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The living melodic bridge: ‘David Holt’s State of Music’

David Holt. David Holt.

Now syndicated on PBS stations from coast to coast, “David Holt’s State of Music” has become a beacon of traditional music and worldwide exposure for countless local, regional and national acts hailing from Western North Carolina and Southern Appalachia.

Holt is a legendary old-time/bluegrass performer and musicologist who has called Asheville, North Carolina, home for decades. 

In 2002, his album “Legacy,” which featured his long-time friend and collaborator, the late guitar titan Doc Watson, won the Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Recording.

But, aside from all his accolades and endeavors, his biggest contribution has been his lifelong quest to preserve and perpetuate traditional music.

Within the first three seasons of the “State of Music,” Holt has featured marquee North Carolina groups like The Avett Brothers, Rhiannon Giddens, Balsam Range, The Steep Canyon Rangers and Bryan Sutton, and also several beloved underground names like The Branchettes and Joe Newberry.

Coming into the current filming of season four (which will be released this fall), Holt is expanding his reach again into Nashville and beyond with guests including rising Americana/bluegrass band Della Mae and blues guitar legend Taj Mahal.

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And yet, Holt’s main focus resides in showcasing the raw and polished talents in our own backyard, one with a keen sense of younger acts looking to breakthrough into the mainstream of ever-evolving and curious 21st century musical tastes.

Smoky Mountain New: What was the thought process going into season four?

David Holt: Well, we always try to get national talent, a good number of women in relationship to the number of men in the show, we want to get African-American folks in the show — just to show the wide variety that there is in traditional music in the Southeast.

[Western North Carolina act] Darin & Brooke Aldridge started playing with John Cowan. And John is an old friend from the New Grass Revival days, and we’ve stayed in touch all these years. Darren and Brooke are regional talent busting out to be national talent (Brooke is the two-time International Bluegrass Music Association “Female Vocalist of the Year”).

So, that was a perfect combination to feature them and some unbelievable harmony singing. You get her and John (singing together) and it’s like a buzz saw cutting through the air, then you add Darren’s perfectly pitched harmony — it’s pretty spectacular.

SMN: Are you halfway through filming this season right now?

DH: I guess we are. People are always asking us, “Is this music still going to continue with most of the people you have on the show that are older?” Well, we’ll see about that, because I know lots of young people that are great, like Josh (Goforth) who plays with me.

So, we look for some even younger folks. (We have) four sisters from Boone called The Burnett Sisters. Man, they just get after a tune, really play it with a lot of drive and a lot of soul. They’re good singers and great musicians. And they’re young. I think the youngest sister is 14 and the oldest is in her mid-20s. It’s proof positive that the music will continue with people like that around — and there are quite a few, actually.

If you put your ear to the ground, those young acts are there. I think they’re more prevalent than ever with the internet, with YouTube videos, and then it spreads like wildfire.

Honestly, I think the quality is so good now. Another fellow on the young (musicians’ episode) is Presley Barker. This guy I’ve known since he was 10. He’s 14 now. He was good at 10, but now he’s just a phenomenal flat pick guitar player. Really a personable young man and a great kid. Somebody like that is just going to rise to the top and will be around for a long time if they decide to make a living doing this music, and both of these groups said they wanted to do that.

So, more power to them, and with any way I can help getting them on TV. Another young band in that same show is Cane Mill Road — writing their own stuff, great instrumentalists and singers, and the lead singer is 16. I believe we’re in good shape.

SMN: What is that like for you? When you came up in the 1970s, you were talking to these first-generation folks of a lot of this music. And your work was the bridge to now. What do you think about the idea that now you are a bridge to the generation beyond where we stand right now?

DH: I hope so. That’s always been my goal. I always look at what I do as kind of a calling. That has never waned, being interested in it and wanted to pursue it. I would like to be remembered as the guy who introduced lots of people to this kind of music and created a wider audience for traditional music and musicians to be able to make a living.


Want to go?

Four-time Grammy Award winner David Holt and Josh Goforth will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 16, at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin. 

It is a program of songs, stories and amazing musicianship that will appeal to all ages. Produced in conjunction with the Franklin Folk Festival.

Tickets start at $17 per person. For more information, call 828.524.1598 or visit

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