Appalachian Road Show infuses audience with bluegrass music, culture


By Dawn Hatfield

GREENVILLE — For two hours on Saturday, Feb. 11, the audience at St. Clair Memorial Hall was transported through time and space to the old hills of Appalachia through a powerful performance of the uniquely American music, which was forged there—bluegrass music—by the Appalachian Road Show.

Appalachian Road Show is described on their website as a combination of “the award-winning talents of lead singer and banjoist Barry Abernathy, tenor singer and mandolinist-extraordinaire Darrell Webb, and Grammy award-winning fiddler and producer Jim VanCleve. On guitar is Zeb Snyder, a young phenom who has taken acoustic guitar circles by storm.”

Their mission to “honor the music, traditions and history of the great Appalachian people and regions as much as to forge their own fresh musical and entertainment trails” was impossible to deny even at the outset of the show.

Beginning with the familiar voice of Ms. Dolly Parton ringing through the sound system, a brief history and love of the Appalachian Mountains were bestowed upon the audience. Parton described the ancient, more than 1,500-mile long range as “peaks and valleys swathed in pale blue smoke that seem to stretch to infinity.” Her pre-recorded introduction reminded the audience of the people who’ve called the mountains home over centuries, “the native and the settler; the enslaved and the free; the farmers and the miners; the men, women, and children that are bound to this place and shaped by it.” The people’s resilience of which Parton spoke set the theme and the stage for a night of unforgettable music by Appalachian Road Show.

Before the musicians had hit the chorus of their very first song, a unique cover of Steve Miller Band’s “Dance, Dance, Dance” from their self-titled debut album, the audience was clapping along, enlivened by the musicians’ infectious energy on stage. Without any drop in tempo or skipping of a beat, the band launched seamlessly into “Blue Ridge Mountain Baby,” Appalachian Road Show’s hit song that reached number one on the Top 30 Bluegrass Songs chart earlier this month.

From poignant, haunting tunes that left knots in the throat and tears in the eyes, to songs that were clearly made for dancing every bit as much as for singing and playing, the five-piece band filled the entire performance hall with music that could not be ignored. As Bluegrass Today’s John Lawless wrote of Appalachian Road Show’s performance at the 2019 World of Bluegrass showcase, “Typically at these things, people sit quietly, evaluating new talent, and many come and go throughout a showcase. But not here. After a couple of songs, the crowd was whoopin’ and hollerin’, and when the abbreviated set was over, they got a standing ovation from the audience. That confirmed my initial belief that these guys were on to something.”

Peppered between song sets were personal stories shared by Abernathy and VanCleve. Abernathy told about the hardships of a logging lifestyle that encapsulated his family history; VanCleve shared a song in memory of his father who, as an Appalachian coal miner, had developed cancer and died at only 59 years of age.

Since their debut in 2018, the band has found quick success. Their second album, “Tribulation,” was inadvertently released in March 2020 just as the entire world was shutting down, “which we don’t recommend doing,” the band offered jokingly. However, VanCleve added, “It became very timely and even more poignant.”

Two years and a pandemic later, the band felt ready to lighten and brighten everyone’s spirits with their 2022 album, “Jubilation.” On their website, VanCleve shared, “On ‘Jubilation’ we wanted to rise up from that heaviness of spirit, to overcome the spirit of trials and of tribulation, become triumphant, to step forward into light, and to move towards a spirit of jubilation. It mirrors the spirit of the Appalachians and the fortitude of the people of that region, and we believe, that of all humanity… It felt like the obvious next chapter for us. It felt like time to turn the page.”

Favorably reviewed by critics, Bluegrass Unlimited’s Michael Brantley writes, “Out just after the 2022 award season, “Jubilation” looks to have legs for a long run and is an album that will still be talked about next year at this time.”

With the band off to a phenomenal start, producing three albums in four years, what would come next?

What does every group out of Nashville, Tenn., envision as a marker of their success? Gracing the stage of the iconic Grand Ole Opry, of course! And after an especially meaningful night in late November 2022, the group posted to their Facebook page, “We had an absolutely EPIC night at the Grand Ole Opry at our debut performance! ‘La La Blues’ was a big hit! Four thousand Opry fans singing along… Unforgettable!”

With a full schedule of tour dates lined up and new music already in the works, Appalachian Road Show has big plans for the future. “Appalachian music and its stories have been passed down to us, and we’re now passing our own interpretations of this to a new generation,” said Abernathy. “We want to not only keep these traditions alive, but also honor the strong and dedicated individuals who made lives in the mountains over the past 200 years… This music is so vibrant and it has its own vitality and its own life, and we mean to carry that forward,” he concluded.

Perhaps their Facebook page says it best: “Authenticity never goes out of style.”

Appalachian Road Show’s brand new single, “The Ballad Of Kidder Cole,” has been released to radio and is now available. Follow Appalachian Road Show on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, or visit their website at

Reach Daily Advocate Reporter Dawn Hatfield at [email protected] or 937-569-0066.

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