Music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for education of its virtue. — Plato
Unlike most music festivals, where profit is the goal, the Catawba Valley Music Revival, formerly known as the Coot Williams Road Music Festival, uses its proceeds to provide soul sustenance for young and old musicians alike.
CVMR is the brainchild of John and Linda Hunsucker. The seed was sown in the late 1990s when Linda, a granddaughter of Coot Williams, told her cousins she was tired of only seeing them at funerals. She offered to foot the bill for a family gathering where everyone could bring their instruments to play, and the Coot Williams Road Hoedown was born. John and Linda met in 2001.
“John fed me supper, got out his guitar and sang to me and I fell in love that night,” Linda said. “We got married three years later.”
Linda credits the size of the 2002 hoedown to John’s friendship with many musicians. John was in a country band during the 1970s and 1980s and has owned Nova recording studio in Maiden for about 10 years. Although the studio has recorded Nashville musicians, it’s really for kids and churches, according to John. The studio also hosts the CVMR’s First Saturday Night Jam each month.
One of the first young people to receive encouragement in the art of music from the Hunsuckers was John’s granddaughter, and that turned into helping other young musicians any way the Hunsuckers could. John has opened Nova for musicians to record demos. The Hunsuckers let musicians borrow their van to get to shows, have opened their home to those without a practice space and their festival provides a stage as well as an audience.
Along the way, someone suggested that they find non-profit money for what they were doing. In 2008, the IRS approved the CVMR as a 501(c)(3). Now the organization holds a two-weekend festival in the fall. Labor Day weekend features gospel music, and the following weekend varies in genre, but stays in the bluegrass and country vein.
To reach out to young musicians, CVMR puts a youth bluegrass band together or sponsors an existing youth band. The non-profit doesn’t have the resources for training, but the musicians get coached on stage presence, personality, and cohesion, often in the Hunsuckers’ living room. This year, CVMR is working with the ThreeScore10 band out of Clover, South Carolina, who won the 2013 Gardner-Webb University Battle of the Bands. Though they’ve only been a group for a short time, the band will volunteer and play at the festival this weekend and have been in the studio twice.
Clint Ross credits his experience with the CVMR with bringing his musicianship to another level.
“It was intensive,” he said. “We practiced a lot. It took a while to work out the chemistry. It was helpful as far as playing in a group and working in the studio when we made a CD…It’s helped with pretty much all aspects of musicianship.”
Ross enrolled in the East Tennessee State University Bluegrass, Old Time and Country Music Studies program in 2010 after working with CVMR for about a year. He’s a one-man bluegrass band and is proficient in guitar, mandolin and bass and dabbles in banjo and fiddle. He graduated in May 2014 and described the university program as being equally divided between performance, theory and composition, and production. Ross felt like he was a step ahead at ETSU because he already had experience working in a band and in the studio.
CVMR builds lifelong relationships with the youth they help. Maiden native Adam Rose was one of the first musicians encouraged by the Hunsuckers. Rose said he considers them family, and credits John’s leadership and guidance for helping him become the musician he is today. Rose plays with the Three16Band, a Lincolnton-based Christian group, and is a worship leader at First Wesleyan in Bessemer City. John and Rose collaborated to create the Tent Jam, a contemporary concert taking place on the last day of gospel weekend.
“John and Linda are inspiring and have a real heart for preserving live music,” Rose said.
The CVMR Music and Art Festival takes place Sept. 5 and 6 at 5799 Coot Williams Road in Cherryville. For more information visit CatawbaValleyMusicRevival.com.