A Message from Cowan Creek

Hello to all of you from the Cowan Creek,

The 11th annual mountain music school was a wonderful week of friends, family, music, food, and great fellowship.  A total of 118 students, 30 here for the very first time.  We must be doing something right!!!  A great “THANK YOU” to all the faculty, staff, and community volunteers for creating another victory all in the name of old time mountain music!!! 

Along with “old-time” mountain music, song, and dance comes the food and fellowship of our mountain culture.  Through the Grow Appalachia project, folks dined on locally grown and prepared cuisine for their Wednesday night supper.  Fresh produce and fruit were provided daily during the lunch served to our wonderful participants.  Young and old dined on watermelon, cantalope, peaches along with their meals.  Lunch time is a great time to fellowship with friends, neighbors, especially with the talented musicians we have on staff.

Old and young gather each day to partake in banjo, fiddle, guitar, singing, and string band classes either to learn for themselves or to learn how to play together.  Music drifts down the hallways of the Cowan Elementary School as well as being carried along on the wind during the afternoons and early evening from the Cowan Community Center.  Young children play around and about the music creating fairy houses and using whatever imagination for play.  Hopefully we will see some of you next year, mark your calendars, June 24th thru June 28th, for the 12th annual Cowan Creek Mountain Music School.

Cowan Creek Mountain Music School June 25-29, 2012

 The 11th annual Cowan Creek Mountain Music School, June 25 – 29, 2012 will bring together some of this country’s finest old time musicians along with students of all levels, for a week of learning and fun.  The school will offer courses in banjo (four levels) fiddle (four levels), beginning and lead guitar, harmony singing, old time stringband and Kids on the Creek, an arts and music class for kids ages 5 to 10 led by Erin Stidham and Amanda Wells.

 Faculty will include fiddlers Jamie Wells, Betty Vornbrock, Jimmy McCown, Sarah Howard Montgomery, Anna RobertsGevalt and new this year, Nikos Pappas and Erynn Marshall.  Banjo faculty include John Haywood, Jesse Wells, Scott Prouty and Randy Wilson.  Singing duo Karly Dawn Higgins and Sarah Wood will teach string band and Carla Gover will teach harmony singing. Don Rogers and Ron Howard will teach guitar.  Two optional afternoon classes are available:  dulcimer led by Cari Norris and square dance calling led by Julie Shepherd Powell.  

Students will enjoy in-class visits and afternoon performances by masters of traditional music Lee Sexton, Lewis & Donna Lamb and Jackie Helton.  In the afternoon, students can join in jam sessions for all levels or a singers’ circle.  Later in the afternoon there is a choice of workshops including the songs of Addie Graham led by Rich Kirby, Knott County banjo styles led by George Gibson, clogging, storytelling and more.  Each evening faculty and students gather for a square dance or faculty concert.  

         The school is held at the Cowan Elementary School and the Cowan Community Center near Whitesburg in Letcher County, Kentucky.  Instrument classes are open to kids age 11 and older and adults.  Tuition is $175 for Kentucky residents and $225 for out-of-state students. Registrations are due by May 31st.  For a complete schedule and registration information see the website www.cowancreekmusic.org or request a brochure by e-mailing cowancreekmusic@tvscable.com or calling (606) 633-3187.

 The Cowan Creek Mountain Music School is produced by the Cowan Community Action Group, Inc. with support from Appalshop, the Letcher County Board of Education and The Letcher County Tourism Council.  


Message from Tyler May

Christmas used to be the time of the year I looked forward to most–that is until my family and I went to Cowan Mountain Music School 2006. Now I’m always anticipating the final week of June so I can meet up with Appalachia music mentors, teachers, and heroes; jam until daylight; meet old buddies and make new pals; dance the Virginia Reel until the fiddlers are out of steam; and learn a cool modal tuning for the banjo…oh yeah, and eat! It’s the place where I first learned how to play clawhammer banjo, and it’s a home that I come back to every year.

2011 “10th Anniversary” CCMMS Scholarship Winners

Art Stamper Scholarship: Maggie Collum, 14 year old daugher of Danny and Polly Collum from Waddy, Kentucky.  She was a student in the Advanced Fiddle Class taught by John Harrod.

Burt Hatfield Scholarship: Emily Bryant, 8 year old daugher of Randy and Jill Bryan from Martin, Kentucky.  She was a student in the Early Intermediate Banjo Class taught by Cari Norris.

Rodney Sanders Scholarship:  Lisa Marshall, wife of Craig Marshall and mother of Tyler, Emily, and Hannah . She was a student in the Early Intermediate Fiddle class. Lisa and her family reside in Burdine, Kentucky.  She and her family make up the Marshall-Berry Band.

Ray Slone Scholarship:  Stephanie Long,  daughter of Seth and Cheryl Long of Crafts’ Colley, Ermine, Kentucky. She was a student of the Early Intermediate Fiddle class.

Congratulations to these scholarship winners!!

Cowan Creek Mountain Music School Celebrating 10th year!!!

As the whispering wind blows through the grounds of the Cowan Community Center, you can hear the faint beckoning of mountain music calling you!!!  Although spring hasn’t sprung, visions and dreams of early summer with mountain music, dance, and storytelling is echoing through the mountains, hills, and valleys around us.  Those of you who enjoy family,  backporch pickin’, ol’ timey stories,  and the smell of country cookin’ should be making plans to come to Cowan Creek during the last full week of June. 

June 20th thru 24th, we will be hosting our 10th annual mountain music school.  Don’t let the word “school” scare you and make you feel sick to your stomach.  Groups of people, all ages, coming together to learn how to play the old time mountain music, as we say, the precursor to the music today, fiddle, banjo, guitar.  Tuition for those living in this great state of Kentucky is $150.00 and $200.00 for out of state participants.  Five very full days at $30 to $40 dollars a day, lunch is included and a potluck on Friday evening.  Can’t beat that price at Krogers’!

Come on over and visit!!! We’ll be looking for ya!!!

2010 CCMMS Scholarship Winners

Art Stamper Scholarship: Erin Meyer, daugher of Dawn from Warsaw, Kentucky.  She was a student in the Early Intermediate Fiddle Class taught by Michael Garvin.  This was her first year at Cowan Creek.

Burt Hatfield Scholarship: Emily Berry, daugher of Lisa and Craig Marshall, from Burdine, Kentucky.  She was a student in the Beginning Guitar Class taught by Ron Howard. This was her first year at Cowan Creek.

Ray Slone Teaching Assistantship:  Brandon “Farmer” Grigsby, his first year at Cowan Creek Mountain Music School, stepped in and assisted Ron Howard with the Beginning Guitar Class.  He came every day and was a great asset to the music school.

Rodney Sanders Scholarship:  Joseph “Hunter” Holbrook, his first year at Cowan Creek Mountain Music School, was a student in the Early Intermediate Banjo class taught by Ms. Sarah Wood. “Hunter” is the son of Sandy Holbrook and they reside in Jenkins, Kentucky.

Congratulations to these scholarship winners!! Hope to see you next year at Cowan Creek!!!

The 2010 Cowan Creek Mountain Music School: a letter


Dear everyone,

If you were at the 2010 music school this year, you probably know me – I was the college student walking around with a camera pressed up against my eye, the “Official Cowan Creek Photographer.” If you were bothered by my borderline-compulsive need to snap a picture of anything and everything that moved, I offer my sincerest apologies and deepest assurances that I am not a stalker. If you weren’t, then I’m happy to tell you that the pictures have been posted on the website underneath “Photo Gallery” – please look at them; there are an awful lot of photos, and I need them to serve some sort of public-relations purpose to justify how many I took.

To a first-time fiddler and a first-time intern at the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School, however, those five days were about so much more than what I could capture through the lens of a camera. All I can really say was that I was absolutely blown away – by the people, the music, the joy, and the pure energy of all of these elements pulsing through the community that is Cowan Creek. I hail from a Midwest city where a tater is only a tot and a square dance is something you see in movies. The sight of a banjo was a novelty to me, let alone the sound of a whole classroom full of them.

Needless to say, then, Cowan Creek was quite the experience. I played a dulcimer for the first time. I learned that an “old-timer” isn’t just another word for “senior-citizen.” And I found out that mountain folk throw darn good potlucks. Most of all, though, I witnessed the sort of community that grows only when good people get together to play good music. I’m sitting in the Cowan Community Center as I write this, staring out the window into the trees that line the walking path. When you were here – you with your banjos and your guitars and your beat-up fiddles – these trees swam in the sounds of “Bile Them Cabbage Down” and “Chicken Reel.” They formed a canopy above six-year-old musicians and sixty-year-old musicians teaching each other exactly what these old tunes mean. And now, staring at the trees, I can almost hear it: the music that grows in this mountain soil just like Autumn Olive and string beans.

So thank you. Thank you to Stacy Dollarhide, who somehow managed to remain not only sane but also saintly as she poured her energy into organizing this year’s school. Thank you to Rich Kirby, the sound-technician extraordinaire.  Thank you to the faculty who taught me that anyone (even a college-aged, classically-trained violinist from the city) can jam, and most of all, thank you to the students, beginners and masters. You showed me that mountain music isn’t really about the notes so much as it is about the place those notes come from:  the human-to-human connection that is larger than this music, larger than this school, larger than these mountains themselves.  

May you break bow-hairs only on the best of licks and may your banjo go out of tune only when you want it to.


Jocelyn Streid

Cowan Creek Mountain Music School 2010





Cowan Creek Mountain Music School Memorial Scholarships

Art Stamper Scholarship:  for fiddle students

Burt Hatfield Scholarship:  Banjo and/or Guitar students

Charlie Whitaker Scholarship: Square Dance calling students

The above scholarships are awarded to a student based on commitment, excellence, and accomplishment.  Open to students at any level.

Ray Slone Teaching Assistantship: This scholarship is for Fiddle and/or Banjo students.  The students should show maturity, promise, and demonstrate an ability and interest in teaching.

Rodney Sanders Scholarship:  This scholarship is awarded to a student based on a sincere commitment and interest in learning any area of traditional Kentucky music.  This is both a merit and need-based scholarship and is open to students of ALL ages, with an emphasis on youth and senior citizens.

At the beginning of the music school, each instructor receives a nomination form.  Classroom participation and out of class time involvement through “jam” sessions and other opportunities througout the week help form the instructors decision for student nomination.  On Thursday, each faculty gives their nomination for to the designated committee members for that particular school week.  This is usually a committee of three to five faculty members.  On Friday evening before the student recital, the winners are announced. 

Donations are accepted for the Memorial Scholarship fund in any amount. Please make donation payable to: Cowan Community Action Group, Inc., “CCMM Memorial Scholarhip fund”, 81 Sturgill Branch, Whitesburg, Kentucky 41858. List in the memo line the memorial scholarship designation. 

Another Year of Cowan Creek Mountain Music School–2009

Have you ever noticed how fast annual events keep happening so quickly anymore?  Seems like you think about them throughout the year, and suddenly they are here, they happen, and then they are gone!  That’s what it is like for us here at the Cowan Community Center and our work with planning the CCMMS, hosting it, and then sitting back and thinking “Wow, this was the best one ever!”  We are so pleased with this year’s event, and we want to say a great big Cowan “Thank You” to every one who helped to make it what it was.

Stacy Dollarhide did a great job in leading  and coordinating all of the many details that made the week work for everyone.   Her many years of experience in working with the school showed this year as expressed by so many who were impressed with the smooth flow of the entire week.   Thank you, Stacy, for stepping up and assuming the many responsibilities.   Stacy was assisted greatly by Beverly May, a founder of the school, and who has stayed so closely attached to it by her leadership and sharing her great wealth of knowledge about the traditional music and arts of this region.  Special thanks also to John Haywood, who so willingly accepted the responsibility of serving as the faculty coordinator and doing a great job in the process.   

The center was also richly endowed with a very supportive staff consisting of Summer College Interns, Youth participating in the WIA (Work Incentive Act) Program sponsored by LKLP the local Community Action Agency, and of course the usual Cowan Center Staff.  The work of Rich Kirby of  Appalshop is so valuable in coordinating sound for the artists and students performances and showing up where ever he is needed at the right time.   Nell Fields, who for many years has served as one of the school directors, was not with us this year, but was well represented by her son, Isaac Fields.  Isaac is on staff at the center this summer as a supervisor of the WIA Students, and he and the students did a super job in helping with the music school.  Isaac apparently is carrying on his mother’s love and appreciation for the school and what it represents.

How could you conduct a music school without a faculty?  Thanks to everyone of you  instructors and teaching assistants who gave your very best to the students, and who support our work here at the center in so many ways.  You have truly helped shape our program and without your skills and knowledge we would not have the program which has gained so much respect and recognition.  You are to be commended for your excellent storehouse of knowledge of the traditional mountain music and the skill with which you impart the knowledge to the students.  We appreciate every one of you.

Last but not least, thank you to the students who came to our school.  You are the ones upon whom we are depending to learn the music, enjoy it throughout your life time, and in the process pass it on to future generations.  The music, the square dance and dance calling, dulcimer making,  and all of our arts will become lost without you to carry it forward.  If the enthusiasm and  the ability you demonstrated during the Student Recital are indicators of success, then we don’t have to worry about the loss.   Students, whether you came from California, Florida, or right here in Letcher County Kentucky, we appreciate your attendance and sincerely hope you will come back next year.  As a matter of fact, why don’t you go ahead and schedule it in your next year’s planner–Cowan Creek Mountain Music School, June 21-June 25, 2010?