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!

Position Available at Cowan Creek Mountain Music School (FILLED)

The Cowan Community Action Group, Inc. (CCAG, Inc.) is looking for someone to fill the position of Program Coordinator for the Mountain Music School, an annual, week-long workshop in June that focuses on eastern Kentucky traditional musical heritage.

The Program Coordinator is responsible for working with the Artistic Coordinator on all logistic details concerning the Mountain Music School, with support from Cowan Community Action Group, Inc. and volunteers. The position is contracted for $2,000 or as negotiated with CCAG, Inc. To apply, contact Randy Wilson at rwilson@hindmansettlement.org or (606) 594-9360. Applications are due by December 5, 2015.

Update: This position has been filled.

Charlie Whitaker Memorial Apprenticeship 2015-2016

The Cowan Community Action Group, Inc. is pleased to announce the Charlie Whitaker Memorial Apprenticeship for 2015-2016 has been awarded to Kelsey Estep of Keaton, Kentucky.  Her apprenticeship with Sarah Wood will focus on the mountain tradition of unaccompanied ballad singing.

Kelsey is a senior at Johnson Central High School and the daughter of Beverly and Orville Paul Estep. She began studying old time fiddle with Jamie Wells at age 8 and has been a student at the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School for the past 6 years. At CCMMS 2015 Kelsey served as a teaching assistant.  The Charlie Whitaker Memorial Apprenticeship will support an intensive year of learning, performing and teaching.  “I hope through this I can inspire other kids my age to explore the old time music culture” Estep says.



Charlie Whitaker Memorial Apprentice Kelsey Estep will focus on unaccompanied ballad singing with her mentor, Sarah Wood.

Charlie Whitaker Memorial Apprentice Kelsey Estep will focus on unaccompanied ballad singing with her mentor, Sarah Wood.

Announcing the First Charlie Whitaker Memorial Apprenticeship!

Congratulations on a job well done to Meghan Bryant, CCMMS’s first Charlie Whitaker Memorial apprentice, and her mentor, Jesse Wells!  Meghan is from Floyd County and is a sophomore in high school. She first learned fiddle from Jesse’s father, Jamie, and has been a “regular”  at the music school each year along with her sister, who plays banjo.  In 2015, Meghan also served as a teaching assistant for the first time. We appreciate her and Jesse generously passing on the music. 

From Meghan:

I think the Charlie Whitaker Memorial Apprenticeship is a wonderful opportunity for anyone interested in learning more on their instrument. I’m so thankful to Cowan Creek Mountain Music School for being so generous in giving this apprenticeship and making it possible for someone to study music from a master and learn how to carry on the old time music tradition.

I have learned so many things in this year from Jesse. I’ve learned fiddle tunes from Doc Roberts, Kenny Baker, Buddy Thomas, George Lee Hawkins, John Morgan Salyer, and many other great fiddlers. I’ve also learned a lot about other styles, like fiddling in bluegrass, fiddling in country music, playing fiddle in a band, and some music theory. I think this apprenticeship has helped me grow not only as an old time fiddler, but all around as a musician.

I would definitely encourage anyone interested in learning and preserving old time mountain music to attend Cowan Creek Mountain Music School and apply for this apprenticeship. Cowan Creek is a wonderful program and I’ve honestly never been anywhere with such a great atmosphere and so many helpful, encouraging people. It’s definitely one of my favorite weeks of the year. ~Meghan Bryant, Charlie Whitaker Memorial Apprentice

Letter from the Center Director, Mrs. Carol Ison

February 24, 2015

Hello to all 2015 CCMMS Students and Faculty,

I hope our former and future students of the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School are warm and safe wherever they are.   Here on Cowan we are still snowed in.   You can hardly believe that what the Center looks like now is what you see during your time here in June. This year the date of the music school is June 22-June 26.

I wrote this letter earlier in the month, in fact the day after Ground Hog Day. I even kind of complained because we hadn’t had enough snow at that time to cover everything up and hide some of our unsightly sites that are so depressing in the winter.   Please God forgive me for that, because we have now been covered for almost two solid weeks. It’s been beautiful for those of us fortunate enough to stay inside, but bless those people who had to go out and face the elements every day.

So, while we await the arrival of spring, we also are gearing up to present another year of the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School. Whether you are considering coming to Cowan for the first year, or whether this makes your (14th) year, we are looking forward to seeing you again or meeting you for the first time. We think each year that it will be the best school we have ever had, and that’s our attitude again this year. As we do our planning, we are thinking, what can we do to top last year’s offerings?

Well, this year we will be bringing back many of our regular faculty plus some newcomers. One of those newcomers is Robert (Bob) Martin who will be doing “Story-Telling”. Cowan Community Center is leading an effort in Letcher County to establish a Community Theater, and story-telling is going to be a major part of the performances we hope to offer. Story-telling classes will also be one of the offerings we will be having during the entire week of our music school. You will learn more about Bob and the other newcomers in the brochure that will be available within the coming weeks.

In 2014, Bob directed a production for the Cowan Community Center entitled the “Homecoming” which we hope to revise and present one evening during the week of this year’s music school. We think this will add a new element of interest to the week, which we think has always held some very special moments. Remember our great opera performance last summer?

Our Artisitic Director, Anna Roberts- Gevault is working to find the most talented and gifted artists possible to serve as the Visiting Masters, faculty members, and special guests for the week. Our CCMMS Program Coordinator is busy getting ready to assist you with your registrations, getting the brochures ready to go out, and making sure that all the necessary ground work is done to make this week run smoothly.

So, we hope you are having a great winter where ever you are, getting some rest hopefully, making plans for your summer travels, and we certainly hope you will include a trip back to Cowan for the Annual CCMMS as part of your agenda. If you have any questions, suggestions, or comments, please feel free to leave us a message on our website, or give us a call. We would love to hear from you.

Until I see you in June, stay warm, stay safe, and stay engaged in good traditional mountain music and come to Cowan and share it with us.

My very best to all of you,

Carol A. Ison

Carol Ison, Director

Cowan Community Center

81 Sturgill Branch

Whitesburg, KY 41858

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



Brand new coat of paint!

Here we are, with a new website!

Lookin’ forward to the 2013 Cowan School!

Excited that Ginny Hawker & Tracy Schwarz, The Clodhoppers & Roger Cooper will be our guest master artists!

On staff: Bruce Greene & Don Pedi, Carla Gover, John Harrod, John Haywood, Karly Dawn Higins & Sarah Wood, Ron Howard, Sarah Howard Montgomery, Rich Kirby, Jimmy McCown,  Don Rogers, Erin Stidham, Betty Vornbrock, Amanda Wells, Jamie Wells & Jesse Wells,  Randy Wilson!

More updates–

Registration will be up by the end of the week!