Students display talents at Winter Bluegrass Jubilee

Left Lane performs at the 2017 Winter Bluegrass Jubilee on Saturday at Pickens High School. The band is made up of former members of the Sweet Potato Pie Kids who are now in high school, according to Betty McDaniel. Photo by Mark Harvell Photography

By Jason Evans
Staff Reporter

PICKENS — Pickens High School hosted a day of bluegrass music Saturday in support of a program that fosters a love of that music in the hearts of students.

The Winter Bluegrass Jubilee is the biggest fundraiser for the Young Appalachian Musicians program and its parent organization, Preserving Our Southern Appalachian Music.

“We’re looking forward to a great big time,” Jubilee director Ryan Ferrell told the audience during his opening remarks. “I think bluegrass music is about as American as it gets.”

Ferrell told the audience that bluegrass has a global reach. He attended a bluegrass festival in France last year.

“One of my memories from that is standing out in the audience — must have been 20,000 people there — when the band on stage, which was not an American band, led the entire group in ‘Blue Moon Over Kentucky,’” Ferrell said. “And we’re in France. It’s as American as you can get.”

Pickens County Council chairman Roy Costner served as emcee throughout the day.

“We have this wonderful opportunity to come together to celebrate music, to celebrate bluegrass, everything from the young kids in the YAM program, the Sweet Potato Pie Kids, to all the way up through the high schools and adult performers,” Costner said during his opening prayer.

Photo by Mark Harvell Photography
Pickens County Council chairman Roy Costner served as emcee at the 2017 Winter Bluegrass Jubilee on Saturday at Pickens High School

Brooke Smith sang the national anthem, accompanied by Dan Hendricks on guitar.

The Sweet Potato Pie Kids, made up of YAM students, took the stage first.

“The cool thing about the Sweet Potato Pie Kids is they’re recommended,” Costner said. “They have to go through an audition in order to get into this part of the program. This gives them an opportunity, going through the YAM program, where you learn the music and learn how to play the instruments. This gives them, in the Sweet Potato Pie Kids, the chance to actually come out here and perform.”

Around 80 Young Appalachian Musicians from area elementary schools showed off what they are learning in the program next, performing “Eliza Jane” for the audience.

Kela Simpson/Photo
Around 80 Young Appalachian Musicians from area elementary schools performed for the crowd Saturday.

Ferrell said the YAM program was formed in 2008 with 30 students and one elementary school.

“Today, over 300 students in 13 schools,” he said. “The hard work and dedication that these talented folks put into the music is phenomenal. It is just phenomenal to watch these students perform and be a part of the program.”

YAM also offers evening programs designed for adults to learn how to play bluegrass music.

“Some great opportunities right here in Pickens,” Ferrell said.

In addition to performances through out the day, workshops were held during the jubilee. East Tennessee State University offered one workshop on pursing educational opportunities utilizing bluegrass music.

“East Tennessee State University actually offers scholarships for bluegrass music,” Ferrell said. “So if your child loves this music, stays with it, go out and talk with East Tennessee State University and find out what are the criteria. It’s a fantastic program.”

“I love, love this event,” Costner said before making a confession about his past. “I was not a bluegrass fan. I was not. I played keyboards. I always thought ‘Bluegrass — there’s no keyboards in bluegrass.’ But when I came here for the very first time, I fell in love with this music. These kids, they are so talented. They are so much fun to watch.”

Rep. Davey Hiott thanked all the YAM volunteers/instructors and the parents of students for their support of the YAM program.

“A lot of these young people wouldn’t be up here if it wasn’t for you, the parents, the grandparents, the aunts, the uncles,” Hiott said. “It takes somebody to get them to practice. They can’t drive. Somebody’s got to get them where you need to be. And I know they practice a lot. That’s where you come in.”

He said the YAM program is known throughout the state.

“Everybody knows about the YAM program,” Hiott said. “We’re very proud of it. You’re going to see an awful lot of talent. Pickens County has a lot of talent, a lot of strong people.”

He said he and other legislators hear a lot of questions about the future.

“I can tell you, from what you see on the stage today, what you see in your communities, you don’t have anything to worry about,” Hiott said.

For more information about the Young Appalachian Musicians program, visit