Emily Elam – interview + tunes


Emily Elam of Mountain View, Arkansas is a three-time Arkansas State Old-Time Fiddle Champion and long-time student of Billy Matthews. Here she sits down with Oldtime Central to speak about how she got into oldtime, the amazing community in Mountain View and what oldtime means to her.

“Folk music has always been a way of life for me, having grown up in Mountain View, Arkansas where music surrounds the courthouse square whenever the weather permits. I started dancing almost as soon as I could walk and soaked up the fiddle tunes well before I started playing.  At age nine I took my great-aunt’s 1920’s $7 Sears and Roebuck fiddle to the Music Roots program, which provides free lessons on traditional instruments to students in the local school district. My first teacher in that program, Shay Pool, insisted I attend a workshop from the “Famous Fiddlin’ Banjo Billy Mathews” and after attending a single jam session I knew I’d found the kind of music I wanted to play.

Workshop attendees squeezed themselves into a historic bed and breakfast the night before the workshop and played old-time fiddle tunes for hours on end. I did my best to keep up but, having played less than a year, was completely lost. I didn’t mind though; I was more interested in soaking up the sound of all those old-time tunes. The next month, I attended another workshop, this time from Alan Jabbour.  I loved the tunes he taught, but what captivated me was the way he told such vivid stories about the music he played and the people from whom he’d learned. 

Looking back, I think what I loved most about my early experiences with old-time music was the spirit with which Billy and Alan shared their knowledge: they loved to see people interested in the music as well as the history, and treated the music as something to be shared and enjoyed by everyone.  I’ve spent my time since then trying to be the same resource for others who can share not just the tunes but some insight into what makes each of them interesting.  

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In a way, not much has changed since those first two workshops.  I still love to listen to Billy teach, tell a few stories, and draw on his endless supply of tunes in a jam. While Alan has passed, I still hear tunes he shared being played often and have had the humbling experience of teaching the tunes he taught me during the same events I attended as a child.  Whether through helping a student struggling with bowing or playing for a college class who has no idea this music existed, I hope to continue on a path that will bring others the same joy I’ve found in old-time music so that we can continue sharing it long into the future.”

Check out more about Emily’s duo with her husband Everett here:

Video editing: Rachel Krause


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