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McCoury, Pres. Hall open Music Academy of the American South

by Ryan Snyder

Justin Poindexter was on his way to a New York City gig one afternoon, schlepping a Fender Deluxe Reverb amp, a Telecaster and lap steel by himself through the subway when a group of boarding mariachis led him to a sublime realization. Each player was responsible for but a single instrument — accordion, guitar, whatever — these guys have the right idea, he thought. The UNC School of the Arts alum and Greensboro native powwowed with his Tres Amigos bandmates and retooled their arrangement for greater portability, letting their own skills and relationships with their instruments foster versatility. They’re now the epitome of a roots-music combo, and that spirit is reflected in his alma mater’s Music Academy of the American South, which Poindexter is stewarding into its inaugural session this weekend.

A disciple of Southern roots since his days studying composition at UNCSA, the idea for a weekend-long inquiry into Southern roots that’s equally academic and performance based stemmed from a conversation with the school’s chancellor John Mauceri.

“The school is obviously a creative conservatory with a rich scene around it. Take someone in North Carolina, like Martha Bassett or Matt Kendrick; they’ll wake up and play a gospel gig, they’ll go play a folk festival, then they’ll play a jazz gig at night,” Poindexter said. “That to me is what makes our area so unique. There’s this versatility among the musicians. You’ve got the rural country music that’s deeply bred into the area, there’s an original style of blues music that has a lot more in common with folk music and early jazz. These are all from our area and I think that’s something really worth recognizing.”

The programming for the very first MAAS, starting this Friday and running through Sunday at various sites in and around the school, is like something out of an Americana aficionado’s fantasy. Among a performance lineup that includes Bassett, celebrated North Carolina-born songwriter and UNCSA alum Jim Lauderdale, and flatpicking master Tony Rice are iconic a handful of iconic artists that originate from outside of Appalachia, but have exerted a pervasive influence throughout roots music nonetheless. Friday night’s opening performance will be headlined by the Del McCoury Band, while the New Orleans brass institution the Preservation Hall Jazz Band will be Saturday night’s main draw.

Poindexter’s outside-the-box vision for MAAS has positioned it as a rather unique experience for those coming simply for the music. A festival favorite, Lauderdale has at some point performed with almost artist on the bill, and the Del McCoury Band and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band are no strangers to collaboration. The two cornerstones of American music offered up the cooperative album American Legacies last year and while most of the artists will be present for the entire weekend, Poindexter promises only the unexpected.

“I will say that there’s a lot of artists coming — ready, willing and collaborative,” he said. “We want to have combinations of people playing together that are surprising, may be a Grammy-winning combination, but also may be something that has never happened before.”

What will most assuredly happen are tributes to some of the scene’s iconic figures that have passed on in recent weeks. Poindexter had originally planned to have Doc Watson interviewed by artists in attendance, but the legendary picker’s ill health and unfortunate passing last week will only allow for a host of memorials to him and his distinguished peer Earl Scruggs, who died in late March.

“Doc to me represents exactly what this is about: a great musician who just absorbs everything around him. If you went to see Doc, you heard spirituals, gospel music, blues, folk tunes, jazz and all with that same wonderful acoustic guitar and easy, soulful voice,” Poindexter said. “To me, he’s the perfect example of what we’re trying to achieve: to show how much this music has in common and how all of these influences can come together and be something really special.”

Watson was also slated to perform at renowned luthier Wayne Henderson’s festival later this month, but the guitar maker that Poindexter calls something of a spiritual guru for musicians will instead bring several of his guitars of varying stages of construction for a craft demonstration, along with doing a little picking. His workshop and the litany of other master’s classes hint at how MAAS will expand in the coming years, but Poindexter noted that the performances will always be a key aspect.

“The idea is eventually we’ll expand it into the summer sessions at the School of the Arts, where people can come and take classes and lessons to learn to play all the different styles of roots music,” he said. “But we’ll always have a healthy listing of concerts that every year will be interesting and surprising.”

See the full schedule at uncsa.edu/summersession/maas.htm.

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