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

Upcoming FUNdraising Events

You are invited to a little bit of the Cowan Music School near you!  Three sets of our down-state friends are hosting these great events to raise money for our teaching assistantship program. Come out and dance, jam, catch up with your music school friends, and help us give lots of talented young people the chance to learn to teach old time music.  If you have friends or family who haven’t yet come to the school, this is a perfect opportunity to show them how much fun they’re missing!

MOREHEAD Friday, April 21st  6:30 to 10:00 pm Rowan County Arts Center, Main Street:   Silent auction, mini-concert, jamming, cakewalk and square dance. $5/person, $10 family.  For more information contact: Karly Dawn Milner karlydawn@gmail.com

FRANKFORT  Saturday, April 29th  7:00 pm to 10:00 pm  Church of the Ascension, 331 Washington St. : Square dance, cake walk, soup beans & hot dogs, and silent art auction. $5/person. For more information contact Jim Webb: (502) 330-6688 or jimwebb1971@gmail.com

LOUISVILLE Tuesday, May 9th   6:00 pm to 8:00 pm  Kaiju Bar, 1004 East Oak St.:  Square dance at 6:00 pm, two-stepping to country classics at 7:00 pm with music by the Kentucky Round Ups featuring fiddler John Harrod. For more information: Liger428@aol.com

Welcome from Carol Ison 2017


January 30, 2017

Dear Cowan Creek Mountain Music School Friends,

My goodness how fast a year does go!  Last year we celebrated 15 years of successful Cowan Creek Mountain Music Schools, and now we are eagerly looking forward to beginning another 15.  Even though the ground is snow covered today, I can easily visualize the grounds in June at the Cowan Center filled with all of the beautiful sounds of the varied musical instruments, harmonizing voices, the excited children’s voices in Kids on the Creek, and everything else that makes the CCMMS so very special.

From my perspective, having been a part of the school since its inception, each year I become more appreciative of what we really have right here in this little rural community of Cowan.  Growing up here on Cowan as a child, we were lucky just to have a three room school where the Cowan Center now stands, and during the summer absolutely nothing happened there.  So, when I experience the music school each summer and the anticipation and excitement of the preparations, it amazes me that something this noteworthy has formed roots right here in my own little piece of the world.  Looking at the website this morning , reading the descriptions of all the wonderful classes the school offers, and the amazing bios of the folks who are involved with the school make me so proud to be a part of it. I am so thankful that I was blessed to remain here on Cowan and be a part of the development of something so remarkable.

But that’s enough of bragging on my part.  You probably want to know if anything is going to be different this year.  Well, one thing is still the same:   it’s going to be the best year we have ever had.  We don’t know yet exactly what we will do that will make that distinction, but we promise you that we get better every year.  When you read the description of some of the Visiting Masters, maybe that is what will make the difference. Or maybe it will be that Angie DeBord is reconnecting with us in Story-Telling. Or perhaps it is the fact that Stacy Dollarhide is returning as the Program Coordinator.

Whatever it takes to make it a great year, that’s what we here at Cowan Community Center want to commit to doing.  We just want all of you who are returning, or those who are coming for the first time as students or faculty, or teaching assistant, or work study participants, to come with the idea that you are coming home for a week.  Leave the cares of this turbulent world behind and come to Cowan where you can become a part of family and of community.  Let’s all look forward to a week of renewing acquaintances, making new ones, enjoying a pace of life that still lets you sit on the front porch with neighbors and wave at the cars going by.   If you find while here that you just need a ‘time out’  I have a nice front porch just two houses below the Cowan Center, and I offer you a rocking chair or a front porch swing.  Stacy Dollarhide says she makes you the same offer.

So, with that said, what else do you need to make your plans to come to the 16th Annual Cowan Creek Mountain Music School during the week of June 19-23, 2017?  Brochures will be sent out soon, and if you have any questions feel free to call Carol Ison, Center Director, Stacy Dollarhide, Program Coordinator, or Kevin Howard, Artistic Director.

Until we see you in June, please stay warm, safe, and comfortable.  Enjoy good music when the opportunity allows you to, and please come and share your music with us on Cowan during the week of June 19-23.

My very best to all of you,

Carol Ison, Director

Cowan Community Center

81 Sturgill Branch

Whitesburg, KY  41858

Telephone:  (606) 633-9831 or (606) 634-3683


We would like to congratulate the 2016 winners of memorial scholarships and teaching assisantships.  We’ll look forward to seeing you at the CCMMS 2017!

Art Stamper Scholarship Olivia Robinson, fiddle, Kings Creek, Ky
Burt Hatfield Scholarship Joey Webb, guitar & vocals, from Frankfort, Ky
Rodney Sanders Scholarship Curt Kilgore, banjo, from Neon, Ky
Teddy “Cowboy” Martin Scholarship Allie Slone, from Hindman, Ky
Paul Smith Teaching Assistantship Ella Webster, fiddle, Lexington Ky
Ray Slone Teaching Assistantship Maya Burke, banjo
Paul Adams Teaching Assistantship Heather Somers, banjo & guitar,  Louisville, Ky