Opera House ‘Story Session’ ~Jake Krack

Jake Krack, of Marlinton, began playing fiddle at a young age and had the good fortune to learn from several of the greatest musicians in West Virginia and the Appalachian region. Photo courtesy of Kurt Schachner

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

Whether performing alone or with a group, Jake Krack is no stranger to the stage. 

Krack first picked up the fiddle as a youngster and has learned from many esteemed fiddle players including Melvin Wine, Lester McCumbers, Brad Leftwich and Betty Vornbrock.

In the second installment of the Pocahontas County Opera House Story Session series, Krack spoke about several of his mentors as he played songs they taught him through the years.

The first tune he played was “Hannah at the Spring House,” which he learned from Melvin Wine.

“For a long time, I cycled through several songs of his that have been my favorites, but in recent times, ‘Hannah at the Spring House’ has become one of Melvin’s most memorable tunes.

“Pretty cool tune,” he continued. “Very hard to follow for some accompanists. It’s just got an odd beat and odd chords. It always speaks to me.”

Krack and Wine have a history that was so influential, that it was captured by children’s book author Sarah Sullivan in “Passing the Music Down.”

Not only were his mentors influential in his musical career, but Krack said many of their life stories and experiences have also found a way into his own personal life.

One such story is that of Wine’s relationship with his granddaughter. Krack explained that Wine quit playing music for 20 years while he was working and raising nine children. Then one day, while his granddaughter was acting up and nothing seemed to calm her down, Wine picked up his fiddle once again and the music he played did the trick.

“He got the fiddle out and it instantly had an effect on her,” Krack said. “Somebody did a painting of this scenario.”

Inspired by that story, Krack said he wanted to test the calming effect of music on his own daughter, Iris.

“…not that I have any of those problems with my kid, because she’s an angel,” he said, continuing his thought. “The other night, when I came home from work, I thought I’ll play her some music to ease her to sleep.

“I got my fiddle out and I tuned it down low,” he continued. “Normally I have it tuned at standard tuning, but I tuned it down low so it was quieter and mellow and played her a couple quiet, haunting tunes and two tunes in, she was ready to go to bed.”

Experiencing that made Krack appreciate what he learned from his mentor even more.

“It made me really reflect on that gift of Melvin’s and that story he shared with me when I was a boy that had no real meaning to me as a teenager, that I hundred percent understand now,” he said. “That was a pretty neat cycle that I hadn’t ever really experienced.”

Krack followed that story with the tune “Sally Comin’ Through the Rye,” which he learned from Lester McCumbers.

Although Krack has learned from many musicians, his first fiddle teacher was Brad Leftwich who taught him the importance of tuning.

“I love cross tuning,” he said. “It’s one of the greatest things about old-time fiddle. As great as just standard tuning is, there’s a lot of great things about playing fiddle and the sounds it can make when you tune to other tunings.”

As he changed to the high bass tuning on his fiddle, Krack explained that he was going to play a Hammons Family tune called “Fine Times At Our House.”

“I think this is one of the first tunes I ever learned that came from the Hammons Family here in Pocahontas County,” he said. “I think it was a Chamber of Commerce dinner or something going on here, and I was asked to play. This is the tune I chose. I can imagine playing it solo on the Williams River.”

Throughout his musical career, Krack has attended and competed in several old-time festivals where he has made lifelong friendships with other great musicians.

Krack has won several awards at fiddling competitions throughout Appalachia and has become a frequent collaborator of The Bing Brothers. He was also featured in the 2018 documentary “Fiddlin,” which was filmed at the Galax Old-Time Fiddler’s Convention in Virginia.

Krack is married to Katie Workman and the couple resides in Marlinton with their daughter, Iris.

The Pocahontas County Opera House Story Session series is available to view online at the Opera House Facebook page and at pocahontasoperahouse.org

On Mondays in May, the series will be featured on the Pocahontas County Opera House Radio Hour on Allegheny Mountain Radio from 1 to 2 p.m. The audio from each session will be broadcast, along with past performances from the Opera House.

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