by Kim O’Connor
Grammy-winning musician and storyteller David Holt has always been a connoisseur of interesting characters.
His passion for unusual stories started at his family’s dinner table and eventually led him high into the North Carolina mountains, seeking out rare techniques, unusual stories, and fascinating instruments from devotees to mountain music who were often reclusive or hard to find.
Holt has since come to know a lot about mountain music, a unique genre that he says can be played on “everything from the piano to the paper bag.”
“I felt like I’d stumbled on a lost world,” Holt says. “These people were born in the 1870s, 80s, and 90s. I didn’t have an agenda other than to learn from them, and no one ever turned me away.”
During an upcoming residency at the International Storytelling Center (ISC) in Jonesborough, Holt will showcase many of these nearly lost techniques, play from his extensive repertoire of mountain music standards and originals, and share a lifetime’s worth of stories from the road and from his experiences with his many mountain teachers.
His appearance is part of ISC’s popular Storytelling Live! series, and will include a string of afternoon performances that begin at 2 p.m. in the Center, Tuesday through Saturday, August 22 – 26.
He’ll have a selection of unusual instruments on hand, including the washboard and a replica of a Civil War-era banjo.
As the self-made historian has worked to preserve and perform some of our country’s oldest songs, Holt has become an important figure in the storytelling scene even though his first love was music. “Mountain music really grew out of people’s lives, so stories are a big part of it,” he says. Most of the stories he tells these days are taken from his life on the road with iconic musicians like the late Doc Watson, but he occasionally weaves in some of the folk tales he learned in the early days.
While he now has several television shows and a host of awards under his belt, Holt remains humble, an attitude that stems from his deep and abiding love of the music, which always comes first. “That’s part of the way you do something like this for 45 years,” he says. “You’ve really got to keep yourself entertained first of all, and then worry about other people.”
All of Holt’s concerts will be downtown in the Mary B. Martin Storytelling Hall, located in the International Storytelling Center, on Main Street. Ticketholders for all performances can present their ticket stubs for a 10 percent discount on same-day dining at JJ’s Eatery and Ice Cream or Main Street Café, two popular eateries in Jonesborough.
The 2017 season of Storytelling Live! will bring a different storyteller to Jonesborough each week through the end of October. Information about all performers, as well as a detailed schedule, is available at storytellingcenter.net.
The International Storytelling Center is open 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information about Storytelling Live! or to make a group reservation, call (800) 952-8392 ext. 222 or (423) 913-1276.