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An Appalachian Summer Festival Will Showcase Some Legendary Talents for Its 35th Season

By Tzar Wilkerson

This July’s annual Appalachian Summer Festival will be one to remember. Appalachian State’s Office of Arts & Cultural Programs are clearly going all-out for the 35th season of the event. Listed in the Southeast Tourism Society’s “Top 20 Events in the Southeast” and consistently included in The New York Times “Summer Stages” issue, An Appalachian Summer Festival is a month-long celebration of the arts, with the stated goal of enhancing the Appalachian community’s “cultural life.” The performances take place in several venues around campus, and usually attract about 26,000 audience members of the course of the month.

You can expect performances of all sorts, from the raw athleticism and creativity of Pilobolus’ dance theater to Lily Tomlin’s character-based comedy to a whole host of musical performers and ensembles. Below are some of the highlights:

Ben Folds

Performs on Saturday, June 29

Ben Folds is widely regarded as one of the major influencers of our generation. 

He’s created an enormous body of genre-bending music that includes pop albums with Ben Folds Five, multiple solo albums, and numerous collaborative records. His last album was a blend of pop songs and his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra that soared to #1 on both the Billboard classical and classical crossover charts.

For over a decade, he’s performed with some of the world’s greatest symphony orchestras, and in 2017 was named as the first ever Artistic Advisor to the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center.

In addition to touring, Folds has just written his first book – “A Dream About Lightning Bugs – A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons” – described as a collection of interrelated essays and anecdotes about art, life and music. The book’s release is slated for July 2019.

He is also no stranger to TV and film, from scoring soundtracks to having been featured for five seasons as a judge of NBC’s critically-acclaimed ac apella show “The Sing Off.” He has also continued to appear in cameo and recurring roles on cable and network TV shows.

An avid photographer, Folds is a member of the prestigious Sony Artisans of Imagery, completed an assignment in 2017 as a photo editor for National Geographic and was recently featured in a mini-documentary by the Kennedy Center’s Digital Project on his photographic work. 

An outspoken champion for arts education and music therapy funding in our nation’s public schools, in 2016 Ben held the distinction as the only artist to appear at both national political conventions advocating for arts education, and he has served for over five years as an active member of the distinguished Artist Committee of Americans For the Arts. He also serves on the board of its Arts Action Fund and is chairman of its ArtsVote2020 campaign initiative.

Winston-Salem Symphony

Performs with Ben Folds on June 29

The Winston-Salem Symphony has been bringing music to life in the Triad region for 72 years, offering not only the best in classical repertoire but also choral music, opera, ballet, popular music and more, and collaborating with such distinguished guests as Yo-Yo Ma, Renée Fleming, Joshua bell and Chris Botti. In 2020, the Symphony will name its 5th music director and will continue to chart a future focused on innovation, exploration, music education and world-class performance. 

The Winston-Salem Symphony especially celebrated the sounds of North Carolina, welcoming a diverse array of artists, including Mandolin Orange, Rhiannon Giddens, Chris Thile, Steep Canyon Rangers and Ricky Skaggs. For more information about the Winston-Salem Symphony, please visit wssymphony.org and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @wssymphony.

Awadagin Pratt

Performs Sunday, July 14, with the Eastern Festival Orchestra (conducted by Gerard Schwartz) and harpist Morgan Short

Awadagin Pratt began studying piano at six and violin at nine. He entered the University of Illinois at 16, studying piano, violin and conducting. Later, at the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University, he became the first student in the school’s history to receive diplomas in three performance areas: piano, violin and conducting. In recognition of this achievement and for his work in the field of classical music, Pratt received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Johns Hopkins.

Pratt has played numerous recitals throughout the US, including performances at Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles and Orchestra Hall in Chicago. His orchestral performances have included appearances with the New York Philharmonic, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Minnesota Orchestra and the Pittsburgh, St. Louis, National, Detroit and New Jersey symphonies. Major summer festival engagements include EMF, Ravinia, Blossom, Wolf Trap, Caramoor, Aspen, the Hollywood Bowl and the Mostly Mozart Festival in Tokyo. Internationally, Pratt has toured Japan several times and performed in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Poland, Israel and South Africa. 

As a conductor, Pratt has participated in American Symphony Orchestra League and Conductor’s Guild workshops, as well as in the National Conducting Institute, where he worked closely with Leonard Slatkin and conducted the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center. He has also conducted the Toledo, New Mexico, Winston-Salem, Santa Fe and Prince George County Symphonies, the Concertante di Chicago and orchestras in Japan.

A favorite on college and university performing arts series and a strong advolcate of music education, Pratt participates in many residency and outreach activities wherever he appears, including masterclasses, children’s recitals, play/talk demonstrations and question/answer sessions for students of all ages.

Named one of the 50 Leaders of Tomorrow in Ebony magazine’s 50th anniversary issue, Pratt has been the subject of numerous articles in the nation press, including Newsweek and People magazine. He has been featured on several NPR programs, has performed on the Today Show, Good Morning America and Sesame Street, and has been profiled on CBS’s Sunday Morning. He performed twice at the White House at he invitation of President and Mrs. Clinton. 

Pratt records exclusively on the Angel/EMI label and discography includes his debut album, A Long Way From Normal, as well as Live from South Africa, an all-Beethoven Sonata CD, Transformations, and an all-Bach disc with the St. Lawrence String Quartet.

Pratt is professor of piano at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. He was also the artistic director of the World Piano Competition in Cincinnati and is currently the artistic director of the Art of the Piano Festival at CCM. 


Performs Friday, July 12

Pilobolus began at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire in 1971. Moses Pendleton, an English literature major and cross-country skier; Jonathan Wolken, a philosophy science major and fencer; and Steve Johnson, a pre-med student and pole vaulter were enrolled in a dance composition class taught by Alison Becker Chase. In that class, they created their first dance, which they titled “Pilobolus” —and a legacy of movement and magic was born.

Pilobolus crystallinus is a phototropic (light loving) fungus. Commonly known as “Hat Thrower,” its spores accelerate 0–45 mph in the first millimeter of their flight and adhere to wherever they land. The father of Jonathan Wolken was studying pilobolus in his biology lab when the group first formed. The name was apt, and stuck.

The group then went on to create dozens of dance works with its founding members Robby Barnett, Alison Chase, Martha Clarke, Lee Harris, Moses Pendelton, Michael Tracy, and Jonathan Wolken. In the more than four decades since, Pilobolus has performed on Broadway, at the Oscars, and the Olympic games, and has appeared on television, in movies, in advertisements, and in schools and businesses and created over 120 dance works. The company continues to propel the seeds of expression via human movement to every corner of the world, growing and changing each year while reaching new audiences and exploring new visual and musical planes.

Patti LaBelle

Performs Saturday, July 13

Multi Grammy Award-winning superstar singer and actress Patti LaBelle is widely regarded as the queen of rock and soul, known for performing music ranging from rhythm and blues renditions to spiritual ballads and everything in between. She has received acclaim for many of her songs, including Lady MarmaladeWhen You Talk About LoveNew Attitude, and the number one duet with Michael McDonald, On My Own.

Throughout her career, Patti LaBelle has been nominated for and received numerous awards, including: Grammy Awards for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best Traditional R&B Performance; NAACP Image Awards for Entertainer of the Year, Outstanding Performance, and Outstanding Female Artist; Grammy Hall of Fame induction for “Lady Marmalade”; The BET Awards Lifetime Achievement Award and many more.

Chris Botti

Performs Friday, July 19

Multi Grammy Award-winning master trumpeter and composer Chris Botti returns to the festival for a dazzling evening of music, ranging from jazz to pop to rock. For over two decades, this brilliant bandleader and born showman has amassed a spectacular variety of honors, including multiple Gold and Platinum albums, to become the nation’s largest selling instrumental artist.

Botti’s mesmerizing performances with a stunning array of legends such as Sting, Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Yo-Yo Ma, Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon and Andrea Bocelli have cemented his place as one of the most inspiring forces of the contemporary music scene. Whether he’s performing with illustrious symphonies or at renowned venues around the globe, his unparalleled crystalline and poetic sound transcends musical boundaries.

Lily Tomlin

Performs Saturday, July 20

Lily Tomlin, one of America’s foremost comediennes, returns to the festival for an unforgettable night of smart humor and laughter. Bringing more than a dozen of her most memorable characters to the stage— from Frankie, of the Netflix’s hit show, to Ernestine and Edith Ann— the show will provide comical insights and witty observations about the human condition.

Tomlin continues to venture across an ever-widening range of media, starring in television, theater, motion pictures, animation, video, and social media. Throughout her extraordinary career, Tomlin has received numerous awards, including: seven Emmys; a Tony for her one woman Broadway show, Appearing Nitely; a second Tony for Best Actress, a Drama Desk Award and an Outer Critics’ Circle Award for her one woman performance in Jane Wagner’s The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe; a CableAce Award for executive producing the film adaptation of The Search; a Grammy for her comedy album, This is a Recording as well as nominations for her subsequent albums Modern ScreamAnd That’s the Truth, and On Stage; and two Peabody Awards—the first for the ABC television special, Edith Ann’s Christmas (Just Say Noël), and the second for narrating and executive producing the HBO film, The Celluloid Closet.

In 2003, she received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor and, in December 2014, was the recipient of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors in Washington DC.

Punch Brothers

Performs Thursday, August 1

Punch Brothers are the quintet of mandolinist Chris Thile, guitarist Chris Eldridge, bassist Paul Kowert, banjoist Noam Pikelny and violinist Gabe Witcher. Says the Washington Post, “With enthusiasm and experimentation, Punch Brothers take bluegrass to its next evolutionary stage, drawing equal inspiration from the brain and the heart.” Their latest album, All Ashore, was released in July 2018 on Nonesuch Records and won the 2019 Grammy for Folk Album of the year. The Independent called All Ashore, “…an album of rich instrumentation and understated beauty that reveals deeper nuances on each and every listen.”

Punch Brothers formed in 2006. Its first Nonesuch record, Punch, was released in 2008 and combined elements of the band’s many musical interests. In 2009, they began a residency at NYC’s intimate club, The Living Room, trying out new songs and ultimately spawning Antifogmatic(2010). In 2012, the band released Who’s Feeling Young Now?, which praised for its ‘astonishing, envelope-pushing vision’, while Rolling Stone said, ‘The acoustic framework dazzles – wild virtuosity used for more than just virtuosity.’

Recently, Chris Thile took over hosting duties of Live from Here (formerly A Prairie Home Companion) in 2016 and released Thanks for Listening in late 2017 – a collection of songs written for Chris’ popular radio show. Chris Eldridge partnered with Julian Lage for the Mount Royal and Noam released his fourth solo album, the Universal Favorite. Both Mount Royal and Universal Favorite earned Grammy nominations and were produced by Gabe Witcher, who was also behind Sara Watkins’ latest, Young In All The Wrong Ways. Paul Kowert has been recording and touring with the Dave Rawlings Machine and recently released Unless, the debut album from Hawktail, Paul’s band with Jordan Tice, Brittany Haas and Dominick Leslie.

The Temptations

Performs Saturday, August 3

For more than fifty years, The Temptations have prospered, propelling popular music with a series of smash hits and sold-out performances throughout the world. The Temptations’ forty-four Billboard Top 10 hits include My Girl, Ain’t Too Proud, Papa Was a Rolling Stone and I Can’t Get Next to You. The group includes original member Otis Williams, with singers Ron Tyson, Terry Weeks, Larry Braggs and Willie Greene Jr.

To Review:

Ben Folds and the Winston-Salem Orchestra perform Saturday, June 29, the Pilobus performance is Friday, July 12, followed by Patti LaBelle’s show on Saturday, July 13, then the Eastern Festival Orchestra with Awadagin Pratt on Sunday, July 12. Chris Botti plays on Friday, July 19, and Lily Tomlin’s show is Saturday, July 20. Punch Brothers will be performing on Thursday, August 1, and The Temptations’ performance will close out the festival on Saturday, August 3.

In addition to the diverse musical performances, Weicholz Global Film Series and the Young People’s Global Film Series will also be screening culturally significant foreign films throughout the month. Ticket prices vary for individual performances, but tickets to all of these shows and more are available online (appsummer.org), by phone (Toll free: 800-841-2787 or Local: 828-262-4046), or in person (at the Schaefer Center: 733 Rivers Street).