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ETSU musicians heading to Mexico as part of cultural musical exchange program

Contributed To The Press • Nov 22, 2017 at 3:20 PM

Three old-time music and bluegrass bands with ties to East Tennessee State University left for Michoacán, Mexico, on Tuesday where they will spend the week of Nov. 21-28 sharing traditional Appalachian music as part of a cultural musical exchange.

This exchange between the Appalachian mountain region of the United States and the Michoacán mountain area of Mexico will culminate in the Hummingbird International Music Festival. For four days, the American bands will play in nearly a dozen villages surrounding a large lake in a nearby province in an effort to promote the festival’s daylong concert on the grounds of a 500-year-old monastery, which is expected to draw a crowd of approximately 20,000.

“These are not all Spanish-speakers — many of these are Native Americans in remote southern Mexican villages,” said Roy Andrade, an associate professor in ETSU’s Bluegrass, Old Time and Country Music Studies program within the Department of Appalachian Studies. “We’ll spread out and head to three different points around the lake, and each day, each band will play for three villages until we make our way all the way around.”

The American bands participating are the ETSU Old-Time Ramblers, a student band led by Andrade; Bill and the Belles, a Johnson City-based band comprised of alumni and former students of the old-time program; and Fireside Collective from Asheville, North Carolina, a bluegrass band whose membership includes current ETSU bluegrass majors Joe Cicero on guitar and Alex Genova on banjo.

This cultural exchange will continue in May 2018, when the Mexican folk bands come to the Tri-Cities for the American version of the festival called Taco de Mayo, which will be held in Southwest Virginia. The exchange will highlight the similarities in the cultures of Southern Appalachia and the indigenous communities of the mountains of Mexico.

“The orchestras of both music cultures are very similar with a stand-up bass, guitar, mandolin and fiddle,” according to the festival’s website, www.hummingbirdmusicproject.com. “However, the style of play is very different. The Mexican bands pick less and strum more. When the bands from both countries play alongside each other, history will be made as the bands collaborate, share and influence each other.”

This is to become an annual event.

For more information, contact festival organizer Doug Beatty at 423-797-1647 or doug@bonefirebrands.com.

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