Published April 26, 2024

The third Legends of Grayson Old-Time Weekend filled Independence, Virginia’s historic 1908 courthouse with music and memories this past weekend. This two-day event honored the beloved Grayson County musicians Jessie Lovell and Evelyn Farmer of Fries and the husband-and-wife duo EC and Orna Ball of Rugby. 

Marianne Kovatch holds a sticker featuring Jessie Lovell and Evelyn Farmer.

Music, like so many traditions, is often taught, learned, and played at home, in the family. Accordingly, the weekend featured a variety of family performers, from the unaccompanied harmonies of the Sheets Family Band of Boone, NC, to Tessa and Chance McCoy of West Virginia, and an open jam led by Emily Spencer and her son Kilby of Whitetop.

Wayne Henderson, legendary luthier and friend of EC (Estil Cortez) Ball, performed with his daughter Jayne and his 3-year old granddaughter—her debut on stage! (Wayne played EC’s guitar; the two became close because his father played in EC’s band.)

This multi-generational commitment to music made the weekend feel special, as did the opportunity to talk about the music and memories. In an early Saturday morning discussion, master fiddler Eddie Bond was joined on stage for a discussion on mentors also featuring Karlie Keepfer (a 2022 Folklife Apprentice), Garrett Wyatt, a talented rising fiddler, and Tessa McCoy.

Susan Gleason and Jina Gillis-Rosencrans were joined by Eddie and Bonnie Bond onstage.

Tessa reflected that she learned from the last generation who did not learn how to play on the internet, rather they learned from people in their community. 

“I think about the person who taught me when I play a song,” Eddie shared. “It is precious. I’m not sure if that translates to YouTube.” Karlie Keepfer explained she taught herself ukulele on YouTube, saying “And I think of YouTube when I play!”

Both Jessie Lovell and Evelyn Farmer are fondly remembered by many for their willingness to share what they knew, and to sing and play with friends, on stage and off. Virginia Folklife supported the Legends of Grayson festival by producing a 10-minute film of Jessie and Evelyn, drawn from several hours of previously unreleased footage recorded by former state folklorist Garry Barrow at Evelyn’s home in Fries in 1990 and 1991. 

The Virginia Folklife Program recorded musicians and song collectors Evelyn Farmer and Jessie Lovell at Evelyn’s Fries home in 1990 and 1991. Produced in 2024 from previously unreleased footage.

Jessie was Evelyn’s nephew, and with her encouragement, he became the best supporting guitar player in the region, accompanying her for some four decades. He “never knew a stranger,” according to his daughter Terrie Cochran, who shared the story of the time Jesse accidentally invited the whole festival grounds over for dinner. 

Evelyn began singing at fiddlers conventions in the 1970s, playing both guitar and autoharp. She quickly became a fierce competitor; Susan Gleason, who performed at Legends, remembers Evelyn boiling down her advice for competitions into three words: “Go for blood!” 

Tammy Coleman Lambert, Evelyn’s granddaughter, shared memories illustrating Evelyn’s love of music (“Not everyone can say their grandmother performed for Hell’s Angels!”). Dale Morris, emcee and contest judge, remembered Evelyn’s habit of bringing green beans and potatoes to the Fries Fiddlers Convention, making sure anybody who stopped by was fed in style. 

Evelyn Farmer and Jessie Lovell play “Caty Sage,” a folk song with roots in Grayson County, during a recording session with the Virginia Folklife Program at Evelyn’s Fries home in 1991.

In the coming years, Virginia Folklife will be fundraising to rebuild its archives of materials recorded in communities around Virginia since its founding in 1989. As this multi-year effort kicks off, staff are seeking opportunities to share materials with the families, communities, and institutions represented in its archives. The Legends of Grayson festival provided a perfect opportunity to return this short film, and the raw footage, to the Lovell and Farmer families. 

“Words cannot express how appreciative I am for the video,” Tammy said. “I felt like she was back with me, if only for a little while. Not only was it about her music, but it showed a lot of her personality and compassion for others.” 

Terrie added: “This was amazing and has such a special place in my heart—not only for me, but for my children and older grandchildren who knew my dad, and to help the little ones know him as we did. His music, his talent, and the sweet, kind person he was. This will always hold a special place for me and my family.”

Next year’s Legends of Grayson will honor banjo legend Enoch Rutherford with events throughout the county. For more information, contact Grayson County Tourism.

Please consider making a contribution and signing up for our e-newsletter to receive updates about this multi-year initiative.

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