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JSMHM Presents Its First Ever “Off Broadway” Production, “Ivy Rowe,” on July 27

Barbara Bates Smith plays Ivy Rowe in this one woman show at the Harvest House along with accompanist Jeff Sebens.

Stepping out of an established comfort zone can be a little unsettling. But with the support of its board of directors, Joe Shannon’s Mountain Home Music is doing just that. On Saturday, July 27, JSMHM will stage its first ever “Off Broadway” production — “Ivy Rowe – A One Woman Show with Mountain Music.” It will be presented at the Harvest House Performing Arts Venue in Boone, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m. 

Ivy Rowe, played by Barbara Bates Smith, is probably author Lee Smith’s most beloved character, drawn from her most beloved book — “Fair and Tender Ladies.” You will relish Ivy’s stand against the coal company’s bulldozer, defending her home place and reporting on her love life as described by her letters to “Dear Sister.” Jeff Sebens has been labeled a genius as Barbara’s accompanist, seamlessly making the music a major, integral part of the story.

Joe Shannon was a big advocate of the spoken word. During his tenure serving as the director of Mountain Home Music from its inception in 1994 until his passing in 2014, Shannon found ways to weave his poetry and his own-penned stories in his concerts. Back in those days, MHM was often referred to as a stage hosting the concerts, performing on the many instruments that he played — both lap and hammer dulcimers, banjo, guitar, concertina and harmonica. He often interviewed his guest artist and joined in with them on some tunes and songs. Shannon had written a play about the civil war in the mountains named “The Blue Ridge Blue and Grey,” and on a couple of occasions he had some of the actors join him to read selected parts of scenes and perform songs and tunes from the play. He also presented a one-woman show “A Mountain Riddle” by ballad singer Betty Smith, who portrayed story-teller and singer Jane Hicks Gentry. But this is different! At least since Rodney Sutton became the director of MHM in 2014.

As Sutton tells it, “I knew it would be a big mistake to try and fill Joe’s shoes — trying to replicate a persona that had developed over 20 years and one that he was loved for by his many friends and MHM audience members. Besides, I do not write poetry, stories or books, compose music, nor do I play multiple instruments. I told the MHM board of directors straight up — that I would take the position of director of MHM, but only if they would support my running it as a more traditional concert series. I introduce the performers and get out of the way and let them entertain.” Sutton added, “And this is pretty much what you can expect with this Ivy Rowe play. It will be presented just as it was Off-Broadway for years — this is a chance to see a professional staged play that has stood the test of time!”

Originally co-adapted and directed by Mark Hunter, this spunky mountain woman’s story takes us back in a flashback through a life of “livin’ on love.” With a sensuous nature and a flair for storytelling, Ivy paints a vivid picture of 20th Century revivals, mine disasters, rural electrification, the Depression and three wars. “When you’re ruint, like I am, it frees you up somehow!” Ivy declares. Publisher’s Weekly has called her a woman of bewitching appeal and endearing faults: bright, with a poet’s eye and soul; spunky, impetuous, sensual and proud…!

Barbara Smith states, “I used to be a scandal… Now I’m an institution.” This is my slogan for my 30th year of performing ‘Ive Rowe.’ It was about 700 times a decade ago — now I’ve lost count. Lee Smith has asked me, ‘Don’t you ever get tired of doing this?’ No. Never. Beginning in Tampa, on to New York and Edinburgh and all over, it’s been a thrill each time. Its special magic both grounds and uplifts me; if I miss too many months, I get restless. And in hard times, I remember Ivy’s advice: ‘You gotta keep on keepin’ on.'”

Sutton stated, “I got a chance to see Barbara and Jeff present exerpts from the play back in March at the Appalachian Studies Conference at UNCA in Asheville. I felt right away that Ivy Rowe would be a great fit for JSMHM. Both of them were very excited to come to Boone for this performance. Jeff’s performance of the music on lap dulcimer, hammered dulcimer and banjo is sure to be a hit with JSMHM’s audience members who love traditional mountain music!”

This concert is supported by the following private sponsors: Dr. E. Frank Hancock DDS, Bryce Holder CPA, PA and Sarah — “in honor of Tom Pace and Lonnie Webster for their generous support to me personally and for their continual contributions of time and talent to Mountain Home Music.” Business sponsors include: Advance Realty, Mast General Store, Stick Boy Kitchen, Mountain Time Publishing and the High Country Press. Additional support is provided by the Boone TDA, The High Country United Way — courtesy of Jack and Karen James, the Watauga Arts Council and Grassroots Funds from the NC Arts Council. JSMHM is also proud to be included as a site on the Blue Ridge Music Trails or North Carolina (blueridgemusicnc.com).

Tickets cost $18 in advance and $20 at the door. Student tickets are $5. Children 12 and under are admitted free. Advance tickets may be purchased online or at Stick Boy Bread Company (345 Hardin St, Boone), and Footsloggers on Main Street in downtown Blowing Rock.

Directions and more info can be found at the JSMHM website — www.mountainhomemusic.org/.