Welcome to CCMMS 2020!

February 4, 2020


Valerie & Carol croppedHello to the Entire 2020 Cowan Creek Mountain Music School,


It is a pleasure to again welcome you to the CCMMS, whether you are a newcomer or a returning seasoned participant.  We have only one regret this year, and that is we cannot claim this is our 20th year for the school.  Unfortunately, we miss it by one year, and this will be our 19th.  However, we will celebrate our 20th in 2021.

I am pleased to be able to welcome you since I had to miss last year almost entirely.  For those of you who don’t know me, I was one of the original founders of the school and have been involved throughout its history until last summer.  In April, my husband, Kendall, had a serious fall, and I was consumed with helping with his care.  It was a dismal time for both of us, but one of the highlights of our summer was a visit from a very gifted and talented group of musicians and instructors from the music school.  They came in one by one until our sunroom and kitchen were filled with the sound of their instruments and sometimes their voices as they played for us. That was such a touching and inspiring experience, and again Kendall and I want to express our appreciation to each one who participated in that gesture.  I fear to name anyone because I can’t remember everyone’s name.

We hope those of you who are planning to be here will appreciate what we are planning to offer.  We hope to have the instructors you have come to know and love, and hopefully we will bring something new to the school. In planning, we always ask that anyone involved keep in mind our original purpose for the school, which was to preserve and promote traditional mountain music.  Just as it was in 2007, when we won the Governor’s Folk Art Award, we want to continue those efforts.

We also want to preserve the peaceful, restful, and family oriented atmosphere our school has offered.  We want it to be a place that when you leave you will truly feel that it was a good place to be and you want to return.  Until then, we wish you peaceful wintering (assuming we have some winter), and a beautiful spring.  Check out our website and let us know if you have questions or want to make suggestions.

My Very Best to You,

Carol Ison, Secretary
Cowan Community Action Group, Inc.

Dare to Be Square-Kentucky April 26 & 27, 2019


square danceYou and yours are invited to dance, dance, dance at the second annual Dare to Be Square- Kentucky, a weekend of dances, workshops and old time jams to benefit the Cowan Community Center.  Besides all the good times and fellowship, this a learning opportunity to.  If you are feeling the tug to become a square dance caller yourself, this is your big chance to learn from the best and practice calling with a friendly crowd of enthusiastic dancers.


Here’s the schedule:

6:00pm  – Supper at the Cowan Community Center
7:00pm  –  Big Community Square Dance called by Randy Wilson
8:30am – Breakfast
9:00am – Workshops:  Dance Calling 101 led by T Claw
or Playing for Square Dances led by John Harrod (for all instruments & levels)
Noon –  Lunch
1:00pm – Master Performance by Don Rogers
2:00pm – Workshops:  Carcassonne Style Dance Calling led by Randy Wilson & Peter Rogers
or Flatfoot Dance led by Carla Gover
4:30pm –  Old Time Jam for all
6:00pm –  Supper
7:00pm –  Big Community Square Dance led by Randy Wilson & emerging new talent!

Sliding registration fee of $50 to $75 at the door includes all dances, workshops and meals.  For evening dances only-admission $5.

Advance registration is appreciated:   https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdF788SWuY5KZNSEMcbt8ILUHcrfhZcpEKX6ej-YLtGXFUDXA/viewform?usp=sf_link

Facebook event  page:  https://www.facebook.com/events/823462778015159/



Special thanks to the Country Song & Dance Society for helping sponsor this event!  https://www.cdss.org/

Welcome from Val & Carol

Valerie & Carol croppedGreetings from Carol and Val,

It is our pleasure to welcome you to the 2019 Cowan Creek Mountain Music School.   The Cowan Creek Mountain Music School is all about traditions and passing those traditions on.  This year, Cowan will see the beginning of a transition in leadership as my mom, Carol will give more time to her health and writing.  I will step up to take a more active role in the leadership as the Director at Cowan Community Action Group, Inc..  Carol will still be serving on the CCMMS Advisory Council and be a part of the Cowan board.  She will still be active at the community center, just letting go of some of the responsibility and the hard parts of growing an organization.

I will be available to help in hosting the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School.  We are pleased that Stacy Dollarhide continues to represent Cowan as the Coordinator of CCMMS, her heart and attention to detail for such an event, make it happen each year.  We are also excited to have Brett Ratliff as the Artistic Director.   We know together they will create an amazing experience for each of you.   We hope to be able to convey to each of you, the faculty and students that make the magic happen, how much we appreciate you.  Your success and encouragement is what sustains our work, not grants….not programming….each of you!  Your stories make us want to work to make each year better than the last.  Thank you to our awesome Advisory Board and so many who have worked to grow the music school to what it is today.  Special thanks to Bev May for being there from the beginning and continuing to challenge us to be our best.

Cowan Community Center is still an organization primarily made up of volunteers.  That makes us extremely proud of the programming we offer which includes:

  • Cowan Creek Mountain Music School
  • Kids on the Creek Summer Camps
  • USDA Summer Food Service Program
  • Levitt Amp Whitesburg Music Series
  • Grow Appalachia

We also offer strong support to the City of Whitesburg Farmers Market and Community Agricultural Nutritional Enterprises, Inc. a commercial kitchen in Whitesburg that partners with Grow Appalachia.

Finally, we recognize how precious time is, thank you for choosing to spend your week at Cowan.  We hope you find exactly what you need through our music and community.  You are now a part of our community and music family and we welcome you.  You will always be welcome and our only ask is that you serve as an ambassador and if your experience and impressions while here have been positive that you share that in your place in the world.

Best to you,

Valerie and Carol

Welcome to new Artistic Director!

Brett Ratliff2The Cowan Creek Mountain Music School is pleased to welcome a new artistic director for the 2019 school: long time faculty member Brett Ratliff.  Brett is a multi-instrumentalist and lifelong apprentice of the Kentucky repertoire who loves to share the stories of his mountain home. Born and raised in Van Lear, Ky, the historic coal camp that gave birth to Loretta Lynn, Ratliff has performs as a solo artist and with groups such as the Clack Mountain String Band; the Dirk Powell Band; and Rich & the Po’ Folk with folk legend Rich Kirby. He has also taught Kentucky tunes at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, Swannanoa Gathering, Sore Fingers Week in England, and Augusta Heritage’s Early Country Music and Old-Time Weeks. Also a community organizer, Ratliff is an activist who makes connections between the arts, food-ways and social justice. Ratliff has worked toward the wellness of his region with such organizations as Appalshop and the Hindman Settlement School, and has helped found the Morehead Old-Time Music Festival and the Lexington Old-Time Gathering. His first solo release was the 2008 June Appal recording Cold Icy Mountain. Gone Boy, his second solo project was released in November 2017.



Scholarships 2018 retouched
Reflection from Larah 2018Congratulations to all our 2018 memorial scholarship and teaching assistantship winners!   The scholarships provide full tuition for the 2019 music school and recognize outstanding musicianship, grit and joy in learning old time music.  And we look forward to Arlo and Cheyenne helping teach classes next year!  Finally, check out Larah’s post below- she caputred what’s in all our hearts after a week on Big Cowan.  Thanks so much Larah!


Pictured left to right: 
Ray Slone Teaching Assistantship: Arlo Barnette, age 23, guitarist from Bath Co., Ky.
Rodney Sanders Scholarship: Larah Helayne, age 16, songwriter, Montgomery Co., Ky.
Burt Hatfield Scholarship: Nora Brown, age 12, banjoist and singer from Brooklyn, NY.
Art Stamper Scholarship: Derek Harris, fiddler from Louisville, Ky.
JP Fraley Scholarship: Lily B. Smith, age 13, fiddler from Clay County, Ky.
Charlie Whitaker Apprenticeship:
Mentor – Meghan Bryant  Apprentice – Lily B. Smith
Not shown: 
Paul David Smith Teaching Assistantship: Cheyenne Mize, fiddler from Crestwood, Ky.
Arnold “Cowboy” Martin Scholarship: Ariana Velasquez of Pike County, Ky.

Concert & Dance in Frankfort 4/28/18

webb twinsOur dear friends the Webb Twins will be hosting a benefit for the Cowan Creek Mtn Music School teaching assistant program on Saturday, April 28th at the Church of the Ascension- Episcopal at 311 Washington St. in Frankfort.  The concert with the Webb Twins String Band, Karly Dawn and the Hill Folk, Jeri Katherine Howell and Nat and Cheyenne Mize will start at 5:00 pm and a square dance called by Cowan’s own Erin Stidham will start at 7:00 pm. $5 suggested donation. It should be a big eyed time!  (Besides listeners and dancers a few volunteers to help with concessions and sound are needed. Please let Jim Webb know if you are able to help at facebook address below).  For more details and directions:

Greetings from Carol Ison



Dear Cowan Creek Mountain Music School Friends,

“Ain’t it Funny How Time Slips Away”?  Those words from Willie Nelson’s classic hit of 1997 ring in my ears today as I begin this letter.  One year seems to bleed right into another, and here we are in the midst of planning our 17th Annual Cowan Creek Mountain Music School.  It seems we didn’t even get to fully celebrate our 15th year!  Anyhow, the facts are, the 17th Annual CCMMS is on schedule for June 25th– June 29th, 2018.  We are happily anticipating another great week.  How about you?  Are you wintering well and looking forward to another week here on Cowan?

It’s been a hard, but a good year for the Cowan Center.  Financially, we have struggled at times, but in the midst of it all, we have had some great programs and events.  One of our bright spots is that the Center applied for a Levitt Amp Music Series Grant with the city of Whitesburg as our primary partner.  There were 15 cities across the nation that were awarded the grant, and we were one of them.  I hope by now most of you have seen the news.

What this means is that the grant provides for ten concerts to be held in Whitesburg on the Mountain Heritage Village Festival Theater grounds and is free to everyone.  There will be one each Thursday night beginning in May, and each one will feature a well-known and reputable group from a variety of genres.  These groups will be paid with funds from the grant.  The city and county are very enthusiastic about this, and of course Cowan Community Center is elated because we submitted the winning proposal.  I share this with all of you because it may be that during the week you are here for the school, perhaps you may somehow be involved with it.

Not only during the week you are here, but you may be part of a group that can be considered for one of the ten concerts.  Just a bit of information for you to be considering.

As always, we are looking at any and all ways to make our school retain its quality and even surpass what we have offered previously.  Not sure yet what that means in terms of offerings, but we know that is one of our commitments to ourselves, to not rest on our laurels and think we can’t improve.  So, if you have suggestions you would like to make up front, please feel free to make those known.  Send your ideas to me, Kevin Howard, Stacy Dollarhide, or Beverly May, who continues to have a strong presence in the planning of the event.

One personal interest I have concerning this year’s school is a five year old great granddaughter who received a new fiddle for Christmas.  She asked Granny Carol last year at the end of the school to get her one for Christmas.  Of course I did, but my granddaughter is disappointed because she cannot yet play even one little song.  I know there is one song she definitely has to learn because my granddaughter’s name is Eliza Jane.  What can you expectfrom a child with that name and an interest in a fiddle?  Maybe some of you very gifted and talented instructors can squeeze in a few minutes to fan Eliza’s interest and launch her into a musical heritage.

That’s about it from me now, but rest assured all of us here at Cowan including Kevin Howard, Artistic Director, Stacy Dollarhide, Program Coordinator, Nell Fields, Chairman of our Board, Beverly May, one of the Founders of the School, Valerie Horn, Coordinator of Grow Appalachia, myself, Carol Ison, Director of the Cowan Community Center, and all of the folks who help make the school work are looking forward to another good year.  We hope you are as well, and we will look forward to greeting you and extending our Cowan hospitality to you as we have now for 16 years.

My Very Best to You,

Carol Ison, Director
Cowan Community Center