Ahoj from Praha 

           It's been a long week of travels, but we've made it to the Czech Republic! It began last Tuesday when I started out by driving to East Tennessee to meet fellow musician and one of my best friends, Hasee Ciaccio. We took Wednesday to drive to Washington D.C. where we stayed with her family members for a night. On Thursday, we took a train from Union Station to New York City. Luckily, we had the afternoon off and spent some time hunting down delicious Chinese food. After a quick break for dumplins and a selfie in Times Square it was off again on the metro to the Long Island Railroad to JFK International Airport. At 11:00 pm we took off into the air for Oslo in Norway where we arrived early the next morning. Finally, one more quick flight to Prague and we were greeted by our wonderful friends and musical mentors, Lee and Emily Bidgood, and their son Willis.

           I'm so excited to be here for the next two weeks performing and calling square dances. The shows begin on Monday with a square dance in Prague and then we travel out and about the country for a few more performances. The weather has been terrific and I couldn't ask for better friends to share this experience with. I'm so lucky to have Lee as a one time teacher from my college days, but now as a lifelong friend. He's the one I call when I need levelheaded advice on life and one of my favorite fiddlers to play with. You're probably wondering how we all ended up in the Czech together though. Lee is an ethnomusicologist who studies bluegrass and folk music in the Czech Republic. I've included a link to some of his work here in the blog. He's been here off and on for years, but has taken the last year to teach here at the university. When he told us that we only needed to provide a plane ticket over here, we pounced on the opportunity to come.

          Of course, it's always interesting to visit new places, but it is particularly interesting to see how residents in other countries interpret and evaluate your own culture. It can tell us so much about them, but more importantly it can tell us more about ourselves. It becomes clearer how present ourselves to the world. I hope we'll be a good representative for the states and the Appalachian region!

The view from our apartment, looking over the southeastern side of Prague.

What trip ti Prague could be complete without visiting the Charles Bridge?

One of the show posters from the upcoming shows.

           That just about wraps it up for now. The jetlag isn't too bad, but now it's time for some rest, sight-seeing, and eating some good food!

Don't forget to check out Lee's work here:http://www.banjoromantika.com/


Until next time!-Tyler


Show Me the Green-Tourism & St. Patrick's Day 

My life as a musician in Southwest Virginia intersects with so many other industries, organizations, and realms. It was through music that I became interested in cultural tourism. The idea of cultural tourism is nothing new for the Appalachian region, from Cherokee to Dollywood, it's been going on for years. However, when the notion began to capitalize on the distinct features of Southwest Virginia, I began to pay attention. It was and still is important to me that we market an authentic version of ourselves and avoid the Pigeon Forge route filled with hillbilly caricatures and moonshine jugs. As an artist, it's also important that cultural tourism fosters a supportive economy for its biggest asset, the artists, musicians, dancers, and story-tellers. That's why I'm so proud to work with The Crooked Road in Virginia. This tourism initiative markets venues, musicians, camps, and festivals spanning all 19 counties and 4 independent cities in Southwest Virginia. I'm proud to serve as their education committee chair. We're working to strengthen the area's youth musician programs and offer professional development workshops for musicians and venue owners wanting to stake their claim in the creative economy. This weekend we held our first professional development series to offer young musicians tools needed to market themselves as a working artist in the region. We teamed up with local musicians, Barter Theater, and others to to offer workshops in writing bios, marketing online, and booking yourself as a working musician. It was a big success! We also celebrated the rebranding of Heartwood, now known as the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace. I was on hand as a councilman to witness the ribbon cutting and then returned in the afternoon as square dance caller to celebrate all the hard work with some fiddle tunes and dancing. 

                        The weather didn't stop a larger crowd of local community leaders, artists, and residents from enjoying the unveiling of the new signage at the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace.


Ryan  Nickerson, Andrew Barnes, and James Edgar provided lively music for Friday night's square dance!


Couples waltzing across the dance floor on Friday night.


The weekend wrapped up with a quiet St. Patrick's Day in Big Stone Gap. I celebrated as I usually do, playing a few tunes that crossed over the pond with Scots-Irish and Irish settlers into the Appalachian mountains. Enjoy a sample below!


Well, that wraps up another week for me! I'll be writing from a special place next Tuesday, so tune in! As always, thank you for reading this and thanks for your support. -Tyler



A Sweet, Sticky, & Snowy Weekend in Monterey, VA 

The Highland County Maple Festival

March 9, 2019


                       Once again, I've decided to give blogging another go. I've had several through the years and I've never been able to stay dedicated enough to continually update it. This time will be different though. I'm starting what is the first of weekly blog posts to detail my travels, those far away and close to home. Much of my life as a musician living and aiming to stay in Southwest Virginia revolves around community events. These events not only provide me with work at times, but also provide unique perspectives on the lives, celebrations, and trials of those in the communities around me, so I hope to cover those stories too. I wear a several hats in my every day life, from performer, music teacher, dance caller, town councilman, and the occasional real estate agent. Many times I've heard friends remark how so many paths must get tangled. Truthfully, they all seem like one path to me. I've always seen music as the the common thread among all of my work. I'm sure those tales will end up here too.

Above, one of the many vistas visible throughout the area, unfortunately covered by fog.

As for my first post, well, I've just returned home from my first gig of the year that required any extensive travel. I was invited to perform for the Highland County Maple Festival. This two weekend festival has been going on for years around the town of Monterey, Virginia in the mountains west of Staunton, near the West Virginia state line. The tiny town was full of charming and historic structures and according to my host for the weekend, the population typically hovered around 300 people. However, last weekend I'm certain I saw at least 300 people lined up for the famous homemade maple donuts that I had been told about upon arriving in town. Snow was still hanging around the hillsides and the views around Allegheny, Bath, and Highland County were spectacular. There was no shortage of steep gorges, picturesque rivers, and wide open valleys throughout the region. My concert was held inside what appeared to be a refurbished school building turned community arts center. Despite being located in the least populous county in Virginia, I was impressed to learn that community members had access to a variety of both fine and cultural art experiences. The room was filled with friendly faces and I rattled off my usual tunes and songs of late. As always, I tried to convey the deep sense of history, pride, compassion, and beauty found in my home town of Big Stone Gap through my music. I've always believed there to be something magical about our town because no matter where I travel I never fail to find someone who also has a connection to our small corner of the world and wouldn't you know it, but my high English teacher's son-in-law sat in the back of the audience! Graciously, he gave me a box of those famous donuts to keep me from having to wait the hour in the cold with numerous others for a taste of the local delicacy. As usual I got a hot meal at the local fave, a small family style restaurant named High's. No meal at the festival is complete without the essence of maple on something, so I had a maple tart for dessert. Local musicians Alice and Jeff Shumate invited me to their local old time jam on Saturday night at The Curly Maple. The fiddles tunes were the perfect way to wrap up a good day. I stayed the night and meandered back home through Douthat State Park and immediately decided where I'll be spending my vacation this year. It was beautiful and offered numerous opportunities for hiking and camping. I arrived home to yet another spout of unfortunate news in the community. It has been a common theme lately with deaths of local family friends seeming to be on an unusual spike. It is heartbreaking, but as always the enduring spirit of our community and love for each other will pull us through, though that doesn't diminish the pain or tears we will share along the way. It's one of the virtues that makes living in a small town in the mountains of Southwest Virginia worth it. It is funny, I'll be twenty-six in a couple of weeks and I never imagined ten years ago I'd be living in my hometown while simultaneously following my dreams of making a living with a banjo, but here I am and I couldn't be happier.

The Maple Tart was an excellent choice at High's Restaurant in Monterey!


Alice (seated with guitar) and Jeff Shumate (fiddle) were kind enough to invite me to their old time jam on Saturday.

They're excellent musicians and Alice is equally talented with her songwriting.

I made a quick stopover in Douthat State Park. Here is just one of the many gorgeous scenes I came across.


Well, I think that will just about wrap up this first post. I hope you enjoyed it and please share it with your friends if you did. If you're around the Southwest Virginia area this coming weekend then head to Heartwood in Abingdon, VA on Friday evening. I'll be calling an old fashioned square dance there in the evening to celebrate the recent renovations to the visitors center. Until next time!