Gap Civil is an old time band based in Sparta, North Carolina, that plays hard-driving fiddle tunes, but also knows how to slow it down for waltzes and traditional country songs. Lucas Pasley plays the fiddle backed up by Caroline Beverley on guitar and Chris Johnson on banjo. They play with different bassists, such as Stacy Boyd, Stu Geisbert, Sam Linkous, and Chloe Mylet.
Their music is rooted in the traditions of the region: a diamond-shaped area extending roughly from Sparta to Lowgap, Galax, and Whitetop. They formed the band to play at their local square dance, the Alleghany Jubilee, but they also play at other dances and concerts in the region, as well as fiddlers conventions. If you want to see them at their best, you might want to make a trip to catch them at their favorite place to play, the Alleghany Jubilee in Sparta. They always play the first Saturday of the month. See the Gap Civil String Band website for tour dates.
Review of “Cut the Pigeon Wing” by Gap Civil
To put it one one word: Awesome. This is a really great CD in my humble opinion. The band really clicks. They really play together – like good musicians should – with an excellent sense of timing and a very rhythmic drive. The slower tunes also stand out with lyrics sung by Caroline and Lucas in two-part harmony. They even arranged the tunes exactly as they would for a square dance: two fast, one slow.
According to the band’s fiddler, Lucas Pasley: “It’s a CD full of dance tunes and organized to make you feel like you’re with us at the Jubilee. We’re real proud of it.”
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I recommend the CD highly to oldtime fiddlers and banjo players as a good source of inspiration – particularly those interested in learning more about the “up the mountain” sound, which is similar yet distinct from the “down the mountain” sound of Surry County (often called “Round Peak”).
My guess, however, is that dancers will get the most enjoyment out of this CD, using it to practice their footwork at home. After all, it’s a dance band playing like a dance band – with a distinct regional sound.
The group sticks very close to their local musical traditions, but they are not afraid to experiment. For example, most fans of oldtime music know the tune Boll Weevil as a solo fiddle piece by Tommy Jarrell. Gap Civil, however, took Tommy’s haunting waltz and converted into a full band two-step with 2-part harmony. That’s not the only surprise, but you’ll have to get your own copy to find out.
Where to buy the album
You can buy “Cut the Pigeon Wing” at one of their shows or order it online from CDBaby (Hint: try CDBaby’s “Preview all songs” feature).
Interview with Lucas Pasley
How and when did Gap Civil come together as a band?
Chris and I (Lucas) formed Gap Civil to play at our local square dance, the Alleghany Jubilee and we still play there every first Saturday so come on out. We started taking on other shows just for fun and the whole thing kind of exploded on us – and we’ve had the best time. We love getting out and playing anything from regional dances and concerts to local fundraisers, but first and foremost we’re just a dance band at the Jubilee.
Who are your primary musical influences as a band?
For the most part, we’re pretty strict regionalists. If you drew a fuzzy line from Sparta to Low Gap to Galax to Whitetop, that would cover the region that we’re loyal to. It’s the region of our music heritage and the old timers from Alleghany County would have interacted with lots of folks within this diamond – especially at the Galax fiddlers convention. Tommy Jarrell, for example, would visit up in Alleghany and Kyle Creed, of course, moved up to Galax. We always try to pay homage to the old timers even as we develop our own renditions of tunes. With “Way Down in North Carolina” (Stay All Night) – we looked to the Fields Ward and the Grayson County Railsplitters for our chord progression and lyrics. For our lyrics to “Fortune,” we looked to the Stoneman family. “County Jail” is an Alleghany version of “Fall on My Knees” from the Caudill Family. “Devil, Uncle Joe” comes from my great uncle, Guy Brooks, who recorded with the Red Fox Chasers. We’re always trying to keep our versions of tunes as inspired by our own heritage as possible.
Does everyone in the band represent that same regional style or is it a mix (for example, “up the mountain” banjo and “down the mountain” fiddle)?
We’re up the mountain – but with a respectful tug on the brim of our hat to the amazing musicians of Round Peak and we often pull songs and lyrics (like Bravest Cowboy and Boll Weevil) from the Round Peak tradition. Old timers from Alleghany and Surry County often interacted and we feel like our band is a natural continuation of this tradition.
What inspired you to re-work Tommy Jarrell’s solo fiddle & voice version of Boll Weevil as a a full string band tune?
We often joke on stage that we can turn any song into a two-step and we often do that to tunes that were never supposed to be two-steps. It’s fun. We are really just a dance band, so we take the songs we love and make it so our dancers can either flat foot or two step.
As individuals, we’ve been playing dances for many years, but we pulled our band together for the Jubilee in the Fall of 2017 when our region lost Thornton Spencer, one of our favorite fiddlers. Some of the Spencers were scheduled to play at the Jubilee, and we had been toying with the idea of a band. It gave us the push to pull it together and fill in for them. The Whitetop Mountain Band remains one of the strongest dance bands in the entire region and Thornton was always an inspiration to me.
Thornton’s passing pushed us to pull our band together and that kind of makes me sad, but in another way, Albert Hash and the Spencer family have always been so generous with sharing their music through instruction and performances, it kind of makes sense. My cousin Fred McBride, a local fiddler who we lost in 2006, was a great fan of Thornton’s too and the Whitetop Mountain Band used to play the Jubilee every Friday night and it was packed. Somehow it all seems tied together. Sometimes you’ve just got to trust things even if you can’t wrap your head around them.
How do you play differently when you play for a dance, a concert or just for fun?
For the most part we pretty much play the same, but at the fiddlers conventions we kick it into our highest gear. We love the tradition of the New River Ramblers and Dry Hill Draggers where competition tunes are fast and driving. It makes it a lot of fun. In our concerts we’ve got a handful of things we’ll do that we wouldn’t do in a dance, like a few non-dancing songs and some fiddle-banjo duets. One part of who we are that’s not represented on the CD is our repertoire of classic country songs that we use for the two steps – we just didn’t know enough about copyrights and royalties to fool around with it. But if you come see us live you’ll get healthy dose of some of our favorites – Webb Pierce, Lefty Frizzell, Hank Sr…
What inspired you to make an album?
Because it’s lots of fun, and because you need a CD to play some places – plus getting to record with Wesley Easter. I don’t think there’s much money to be made from CD’s these days, but you need it for people to book you sometimes, and it’s good to have for the record books and lots of good memories.
Do you have any favorite tracks?
I always go back to Ducks on the Millpond and Boll Weevil…they felt just right. It’s hard to get your real feel in the studio when you’re used to playing live for dancers, but I especially like how those tunes came out.
What are your goals for the future as a band?
We pretty much hit it when we got a monthly slot at the Jubilee – we just really wanted to be our hometown oldtime dance band, playing for the Jubilee and little local fundraisers. Everything else is just a bonus. My dream is to get 100 paying people at the Jubilee to see us (we’ve hit 84). Chris would love to travel out of the country with the band. But overall, we’re pretty happy just playing for our dancers and heading home.
Do you have any tips for aspiring old-time bands?
We wish them the best of luck in finding that balance between innovation and honoring the tradition. If you get too far from the tradition, you’ve lost your roots and the music feels empty. But if all you do is try to replicate what’s been done before, then you’re just a museum and there’s no life in your music. I guess that’s every traditional musician’s dilemma and I’ve erred on both sides at times. But when you strike it just right, there’s a magic there and you’ll know it from the dancers because they don’t care much about which version you’re playing from what recording or what fiddler. When it’s right, they can’t keep their feet from moving. So that’d be our advice – watch people’s feet to know when you’ve got it right.
“Keeping the Gap Civil” YouTube show with Lucas and Chris
Lucas and Chris do an admirable job playing tunes, cracking jokes and introducing traditional musicians from their region with their informal talk & tune show “Keeping the Gap Civil”. Some of the content is more relevant to locals (like the Jubilee’s dance schedule), but the fiddling and banjo playing by Chris and Lucas, combined with discussions of other local musicians, makes the show well worth your time. Here’s the first episode for your enjoyment.
Meet the musicians from the record
Caroline Beverly, who plays guitar on the album, learned to play old time music mostly from her uncles who both play guitar, banjo and sing. She also plays mandolin full-time with the New Ballards Branch Bogtrotters based out of Fries, Virginia, which features Eddie Bond on fiddle who received the National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship in 2018. Check out what she’s doing with the music on her website.
Chris Johnson plays banjo with the band, and he actually met Lucas through the local JAM program. Lucas was actually Chris’s teacher when Chris joined the program in sixth grade. You can read more about Chris and his fine banjo playing on the Blue Ridge National Heritage area website.
Stacy Boyd, who plays bass on the album, started playing upright bass in the late ’80s. As a teenager he would follow along with his dad (Jimmy Boyd) and the Dry Hill Draggers as they played for dances. Stacy now lives in Laurel Fork in Carroll County, Virginia. In 2007 Stacy started playing bass full time for the Dry Hill Draggers, which now goes by the name Twin Creeks Stringband.
Lucas Pasley (fiddle) lives in Alleghany County, the home of his father’s family and the place where Lucas spent summers while growing up. He began playing fiddle while he was a student at ASU when he became friends with Trish Kilby Fore, a clawhammer banjo player from Ashe County. Lucas is very knowledgeable about music of the region and has spent time learning a lot of the fiddle music from Alleghany County that is rarely heard anymore. With Kilby Spencer, he has released two CD’s through the Field Recorders Collective of fiddle and banjo music from Alleghany County (fiddle: FRC 712; banjo: FRC 719) and a CD of his playing with Fred McBride (FRC 722). He also released a CD titled Stratford at Bow which focuses on versions of fiddle and banjo tunes from the area (available on CD Baby).