Appalachian music is as much a part of this area’s history and traditions as anything else.
With “Big Bend Killing: the Appalachian Ballad Tradition,” the Great Smoky Mountain Association highlights that heritage with a collection of contemporary performances of Appalachian ballads.
“Ballads were the news of the day,” said Ted Olson, a professor in ETSU’s Department of Appalachian Studies “If there was a battle, a tragic event in the community or somebody had a particularly vivid imagination … they would usually tell it through ballads. Listening to some of these ballads is like reading a novel.”
Olson produced the collection and wrote the booklet, which contains 72 pages of information about the features songs and artists. The collection features 32 tracks across two CDs. The first contains “old world” songs from Britain, while the second contains “new world” songs composed right here in our area. Established performers and newcomer musicians alike volunteered their time to create it.
You’ll hear from Roseanne Cash, Martin Simpson, Archie Fisher and Doyle Lawson as well as several ETSU alumni. Alice Gerrard sings the titular song, “Big Bend Killing,” on the second CD.
Olson said that roughly half of the album was recorded here on campus in the department’s recording studio. Ben Bateson was the tracking engineer, John Fleenor the mastering engineer and Roy Andrade played on some performances.
All the proceeds will go to support the Great Smoky Mountain parks. It was while working as a park ranger that Olson developed a passion for Appalachian music that began in the folk music scene of Washington, D.C.
“The more deeply I got involved in the music repertoire, the more I realized that a lot of research still needed to be done on the music,” Olson said. “I felt like certain stories just needed to be told.”
That realization led him to become a music historian, focused on studying and preserving the folk traditions of Appalachian music. He’s worked on similar collections, such as “On Top of Old Smoky: New Old-Time Smoky Mountain Music,” which inspired this project. They’re all in the name of keeping the Appalachian music tradition alive.
“I would hope that [listeners] would develop a deeper appreciation for Appalachian balladry,” Olson said. “[It’s] a tradition that is centuries old and is very rich, but has kind of been forgotten in recent decades.”
The album is available for digital purchase through CD Baby. Olson recommends buying a physical copy, which will soon be available at the Great Smoky Mountain Association’s website or at any Great Smoky Mountain park visitor center.
“I think every performance on there is stellar,” Olson said. “The album is a labor of love, and it helps a good cause.”