Grammy award winning fiddler Hunter Berry not only performed at the Pocahontas County Opera House last week, he also introduced a spark for bluegrass and old-time music in the children at Marlinton and Hillsboro Elementary schools.
Berry – who is also a member of the East Tennessee State University bluegrass, old-time and roots music department – talked to the students about his music career and how he started playing fiddle when he was nine years old.
“I wasn’t much older than most of the students, and I was the same age as some of the students, so that kind of puts it in perspective for them and gives them an opportunity to make a connection,” he said. “Then, I got into telling them the timeline of my growth in the bands that I have been in and about traveling on a forty-five foot bus since I was fifteen years old – in a different town every night.”
Berry has performed in every state in the United States as well as in several European countries, Mexico and Canada.
“I’ve been playing bluegrass for the last twenty-five years,” he said. “But I also love old- time music. Bluegrass and old-time both have been cultivated in the Appalachian states for the last two hundred years, starting with the English coming over here and settling, and the Irish and Scottish also coming over and settling.
“Literally, the bluegrass and old-time music locally is as much a part of the land and the culture and the people as the trees,” he continued. “The music doesn’t stop growing, it just gets past on. Whether it be to family members or friends and other musicians that learn from one another. It’s something that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Even though these kids may not end up playing music themselves – at least they have an open mind – and they might like it.”
Along with working at the elementary schools, Berry held a workshop Tuesday evening at the Opera House which was open to anyone interested in learning more about fiddle playing and bluegrass and old-time music.
Berry worked with a small group of kids and adults who brought their instruments in hopes of learning a new song from the talented musician and teacher.
Berry said he enjoys traveling around and sharing his story with communities, and hopefully sparking an interest in playing bluegrass or old-time music in those he meets.
“Old-time and bluegrass are two of the few genres that focus on the instrumentation as much as the vocals,” he said. “In most other genres, vocals are highlighted and the instruments are just supporting, and that’s not the case in our music. I think it’s cool.
“All the friends and fellow musicians that I’ve come across, are good people, and it’s a fun community to be a part of,” he added.
Berry completed his visit to Pocahontas County with a performance at the Opera House, which included a special appearance by some of the students he worked with earlier in the week.
“I worked with them on ‘You Are My Sunshine,’” he said. “I told them if they got really good, I would have them come up and sing at the workshop or come on stage and sing with me.”
This is not Berry’s first time sharing his music in Pocahontas County. He has been a bluegrass fiddle instructor at Allegheny Echoes for the past three years.