Charlotte's WBT Briarhoppers just might be the longest-running stringband on the planet. Born in the heyday of live-music radio, they will bring their newest incarnation to the Great Aunt Stella Center, 926 Elizabeth Avenue, for the June 10th Gathering of the Charlotte Folk Society. The free concert gets underway at 7:30 PM; donations appreciated. Doors open at 7 PM.
The Briarhoppers' performance is co-sponsored by the Levine Museum of the New South in conjunction with its updated and recently re-opened Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers Exhibit.
A short refreshment break follows the hour-long concert. Afterwards, join a song circle or a jam session -- slow or fast -- listeners welcomed. The Charlotte Appalachian Dulcimer Club meets after the concert and invites visitors to try out a "loaner" instrument.
Free surface parking is available adjacent to the Stella Center. The arm of the nearby parking deck goes up for the weekend at 7 PM. Visitors who pick up tickets on their way in won't be charged if they leave after 8 PM. Accessible entry and an elevator are available through the ground-level door next to the parking lot.
Back in the 1930s, radio was the hot new media wonderchild. In Charlotte, local Buick dealer C. C. Coddington made WBT ("Watch Buicks Travel") into a regional powerhouse heard throughout the textile mill villages of North and South Carolina.
Tom Warlick, author of the book The WBT Briarhoppers: Eight Decades of a Bluegrass Band Made for Radio, notes that live stringband music was already a staple of WBT programming when:
In 1934, a potential advertiser called WBT's Charles Crutchfield to ask if the station had a hillbilly band to help advertise its products. Telling a fib, Crutch said "Yes," which led to the birth of the WBT Briarhoppers. The name comes from WBT announcer Bill Bivens who, during a hunting trip with Crutch, was startled by a rabbit jumping out of a thicket, and Bill yelled, "Look at that briarhopper!" At that moment, Crutch found the name for his hillbilly band.
The ensemble became a showcase for many of the Carolinas' top performers. Fred Kirby, later a beloved TV kids-show cowboy, served as a Briarhopper. Ace guitarist Arthur Smith, who went on to compose Dueling Banjos, sat in with the band. Whitey and Hogan, recognized by Nashville's Country Music Foundation as country's longest-running duo, joined the ensemble in 1941 and continued as Briarhoppers til their deaths in the 2000s. Other notable members over the years included Fiddlin' Hank Warren, banjo players Shannon Grayson and David Deese, and cowboy singers Don White and Claude Casey. In 2003 the Briarhoppers were honored at the Governor's Mansion with a North Carolina Folk Heritage Award.
Today's edition of the band features the smooth, nimble fiddling of Grammy-nominated Dwight Moody, member since 1993. His career stretches back to the 1940s, including stints with bluegrass legend Clyde Moody, Opry star Roy Acuff, and country great Red Foley. His association with the Briarhoppers started in the WW II era when he played in a Raleigh offshoot of the group led by Homer "Briarhopper" Drye. Dwight later produced a string of Briarhopper LPs on his Lamon Records label starting in the 1970s.
Fiddlin' Dwight is joined by music historian Tom Warlick on bass, who brings a love of early radio. Expect to hear commercials for by-gone products Peruna Tonic, Zymole Trokeys cough drops, and Radio Girl perfume. Warlick is also keeper of the website http://wbtbriarhoppers.blogspot.com/, a trove of information on early Charlotte-area country music. Grammy-nominated Trent Moody performs on guitar. As a member of The Moody Brothers, he played many times on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.
Charlotte Folk Society Gatherings are made possible, in part, with funding from the Arts & Science Council and the North Carolina Arts Council, an agency of the Department of Cultural Resources, and the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art.