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


Letter from the Center Director, Mrs. Carol Ison

March 1, 2016

To:  Cowan Creek Mountain Music School Participants

Re:  Summer of 2016

Dear Friends,

It’s hard to believe that it’s been fifteen years since the idea of starting a music school at the Cowan Community Center actually took place.  Thanks to Beverly May for bringing the idea all the way back from Ireland and wanting to find a place to duplicate the idea in Kentucky. Luckily, she was willing to bring the idea back to Cowan, and with her experiences, our collaboration with Appalshop and the help of some really fine folk… well, as the saying goes, “the rest is history.”  And what a history it has been!

This year, as we celebrate fifteen years of the school, we are determined that it will be the biggest and best ever.  Don’t we say that every year?   Of course, that can’t happen unless you, the students, the faculty, the parents and grandparents, and everyone who has cheered us on through the years are back with us.

I am just writing to extend my invitation to all of you to be sure and plan to be with us this summer.  We are excited that we have two new staff positions this year in the form of a new Artistic Director, Kevin Howard, and a new Program Director, John Goad.  In terms of replacements, Kevin is replacing Anna Roberts-Gevalt, and John is replacing Stacy Dollarhide.

Yes, that is quite a change, and we want to say that we extend heart-felt thanks to both Anna and Stacy for the endless hours they gave to making CCMMS the success that it is today.  In particular, I want to say thanks to Stacy, who has been the “rock” of the school since its beginning fifteen years ago.  For many years she has carried the bulk of the responsibilities on her own, and for that we are grateful.  She has just determined that at this stage of her life, she needs to relinquish this position to someone else.  You will find that when you communicate with the center for registration or other matters, her replacement, John Goad, will be very effective.

We also know that Anna brought the school forward during her term as the Faculty Director, now called the Artistic Director.  We are very grateful for what she brought to the school, but she will be with us yet again as this year’s Beginning Fiddle Instructor, so you will still be able to interact with her.  Kevin Howard, her replacement, is a local artist and fine young man who is already taking responsibility for shaping this year’s school into a wonderful experience for all of you.

Nell Fields and I are still on the scene, and we’re both looking forward to seeing and greeting all of you this summer.  We have a long way to go in terms of getting everything ready, but we are well into the process.  I hope you are making your plans to be a part of the 15th year of the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School.  Please feel free to get in contact with me, John Goad, or Kevin Howard if you have any questions or comments.

My best to all of you,

Carol Ison, Director
Cowan Community Center
Telephone:  606-633-9831 or 606-634-3683
E-mail:  cison@tvscable.com

Announcing our new Artistic Director!

The folks on Cowan Creek are very excited to introduce Cowan Creek Mountain Music School’s new Artistic Director, Kevin Howard! Kevin is a prominent local musician and recording artist with June Appal Records in Whitesburg, KY. We look forward to the talent, know-how and vision Kevin is bringing and will continue to bring to the school and its students. Here’s a few words from the Director himself:

“It’s my honor and privilege to be this years artistic director of the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School. We plan to make this year as great as years past and continue on our tradition of passing on the mountain music of Eastern Kentucky to a new group of people.” -Kevin Howard, CCMMS Artistic Director

Please join us in welcoming Kevin Howard to the CCMMS family!