a cicada hatch near his home from when he was a teenager.

“I like having the environment that I live in in my music,” Bachman said. “It helps to give another layer of context.”

At the concert, he will not use nature sounds. He will only use a lap guitar and a six-string guitar. He said he will play both originals and covers. 

Bachman said the concert will effectively highlight young people making bluegrass and folk music in America right now. He hopes the concert will inspire UNC students to become artists or musicians if that is their aspiration. 

“We need that spirit now more than ever,” Bachman said. “We need people making beautiful things right now.”

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Bluegrass guitarist and singer Michael Daves and banjo player Tony Trishcka. Photo courtesy of Fred Robbins. 

Daves, a bluegrass guitarist and mandolin player, will also perform at the event. Although Daves grew up surrounded by bluegrass, he played other genres and studied jazz and composition in college. Daves said he wanted to take the perspective he gained from playing other types of music and bring it back to bluegrass.

“I wanted to make it feel like something that was my own music and not just something inherited from my parents,” Daves said.

Daves teaches guitar and mandolin and runs an online school for bluegrass vocals. He thinks it’s important to bring a performance aspect to teaching.

“I definitely learn a lot in the course of teaching that I put into my own music to perform,” Daves said.

Daves will perform at the concert with banjo player Tony Trischka, fiddler Tatiana Hargreaves and bassist Mike Bub. Daves said the band will feature Hargreaves and play new music from Daves and Trischka. 

Prior to the concert, Daves and his band will teach a bluegrass workshop open to the general public. The workshop will be from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the Kenan Music Building.

Weiss said he encourages students who want to learn more about bluegrass to visit the archives of the Southern Folklife Collection in Wilson Library or attend the World of Bluegrass event in Raleigh.

World of Bluegrass is a five-day event put on by the International Bluegrass Music Association. It runs Sept. 24-28. It features an industry conference, a showcase, the IBMA awards show and the Wide Open Bluegrass Festival. 


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