Our History


Photo: PineCone founders Ron Raxter, Margaret Martin, and Wayne Martin

PineCone was founded by Wayne and Margaret Martin, Ron Raxter, and Beverly Young - Raleigh residents who learned their crafts informally by apprenticing with traditional musicians and dancers living in area. Through their musical pursuits, each was acutely aware of the abundance of gifted roots musicians residing in the North Carolina Piedmont region, some of whom were not known beyond their local communities. Many of these community musicians were performing stories, songs, tunes, and styles that had been passed down to them through generations.

Photo: Elizabeth Cotten, guitarist from Carrboro, NC. Credit Library of Congress

One such musician was Elizabeth Cotten (above), from Carrboro, NC, who inspired new generations of musicians with her finger-picked guitar style dubbed “Piedmont blues.” Cotten was eventually awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the NEA.  Collectively, Wayne, Margaret, Ron and Beverly determined that these talented but often overlooked musicians and their songs deserved to be preserved, presented, and promoted.

PineCone’s founders also recognized that there was interest from the general public in old-time music, bluegrass, blues, gospel and other traditional music in the Raleigh area, but fans had little or no access to the music. They saw a need for an organization that would help support traditional roots artists and present their music to the public in a professional and respectful manner. PineCone, the Piedmont Council of Traditional Music was incorporated in December of 1984 to lead that charge.

PineCone was incorporated as a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization in 1984.

PineCone's First Year -- 1984-1985

PineCone made its debut on the Raleigh arts scene in May 1985 with a monthly community square dance, a newsletter, and a series of free concerts in the Raleigh Little Theatre's Rose Garden. Early in that first year, PineCone's musical focus broadened from musical traditions of the Piedmont to encompass a diverse mosaic of music and dance traditions.

The opening concert, in May 1985, featured the Elise Witt Small Family Orchestra with blues, country, swing, and Southern folk. In June, Gospel Night contrasted the traditional black gospel a cappella sound of the Badgett Sisters of Caswell County with the bluegrass gospel harmonies of Raleigh band Patchwork.

Photos (L-R): The Badgett Sisters; Patchwork; Smith McInnis

July's concert showcased an evening of Piedmont string band music and dance featuring master fiddler Lauchlin Shaw and his daughter Evelyn Shaw, PineCone founders and old-time string players Wayne and Margaret Martin, and banjoist Bill Mansfield. The August event brought the blues of Johnston County's Algia Mae Hinton and Greenville's Lighting Wells Blues Band.

In the fall, PineCone moved inside the Raleigh Little Theatre for its first ticketed concert series. Performances again spanned musical styles and traditions, from the Chatham County band Bluegrass Experience, to banjoist and guitarist Etta Baker, country music legends The WBT Briarhoppers, to autoharp virtuoso Bryan Bowers, guitarist Norman Blake, and Durham bluesmen Washboard Slim and John Dee Holman.

Photos (L-R): Etta Baker; Norman Blake; John Dee Holeman

That first year was full of successes. At the end of 1985, Board President Ron Raxter reported, "As our first full year of operation draws to a close, it is very satisfying to look back at the year's accomplishments. We began the year with a monthly community dance as our only project. We now offer monthly concerts of traditional musicians, a monthly calendar of traditional music events, and a monthly picking session . . . We have much we hope to accomplish, but this year has brought us several steps closer to our goal of a permanent presence of traditional music in Raleigh."

Outstanding Concerts, Past and Present

Since 1984, PineCone has presented hundreds of memorable concerts in a wide variety of venues, from the Raleigh Little Theatre, NC State's Stewart Theatre, and the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts (formerly Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts), to Durham's PSI Theater and Carolina Theatre, Carrboro's ArtsCenter, to churches and community parks around the Triangle.

Raleigh Little Theatre and the Rose Garden -- 1984-1989

From PineCone's inception in 1984, its free summer shows at the Raleigh Little Theatre's Rose Garden and winter ticketed series inside the Raleigh Little Theatre rapidly grew in popularity. By 1986, the ticketed concerts were starting to fill the theater, and the free summer shows were bringing hundreds of music lovers to the Rose Garden. In August 1986, blues performers Lightnin' Wells and Guitar Slim brought 1200 blues fans to the Rose garden. Other performers included ballad singers Frank Profffit Jr and Cass Wallin, the Gospel Jubiliators, Ola Belle and Bud Reed with Alice Gerrard and Andy Cahan; John Cephas & Phil Wiggins, The Pratie Heads, and many more.

Stewart Theatre Series -- 1987-2005

In February 1987, the management of Stewart Theatre, an 800-seat facility on the campus of NC State University, approached PineCone about presenting a traditional music series there. Stewart Theatre offered twice as much seating as the Raleigh Little Theatre, and it was a good fit for the growing organization.

From its first season in 1987-88, PineCone's Stewart Theatre series set a standard of excellence by presenting outstanding performers, from the foremost of the old-time traditionalists to the best of progressive bluegrass, blues, and gospel. During the 1988-1989 series, PineCone shows sold out four times running, with the David Grisman Quartet, Jerry Jeff Walker, Doc Watson, and The Seldom Scene. In 1990-1991, PineCone presented nationally famous artists such as the Nashville Bluegrass Band, and January 1991 brought the father of bluegrass himself, Bill Monroe, with his band the Blue Grass Boys. The 1991-1992 season featured Alison Krauss and her band Union Station, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, the Irish group Altan, Taj Mahal, Tony Rice, and blues guitarist David Bromberg.

Among numerous other notable performers appearing as part of this series were John Hartford, Mark O'Connor, Tim O'Brien, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, Jerry Douglas, Old Crow Medicine Show, Sam Bush; blues artists Keb' Mo,' Dr. John, Charlie Musselwhite, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Guy Davis; bluegrass artists Ralph Stanley, Ricky Skaggs, Del McCoury, Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard, Hot Rize; cowboy artists Riders in the Sky, Sons of the San Joaquin; Celtic artists Eileen Ivers, Mary Black; and world music acts R. Carlos Nakai, Lila Downs, Kila, Karen Casey, Lunasa, Sones de Mexico, Les Yeux Noir, Tlen Huicani.

Photos (L-R): Taj Mahal; Old Crow Medicine Show; Tony Rice; Alison Krauss backstage with PineCone's Larry Nixon

PineCone continues to partner with NCSU Center Stage to present occasional concerts. In 2009, PineCone and Center Stage co-presented the concert program American Revival featuring three up-and-coming bands Sierra Hull & Hwy 111, the Dixie Bee-Liners, and Uncle Earl. We teamed up again in 2010 to co-present a double-bill featuring Mountain Heart with Tony Rice.

The Garner Family Series -- 1996-2008

In 1996, a longstanding partnership between PineCone and the Town of Garner began with a series of free outdoor shows at Lake Benson Park in Garner. The Garner Family Series grew to seven free outdoor summer shows and a winter series of ticketed shows at the renovated Historic Garner Auditorium. For 13 years, PineCone and the Town of Garner presented a wide variety of local and regional musicians in over 100 concerts, including Al Batten and the Bluegrass Reunion, the Grass Cats, Latin band Samecumba, Ralph Blizzard and the New Southern Ramblers, and Chuck Davis' African American Dance Ensemble.

Down Home Series at the Progress Energy Center for Performing Arts -- 2005 - present

In the fall of 2005, PineCone moved its main stage concert series to the state Capital's premier performing arts facility - the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts - located in downtown Raleigh. PineCone joined the ranks of Broadway Series South, Carolina Ballet, North Carolina Symphony, and North Carolina Theatre as a resident company at the Center. The performance halls at the Progress Energy Center provided PineCone with greater flexibility in booking artists. With access to the 2300-seat Memorial Auditorium, the 1600-seat Meymandi Concert Hall, and the 600-seat Fletcher Theater, PineCone is now able to book performances in the space best suited to the requirements and drawing power of the artist. The series was dubbed The Down Home Series - bringing world-class roots musicians to world-class concert facilities.

Photos (L-R): Kris Kristofferson; Corey Harris; Doc Watson;Tift Merritt; R. Carlos Nakai

While the majority of PineCone's annual programs focus exclusively on the music and musicians of North Carolina's Piedmont region, the Down Home Series showcases artists from around the state, nation, and globe, whose music finds connection and expression here.

Since 2005, PineCone has presented a number of major national artists in the larger halls, including Doc Watson, Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris, Merle Haggard, Nanci Griffith, Taj Mahal, R. Carlos Nakai, Ricky Skaggs, Del McCoury, Rhonda Vincent, Bruce Hornsby, David Grisman, John Sebastian, Edgar Meyer, Allen Toussaint, Bela Fleck, and others. The more intimate Fletcher Theater has seen PineCone shows by artists such as The Wailin' Jennys, Mike Marshall and Chris Thile, ukulele phenom Jake Shimabukuro, Los Folkloristas, Phil Wiggins & Corey Harris, and Chris Thile & Mike Marshall. The series continues to be one of PineCone's most high-profile productions, drawing thousands of patrons from states all along the eastern seaboard.

The Listening Room Series in Holly Springs - 2007-2010

In 2007, PineCone began the Listening Room Series in partnership with the Town of Holly Springs to present shows featuring national up-and-coming grassroots artists in the Town's new performing arts facility.

Photo: Bryan Sutton (left) and Russ Barenberg performing for a PineCone show in Holly Springs, NC

The concerts took place in the intimate 200-seat theater at the Holly Springs Cultural Center. Patrons and performers alike enjoyed the initmacy and acoustics of this wonderful space. Perfomers included Russ Barenberg & Bryan Sutton, April Verch Band, David Holt, the Kruger Brothers, Red Stick Ramblers, and the Claire Lynch Band.

PineCone Free Community Concerts

In 1996, PineCone and the Town of Wake Forest Parks & Recreation began co-sponsoring the Wake Forest Series offering free outdoor summer concerts featuring local and regional bands. Originally held in Holding Park, in 2009 these concerts moved to Wake Forest's new E Carroll Joyner Park, a 117-acre facility with a 1,000 lawn seat amphitheatre, restored farm buildings and pecan grove, pond, and approximately three miles of walking trails. In August 2009, PineCone presented Big Fat Gap as the first band to perform in the new amphitheater, and in October, The Swang Brothers performed as part of the official opening ceremony for the new facility. Other artists featured in Wake Forest have been the Leroy Savage Group, the Malpass Brothers, and the Bluegrass Experience.

In 1998, PineCone and the NC Museum of History co-sponsored three free performances that featured traditional North Carolina musicians. The next year this partnership became the Music of the Carolinas series, which celebrates North Carolina's rich musical heritage as well as the music, dance and storytelling traditions of cultures that have made their homes in our state. This series has presented a wide variety of artists, including NC Heritage award winners, the Raleigh Moravian Band, trombone shout bands, shape note singers, Cherokee storytellers, blues artists such as John Dee Holman and Lightnin' Wells, and gospel artists such as the Capital City Five. The free performances are held monthly on Sunday afternoons October through June in the Museum's Daniels Auditorium.

Photos (L-R): Marvin Gaster; Odell Thompson and Joe Thompson; Mangum & Company Shout Band

In 2009, PineCone and the Town of Cary began a new partnership presenting free concerts in the spring and summer featuring regional artists at Bond Park's Sertoma Amphitheater. Performers in that inaugural year included Raleigh-based favorites Chatham County Line and Durham blues artist John Dee Holeman on his 80th birthday. The 2010 season included NC-based Snyder Family Band, featuring 15-year-old Zeb Snyder and his 11-year-old sister Samantha, their father Bud, mother Laine, and even 4-year-old Owen joined in for a song! The Mangum and Company Shout Band also performed in this beautiful park.

Heritage Days & Harvest Festivals

PineCone at Mordecai -- 1986-1990

The 1986 Heritage Day event attracted large audiences and was a resounding success. Subsequently, each spring from 1987 through 1990, PineCone and Artsplosure sponsored "PineCone at Mordecai," an afternoon of traditional music, dance, and crafts.

Performers included local band Three Stripped Gears, High Point bluegrass band Hickory Wind, Raleigh native Ken Harrison playing the saw with a fiddle bow, and Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys. Craft demonstrations and picking circles took place in the afternoons, and square dancing and shape note singing sessions welcomed participants.

In addition to the spring event, PineCone and Artsplosure expanded their heritage programming to include a fall "Heritage Festival" at Mordecai Park. In September 1988, the Heritage Festival was titled "Biscuits, Baskets, and Boogie Woogie Blues," and it included afternoon music and crafts, evening concerts, a Sunday jubilee gospel celebration, and a community dance. And out in a field at Mordecai Park that year was a 17-year-old singer and fiddler named Alison Krauss.

PineCone Harvest Festivals -- 1990-1996

In 1989, Artsplosure repositioned its fall event as a jazz and blues music festival, leaving the Heritage Festival programming to PineCone. In the fall of 1990, PineCone produced its first "Harvest Festival," co-sponsored by Capital Area Preservation, Inc. Like the other heritage events, the Harvest Festival featured local and regional musicians playing old-time and traditional music, participatory dance sessions, craft demonstrations, hay rides, cake walks, homemade food, and traditional activities and games for children. In 1994, in spite of rain, an enthusiastic crowd estimated at over 1,000 attended one of the best Harvest Festivals in memory.

Photo: Ralph Stanley

The Raleigh Fiddlers' Convention

By late 1986, it had become clear that there was a large audience for traditional music in Raleigh. PineCone's Board of Directors began to consider ideas for bringing old-time music fans together for a festival weekend of traditional dance and music.

In 1988, Tom Hargrove, a respected local archaeologist, traditional music advocate, and PineCone board member, found a remarkable series of newspaper articles that reported on fiddle contests held in Raleigh between 1905 and 1914. These lively contests, called the Raleigh Fiddler's Convention, were held every Labor Day in Pullen Park, and they attracted thousands of attendees who gathered to cheer on fiddlers competing for prizes and the title of champion fiddler.

Participants in the first Raleigh Fiddlers Convention 1905

Participants in the first Raleigh Fiddlers' Convention, Labor Day, 1905. Standing (L-R): S.S. Ransdell Jr., Accompaniest for S.S. Ransdell, Nat Warren, Judge (possibly B.F. Dixon), William "Buck" Andrews, C. E. McCullers, J.W. Sauls; Seated (L-R): H.E. Ford, A.A. Parrish, R.C. Page, R.A. Chappelle

Tom Hargrove's research inspired the idea of reviving these contests in Raleigh. It took more than two years to bring the idea to fruition, but on Labor Day 1990, after a break of 76 years, the Raleigh Fiddlers' Convention reconvened in Raleigh's Pullen Park. "We want to provide a place for fiddlers to come together, not just to compete but also to share music and learn from each other. We also would like to expose the public to old-time fiddle music," said Tom Hargrove in the News & Observer. Hargrove hoped that the gathering would be a success that "would go back to the spirit of the original fiddlers' convention and would celebrate the old-time fiddle music."

Fiddlers Play on a Hot Labor Day

By 3 p.m. on a stifling hot afternoon, 17 contestants had signed up to compete in the fiddling contest. Contestants were instructed to play traditional tunes in Southern old-time fiddle styles and were allowed up to two accompanists. A cash prize of $150 would be awarded to the first place Champion Old-Time Fiddler, with smaller awards for the second and third place fiddlers.

That evening, after a playoff of the top five contenders, the title Champion Old-Time Fiddler was awarded to Clay Buckner of Chapel Hill, a member of the Red Clay Ramblers. Guest artists performed between fiddle contestants for a full day of old-time music. Artists in 1990 included old-time fiddlers Smith McInnis and Lauchlin Shaw, banjo player A.C. Overton, and the fiddle and banjo playing cousins Joe and Odell Thompson.

The Second Annual Fiddlers' Convention -- 1991

The following year PineCone again held the Raleigh Fiddlers' Convention, although it took place inside N.C. State's Stewart Theatre. Guest artists included fiddlers Lonnie Austin from, Eden, N.C., and Benton Flippen from Mount Airy, as well as the Orange County Cane Creek Cloggers and local band The Tar Heel Hotshots.

Cash prizes were again awarded to winning fiddlers. At the conclusion of the competition, a mass fiddle choir played the traditional fiddle tune "Leather Britches," and all enjoyed an old-time square and contra dance in the ballroom.

Old-Time and Bluegrass Music Festivals

In 1991, PineCone organized another new festival, the Eno River Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Band Competition. Held in May at the Eno River Park Amphitheatre, this event was similar to the Fiddlers' Convention except that it centered around an old-time and bluegrass band contest. Bands were required to have at least a banjo, a guitar, and either a mandolin or fiddle, and were allowed additional instruments, although electric instruments were not permitted. A total of $1500 in cash prizes was available for the top five best bluegrass and old-time bands.

While musicians practiced and jammed in a field adjoining the amphitheatre, band contestants and guest artists performed on the stage at the bottom of the hill. Fans enjoyed the grassy lawn, the plentiful shade, and the picnic tables. The band competition was followed by an all-night jam session, and visitors camped at Lake Michie in Durham. Despite wilting humidity and temperatures up to 104 degrees, fiddlers, strummers, and listeners enjoyed the day, and PineCone's Board of Directors voted unanimously to continue the band festival.

The Fiddlers' Convention and Band Competition Merge

The North Carolina State Arts Council suggested that PineCone merge the Fiddlers' Convention with the band competition, and in 1994, the merged competitions became the "Bluegrass & Old-Time Music Fiddlers' Competition." That year cash prizes were offered to the top five bluegrass bands, old-time bands, and fiddlers. Winners were first place bluegrass band Hinton at Bluegrass, first place old-time band the Tar Heel Hotshots, and first place fiddler Jim Collier.

From 1997 to 1999, PineCone's Eno River Old-Time & Bluegrass Music Festival was recast as an all-day, outdoor festival of bluegrass and old-time music sponsored by PineCone, Banjo in the Hollow, and Durham Parks and Recreation. Performers included A.C. and Gerry Overton with Wayne and Margaret Martin, Bruce Greene and Carl Jones, the Williamson Brothers, and local bluegrass band New Vintage.

A Bluegrass Festival in Northern Ireland!

From 1996 to 2007, PineCone partnered with the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh, Northern Ireland, to recruit and coordinate American musicians and dancers for the park's annual Appalachian and Bluegrass Music Festival. This festival is one of the largest bluegrass festivals outside North America, with over 9,000 people attending in 2006. The festival runs over three days and features "Bluegrass in the Park" outdoor musical performances, evening concerts, workshops, lectures, and activities for children.
The first North Carolina artists to perform at the festival in 1996 were Al Batten and the Bluegrass Reunion and the Cane Creek Cloggers. Since then, PineCone has introduced European audiences to hundreds of North Carolina artists, including the Steep Canyon Rangers, the Gospel Jubilators, and the Malpass Brothers.


Music and Dance Participatory Sessions

While concerts and festivals were the primary focus of PineCone's season, they were not the only way that the organization promoted traditional music. Another primary focus was participatory music sessions, where musicians, singers, and dancers created their own entertainment. In 1984, PineCone began a community square dance on the first Friday of the month. The first Friday dance proved so popular that a second monthly dance was added in January 1986. PineCone also sponsored a monthly bluegrass picking session, open to all pickers and would-be pickers, a monthly hammered dulcimer session, and a monthly shape note singing in the chapel at Mordecai Park. Other sessions held over the years included Irish sessions at Greenshield's Pub in Raleigh, a storytelling session, and a traditional song session.

Square and Contra Dances

PineCone music and dance sessions remained popular throughout the years. In fact, for many folks, PineCone meant community square dances and contra dances. Dances featured a caller, live stringbands, and three hours of nonstop music, and the early square dances pulled in as many as 60 dancers per month. Over the years, the dance group met in a variety of locations, including local churches, the Raleigh Housing Authority auditorium, and Artspace. In 1990, the contra dance moved to Cary's Jordan Hall, which had a good floor and was convenient for dancers driving from Durham and Chapel Hill as well as Raleigh. In this new location, dance instruction was added to ensure that the dance was enjoyable for both new and experienced dancers.

For 13 years, the PineCone Contra Dance met in Cary, attracting up to 100 attendees per event. Dancers of all levels of experience were always welcome. Before the music began, the caller rehearsed the set of steps with the dancers. In this way, all dancers knew what to expect. Mixing and matching of partners was expected, and by the end of an evening, participants were likely to have danced with everyone in the room. In a 1998 Cary News article, Chris Morgan, who served as coordinator for the contra dances, commented, "This is what PineCone does -- their aim is to promote folk music and other folk traditions, and dancing and music naturally go hand in hand." By 2003, contra and square dances were regularly scheduled at locations all over the Triangle, and PineCone sponsorship was no longer needed to ensure that old-time dance survived in the Triangle area.

Today, PineCone continues to find new ways to preserve, present and promote traditional music, dance and other folk performing arts from throughout the North Carolina Piedmont, including concerts, jam sessions, music camps and more.