Tommy Jarrell - fiddle, vocals; Fred Cockerham - banjo; Oscar Jenkins - fiddle
One of the things about a festival like Newport Folk was that it offered an opportunity to see accomplished, regional musicians at work up close and personal, at workshops and in performance, like this quick set by a three-piece string band from Galax, Virginia. Dubbing themselves the Old Timers, the fiddle and banjo duo Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham were joined for this set by Oscar Jenkins on fiddle for a solid round of twang-filled sound.
Jarrell and Cockerham come from the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains—moonshiner country—and brought a taste of old world pluck to 1960s Newport with them. Jarrell's father Ben made his way as a musician, as well as by making moonshine whiskey, in the midst of the Great Depression. Little Tommy Jarrell picked up the fiddle at age eight, however he didn't begin to record or become known outside his Carolina region till the 1960s, once he hit retirement age.
With Cockerham and Jenkins, the string band's repertoire is a product of the old times, from their boyhoods, back when songs served as necessary companions, entertainment, news carriers, and sometimes all three at once. Devoted to the names of girls like "Sally Ann" "Susanna Gal," "Rockingham Cindy," and "Lula Girl"—the reels move at a fast clip, though the set winds down nicely with "Drunken Hiccups" (also known as "Jack o' Diamonds"). With Jarrell accompanied only by fiddle, you can hear the instrument as well as his vocal hiccup, "Gonna eat when I'm hungry, gonna eat when I'm dry, get to feeling much better, gonna sprout wings and fly." We'll drink to that!