For this special Farm and Fun Time® episode, live from the Center for Cultural Vibrancy Stage in the Virginia Folklife Area of the 2023 Richmond Folk Festival, two Bristol duos join Bill and the Belles: Bluegrass sweethearts Linda and David Lay and traditional mountain ballad singer Elizabeth LaPrelle and her student in our Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program, Elsa Howell.

In the 1940s and the 1950s, Farm and Fun Time® was a critically important radio program in Southwest Virginia and the surrounding region that helped to establish the careers of numerous legendary performers including Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers, the Osborne Brothers, Mac Wiseman, The Blue Sky Boys, and many more. Musicians both famous and barely known traveled from far and wide for their chance to perform live at the studios of WCYB in Bristol on Farm and Fun Time®, airing every weekday morning, mixing farm and weather reports with “hillbilly music” for rural listeners across Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and West Virginia. 

Bill and the Belles

This much beloved show has been revived and reimagined on Radio Bristol out of the Smithsonian-affiliated Birthplace of Country Music Museum in downtown Bristol. Now airing both on the radio and public television, Farm and Fun Time® is produced and hosted by Kris Truelsen and his talented group Bill and the Belles, evoking the golden era of country radio with musical breaks, creative jingles, and traditional and original songs. The program also features various segments highlighting Appalachian culture including farm visits, heirloom recipes, and folklife traditions. Every show features well known nationally touring Americana and American roots artists and is a celebration of what live radio and television once represented and still can. Airing in more than 20 million homes in the south, you can tune in to Farm and Fun Time® on various PBS stations. Lately the group has occasionally taken their show on the road, and we can’t be more thrilled that they’re going to air from the 2023 Richmond Folk Festival!

As always, the show will be hosted by the creative Virginia-based roots band Bill and the Belles. Joining Kris in the band is Kalia Yeagle on fiddle and vocals, Aidan Vansuetendael on banjo and vocals, and Andrew Small on bass.

Linda and David Lay

Linda Lay grew up in Clayman Valley, a tiny community named after her family outside of Bristol, Tennessee, surrounded by music in a family that treasured tunes, from old-time and bluegrass to gospel and traditional country. Her father, mandolinist Jack Clayman, formed a family band with Linda and her brothers and sisters, taking them to the places where the local musicians gathered, jammed, and performed. One of those places was the Carter Family Fold, a barn-like performing place, at the Carter home place at Hiltons in Scott County, a few miles west of Clayman Valley. Here she got to know Jeanette and Joe Carter, son and daughter of A.P. and Sara Carter of the original Carter Family. The Fold was one of the very first places where Linda performed, and it was there that she met scores of fine musicians almost every week. As a child, Linda made her mark as a flatfoot dancer, but her father soon had her performing on guitar, and she later learned bass from the local fiddling barber, Gene Boyd. She also took up and mastered the autoharp.

Linda later founded and led Appalachian Trail, an innovative bluegrass band that performed for more than 20 years. In Appalachian Trail, Linda truly found her voice, becoming not just the band’s lead singer but one of the most beloved singers in bluegrass. During her years touring with Appalachian Trail, she met the gifted guitar player and singer—and her future husband—David Lay. David encouraged Linda to venture out to tour with other musicians, and today whenever she plays he is always beside her, including performances at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., the Lowell Folk Festival, the Smithsonian Folk Festival, and many other prestigious venues.

Elizabeth LaPrelle

Portrait of a woman with mountains and a green field in the background
Elizabeth LaPrelle, March 2023. Photo by Pat Jarrett/Virginia Humanities

Elizabeth LaPrelle is a scholar and singer of Appalachian Ballads from Rural Retreat, Virginia. Having grown up in a musical home, learning songs and harmonies from her mother, Sandy, Elizabeth built her style and repertoire from mentors like Ginny Hawker and Sheila Kay Adams, research into archival recordings, and friends in the local old-time music scene. She and her family recorded three albums of traditional music together.

As a student at the College of William and Mary, Elizabeth majored in Southern Appalachian Traditional Performance. After graduation, she toured and recorded extensively in the duo Anna & Elizabeth, which combined traditional music with experimental theater techniques and helped re-popularize “crankies,” an art form that uses a scroll to tell stories. Elizabeth is also part of the folk quartet Doran. She travels in the US regularly, sometimes still with her family, performing and teaching voice and banjo. She lives and plays music with her husband, Brian Dolphin, and their young son.

In 2022–2023, Elizabeth apprenticed Elsa Howell in Appalachian ballad singing through our Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program.

Elsa Howell

Elsa Howell, March 2023. Photo by Pat Jarrett/Virginia Humanities

Elsa Howell (they/she) is a writer and musician from Roanoke who recently completed their BA in English Literature at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. Elsa grew up surrounded by music and began singing at a young age, winning ribbons in the youth folk song competition at the Mount Airy Bluegrass & Old-Time Fiddlers Convention and other regional festivals. In their essay “Home is the Sound of Rivers and Crooked Roads,” Elsa writes: “My dad brought me into the world of old-time music. He taught me everything I know about guitar and he never ceased to encourage me. He has always been my biggest fan, from practice sessions in the living room to accompanying me on stage.”

At age 8, Elsa met the ballad singer Elizebeth LaPrelle at a school performance. For Elsa, Appalachian ballad singing combines two loves: poetry and music. In 2022–2023, Elsa apprenticed with Elizabeth in the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program, honing her singing skills and learning a repertoire of traditional Appalachian ballads.

Practiced with reverence for the women singers and teachers before and beside them, the tradition is also a feminist practice for Elsa. “I am grateful for the way that Elizabeth holds those values while teaching,” Elsa shared. “If there is a way that I can further the understanding and the power of women in history and bring that into the present, then I am doing my job as a feminist and as a kid who’s trying to find my place.”