From the stage of A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor said of Big Medicine, “That’s how string band music is supposed to sound… absolutely effortless. They’re just a great band – I love this band.” Big Medicine, the band that was featured on NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion when the show came to Durham last spring, performs a free concert at the NC Museum of History on Sunday, March 14. This band plays string band music of the rural South: old-time melodies and mountain harmonies, ancient ballads and archaic fiddle tunes, heart songs, hollers, hymns, and a touch of early bluegrass—music of remarkable power, nuance and timeless appeal.
Members of the band are some of the most highly-regarded performers on the traditional music scene today, so it is no wonder that Big Medicine has been one of the most influential old-time bands in the contemporary American traditional music scene for more than a decade. All four members are veteran multi-instrumentalists and singers who are steeped in the ruggedly beautiful old-time music of the southern Appalachian and Ozark regions.
They have released three critically acclaimed albums and have performed for concerts, dances and festivals across the U.S. and overseas. The band’s instrumental dexterity, powerful singing and authenticity combined with a lively creativity in their interpretation of traditional music have won them fans and critical praise nationwide as well as overseas. Music critics and reviewers describe Big Medicine’s blend of fiddle tunes, ballads, heart songs, hymns, and early bluegrass as “joyful,” “impressive,” “spirited,” and “powerful.”
Jim Collier has been playing old-time and bluegrass music since his high school days in Raleigh, N.C. Influenced early on by Appalachian musicians such as Roscoe Holcomb and Gaither Carlton, he carries a rich tradition of tunes and songs, ranging from hard-driving to sensitive and mournful. Collier is a superb rhythm guitar player and mandolinist, a knock-down banjo player, fiddler, and a great singer. Along with LaNelle Davis and Joe Newberry, he was also member of the Tarheel Hotshots, one of the finest North Carolina old-time bands of the 1990s. Collier still lives in Raleigh. He also performs with the Rye Mountain Boys, a classic-style bluegrass band based in Raleigh.
Bobb Head lays down the bass line and shares vocal harmony duties with Big Medicine, and every now and then he is induced to produce some fine banjo or guitar picking. When he’s not playing with Big Medicine, you can see him with the Stillhouse Bottom Band; Dueling Shoes, a percussive dance ensemble; and the Deep Phat Friars, an irreverent southern-fried contra band. He has also performed with a number of pickup bands. Before moving to North Carolina, he played with the Privy Tippers in Tucson and, before that, with the Self-Righteous Brothers in Houston.
Kenny Jackson is one of the premier old-time fiddlers of his generation, a player of uncommon subtlety and individuality, and he’s a compelling singer, guitarist, and banjo player as well. Distinctive in his interpretation of traditional music while being deeply rooted in old-time sources from southern Appalachia, Jackson has been a part of one outstanding string band after another. He toured during the mid-80s with Leftwich, Higginbotham, and Jackson, co-founded The Rhythm Rats in 1988, and Big Medicine in 1999. He is also a sought-after fiddle teacher, working with individual students in person and online, and at traditional music camps across the country.
Joe Newberry is a Missouri native and North Carolina transplant who has played music most of his life. Best known for his powerful and innovative banjo playing, he is a prizewinning guitarist, fiddler, and singer as well. In addition, Newberry’s gift for songwriting shows up in regular contributions to Big Medicine’s repertoire, as well as showing up in the bluegrass hit parade through covers of his songs by popular performers. Newberry also can be found making music with Red Clay Rambler founders Bill Hicks, Mike Craver, and Jim Watson. When he’s not working as a writer and editor, he does solo and studio work, and he teaches and performs at festivals at home and abroad.
The concert begins at 3 p.m. in the NC Museum of History’s Daniels Auditorium. It is free and open to the public, and program notes will be provided.
Visit www.pinecone.org for complete details and to see the full Music of the Carolinas schedule.