The ties that bind Trantham family uses music to bind generations together
When Doug Trantham was a kid, he wanted to impress his father.
“I was 10-years-old when my dad made a banjo,” he said. “That was around the house and I got interested in playing it. Banjo is my heart instrument. I learned to play clawhammer style and loved it.”
Picking up the instrument, Trantham had an urge to show his dad what he was made of.
“I learned a real tradition banjo tune, which was ‘Cripple Creek,’” he said. “I practiced it all day while he was at work. By the time he got home, I had it down. I was excited to show him and it was cool to be able to do that and have people respond to it. It has always been a serious passion for me. We do the music we enjoy. We play together as a family and that keeps the tradition alive.”
In continuing that cherished family activity, Trantham, alongside his father Jim, is teaming with his oldest daughter Emily. The trio will perform at the Haywood County Fair on Sunday, Aug. 26. The affair will feature the Trantham Family switching off onstage with acclaimed bluegrass group Balsam Range. Beginning at 1:30 p.m., the event is free and open to the public.
“We’re excited to be sharing the stage with Balsam Range,” Trantham said. “Those guys are a phenomenal band. I went to high school in Canton with [bassist/dobroist] Tim Surrett. I also lived across the woods from Marc Pruett’s parents.”
From a young age, Doug found great pride and enjoyment doing shows locally with his father. The two spent many hours together learning and exploring the deep history of mountain music and heritage.
“For me, this traditional music is my connection to my ancestors of the Southern Appalachians,” he said. “The music is so diverse from the Scotch, Irish and English who brought over the instrumentals and ballads, to the African-American influence with the playing styles and what we know today as the banjo originating in that culture.”
And now that shared love of lore and pickin’ has translated smoothly onto Emily, who sings and plays guitar.
“It’s very meaningful to play with her. It’s that circle of life,” Doug said. “All of our instruments, except for the bass fiddle, my father made. I grew up playing with my dad and Emily started playing with me when she was around 7, which has been about 20 years now.”
Trantham looks forward to including a fourth generation onstage.
“Emily has an 18-month-old and I’m hoping he’ll be interested in picking up an instrument,” he said. “I hope we’re able to get him playing with us while my dad is still able to perform.”
With his son, Adam, and youngest daughter Sara currently enrolled in Western Carolina University, Doug feels very comfortable with his children carrying on the spirit of mountain music.
“It’s certainly very encouraging. You want to pass that on, you want to see it live on,” he said. “I find it helps when people get exposed to it when they’re younger. I found kids are really open to different genres of music, up until a certain age before they realize certain types of music are ‘cool’ or not. If it’s good music, they’ll probably be interested in it.”
Being a baby boomer who grew up in the heat of the 1960s folk revival, Trantham sees two different approaches to the music of the Appalachians.
“With traditional music, there were people back then trying to retrieve and preserve the music like an artifact or a museum piece,” he said. “They wanted to do things the right way, the traditional way. The other way is that this music has always been growing and changing. I think that’s the natural way for folk music. Everybody does a tune, but does it their own way.”
And what about today’s fresh crop of local and national artists?
“I’m hopeful. I’m seeing many younger, up-and-coming groups that are really amazing,” he said. “I see the generation now isn’t really duplicating what the old-timers were doing, but they’re taking the instruments and some of the stylistic instruments and doing their own thing. Using banjos, guitars and fiddle, doing different fusions within the music. I think that’s what the music is all about.”
As for his own family, Trantham believes music and performing will be a bond that remains strong for years to come.
“They’ve enjoyed it a lot. At this point in their lives it can be harder to bring it all together. I remember when I was their age and trying to figure it all out, trying to find a career,” he said. “In our family, the music is something we do when we can, for fun. I’m hoping it will always be something they can come back to. Sara has been playing bass for us the last few years. I’m hoping when we get her through college, she can play more regularly for us.”
Now with fair quickly approaching, Trantham is thankful Haywood County has such a venue for bringing together folks from all walks of life to celebrate their surroundings.
“It’s great to see those familiar faces in the crowd and we always try to go up and play a new tune or two,” he said. “The fair is open to everyone. It’s not exclusive and involves all segments of our community. I like that, connecting with lots of different people who come and participate.”