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Appalachian Music Guide For The Curious Ear

Not every piece of music has to be a happy tune and, in fact, Appalachian music often speaks to the darker places in the soul. 

But what is Appalachian Music, where does it come from and why is this style of folk often so dark? 

The History Of Appalachian Music

As you might expect the music comes from the Appalachian region of the Eastern United States.

It’s an odd category with a very wide variety of influences from both Europe and Africa.

In fact, it’s so varied that the Library of Congress claims that it cannot be properly defined at all.

appalachian music

However, Appalachian musics fans would dispute that and they’d say that while their scene is more varied than say, Lo-Fi Music, it’s folk rhythms and use of American instruments and talent is broadly recognizable to fans.

And of course, there are the bleak themes of the music, murder, misery and mayhem are very common things in the songs of Appalachia, drawing a stark contrast with the world of modern pop. 

It began in the 1920s and it took Irish and Scots traditional music, the current style of African-American blues and a touch of gospel and blended them together seamlessly.

Country, bluegrass and Old-time all have their roots in the Appalachian scene and by the 1960s, Appalachian music was the quintessential soul of American folk music.

Some Classic Appalachian Music Recommendations

If you want to check out some classic Appalachian musicians we can recommend G B Grayson, Henry Whitter, Clarence Ashely, Dock Boggs and The Carter Family to get you started.  

Once you’ve cut your teeth there, then it’s time to get stuck into the folk legends of the 50s and 60s which include Jean Ritchie, Ola Belle Reed, Hedy West, Doc Watson and more. 

Dolly Parton, Earl Scruggs, Chef Atkins, Don Reno and Loretta Lynn were all heavily influenced by that era of Appalachian music too. 

Modern Appalachian Music

The Appalachian scene, contrary to popular belief, is still alive and kicking and particularly in its raw and raucous festival scene!

You’ll find that the Fiddler’s Grove (or more fully the Ole Time Fiddlers and Bluegrass Festival) in Union Grove, NC is held every year and has been since 1924!

It takes place on Memorial Day and attracts some of the biggest names in American Folk and Bluegrass.

appalachian band

The highlight of the calendar though, is Clifftop, West Virginia’s Appalachian String Band Music Festival which takes place in the first week of August every year and runs for five straight days!

It’s a proper celebration of old-time string bands as well as the traditional dances. 

We like the workshops, competitions and other performances which complement the main musical event, it’s a brilliant time for everyone involved.

We think that many of the Appalachian Music Festivals are likely to become more sustainable over the coming years too, as they seem very in touch with the world around them, already. 

These festivals often pay tribute to the classic Appalachian scene but there are plenty of new acts gracing these festivals too and we’ve got a few that we’d like to recommend to you. 

Some Modern Appalachian Music Recommendations

The best of the current Appalachian music scene includes the band Rising Appalachia who’s song Resilient is an absolute masterpiece. 

We’re also big fans of Tuatha Dea and their minor hit “Appalachia Burning”. 

You should also check out Kaitlyn Baker’s Coal Train which is really moving. 

Learn More About Appalachian Music

If you’d like to learn a bit more about Appalachian music then there are a couple of excellent documentaries that are worth checking out.


The Mountain Music Project, currently airing on Amazon, explores the links between Appalachian music and Himalayan music and explores how folk music evolves in a truly fun and educational way. 

Fiddlin’ has a narrower scope but it does a brilliant job of exploring the modern scene against the backdrop of economic hardship still in the region. 

And there’s also the excellent Songcatcher which, while not strictly speaking “a documentary”, still offers superb insight into the Appalachian Music scene and why it occupies a special place in American hearts.