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Community Comes Together for January 26 Fundraiser to Benefit Watauga Native Luke Short

The Tater Hill Mashers, a multitalented group of young musicians will be performing, along with Cecil Garganus, at the upcoming fundraiser for Watauga native, Luke Short.

By Sherrie Norris

Love traditional mountain music? Love helping your fellowman? Now is the time to mark your calendars for a dual opportunity as the High Country community comes together to lend a hand for one of its own.

A fundraiser to help with the medical needs of Watauga native Luke Short will be held on Saturday, January 26, at Boone United Methodist Church.

The event, which begins at 7 p.m., is hosted by Short’s home church of Bethany Lutheran Church of Boone and will include a square dance with traditional mountain music and cake walks.

Short, who moved to Colorado in 2016 with his wife, local journalist/reporter Kellen Moore Short, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in July 2018. He underwent five rounds of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant from an unrelated donor on Nov. 21, 2018, which includes a lengthy recovery period.

Short, 31, is a Deep Gap native, App State graduate and a former 911 tele-communicator for Watauga County Sheriff’s Office.

According to a spokesperson for the event, the Short family is well known in the High Country community, and this this is just one way to let Luke and Kellen know that they are not forgotten as they continue this journey so far from home and family.

The square dance will feature music by a popular young group known as The Tater Hill Mashers, accompanied by well-known local musician Cecil Garganus. Square dance caller will be Rodney Sutton, executive director of Joe Shannon’s Mountain Home Music.

About the Entertainers

The Tater Hill Mashers came together from the Watauga County-based Junior Appalachian Musicians program, better known as JAM. Its members include Anneli Burnett (12), Sophia Burnett (15), Asa Nelson (13), Henry Coatney (15) and Wesley Coatney (12). They enjoy playing traditional Appalachian music and have competed at many Old-Time Fiddlers Conventions, including those in Galax, Va. and Happy Valley. They have also performed at Dollywood, Merlefest and at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Wide Open Bluegrass Festival in Raleigh.

They give much credit for their success to the rich musical heritage and dedicated mentors of this region who have inspired and encouraged them along the way.

Garganus, since the 1970s, has been an active member of Watauga County’s old-time music and dance community, whether as a performer, instrument maker or host of an old-fashioned molasses boiling held at his home annually.

He began singing as a youngster growing up near Atlanta with encouragement of his older sister. As his interest in traditional music developed — during the folk music revival of the 1960s — Garganus joined various folk singing groups and learned to play the guitar, bass and fiddle. Following college and a move to Watauga County, he was afforded opportunities to teach Appalachian culture, as well as instrument building. Field trips with his students included visits with traditional artists, such as the late Stanley Hicks. With his wife Julie, he started the Laurel Creek String Band, a group that has remained together in different forms over the years. In the 1980s, Garganus began playing music with Watauga native Mary Greene and Eric Olsen from the influential Fuzzy Mountain String Band. Through Greene and Olsen, he met Ora Watson, a fiddler and North Carolina Folk Heritage Award recipient from Watauga County, now deceased, with whom he spent many years playing and performing.

Garganus continues to be an integral part of the local old-time music community, organizing and playing music for square dances, giving presentations in local schools on traditional music, and mentoring and teaching. He has been an instructor at The Swannanoa’s Gathering Old-Time Music Week at Warren Wilson College, and teaches in the JAM programs in Watauga and Ashe counties.

From the Watauga JAM, Garganus brought to life a group known as Strictly Strings which, starting as an advance fiddle class with four incredibly talented youngsters, quickly grew in popularity around the region. For several years, the group enjoyed performing together, recording a project in 2016 and walking away with numerous ribbons at various fiddler’s conventions. They were featured performers at the NC Arts Council’s 50th Anniversary Celebration. The young musicians have since gone on to pursue their musical talents in other bands, either in high school or college; Garganus continues to sing and play with local groups, always willing to share his talent and knowledge of music with others.

Sutton, who lives in Madison County with his family, has directed Mountain Home Music since 2014. He is certainly no stranger to traditional music, having grown up in rural eastern North Carolina, where his family has danced and played music for generations. He is a prominent and highly respected representative of the dance and music traditions — known for his expertise in traditional mountain dance, whether performing and teaching flatfooting and clogging, or as a dance caller. In recent years, Sutton has also honed his skills in both storytelling and ballad singing. A longtime member of the Green Grass Cloggers, Sutton is also a co-founder of the Fiddle Puppets, now known as Footworks, a traditionally based dance team that has toured around the world. In 1995, he organized and produced the Bluff Mountain Festival in Hot Springs, featuring traditional mountain music and dance, and continues to be involved with the festival today. He also continues to serve on the boards of various nonprofit organizations related to traditional music and its preservation. Sutton was the 2012 recipient of the prestigious Sam Queen Award, presented annually by the Mountain Music and Dance Festival Committee, and was inducted into the Blue Ridge Music Trail Hall of Fame in 2014. Organizers say it is a real privilege to have Sutton give of his time and talent for this event, as one who has traveled across the United States and Canada and throughout the British Isles performing, teaching, and calling dances.

Donations to help with the ongoing needs of the Short family will be accepted at the door and greatly appreciated by all involved.

Boone United Methodist Church is located at 471 New Market Blvd. in Boone.