April 30--ABINGDON, Va. -- Tyler Hughes fell in love with the music of the Carter Family Fold seven years ago. Then 13, he had started guitar lessons and was attending the week-long summer Mountain Music School at Mountain Empire Community College.
"I was just enthralled," he said. "I couldn't get enough of it."
Today at age 20, Hughes, of Big Stone Gap, plays banjo, guitar, auto harp and the banjo ukulele, an instrument with a banjo's body and the neck of a ukulele.
And Hughes, along with 14 other acts, will perform May 11 at the second annual Crooked Road Youth Music Festival, event organizers announced Monday.
The festival will be held at Heartwood and will have two stages -- one indoors and one under a tent in front of the facility. It will feature a nonstop lineup of young people playing everything from old-time string band music to bluegrass and gospel, said Jonathan Romeo, program coordinator for The Crooked Road.
"These are really the transition-bearers that will carry music into the next generation," Romeo said. "The level of talent is incredible. The festival provides us a showcase for the talent."
Hughes, co-director of the Mountain Music String Band, which will perform at the festival, said when young people see other young people playing the old tunes, it becomes more relatable.
"One of the easiest ways to reach back in time without getting into a time machine is through music," he said. "We learn by sitting at each other's feet, picking out fiddle tunes. We want that to continue for generations and generations to come."
Hughes helps with an after-school music program, WiseJAMs, an acronym for Junior Appalachian Musicians, in Wise County. He said the middle-school students he works with are at the perfect age to learn, old enough to be responsible with the instrument and not too old to think it's not cool.
"We always try to stress in after-school that it's not just about teaching instruments, but about building confidence and teaching responsibility," he said.
Hughes, a student at East Tennessee State University, is one of the oldest performers, Romeo said. The rest of the 120 or so musicians range in age from elementary school to college students, he said.
Hughes said the festival helps young musicians gain exposure.
"It teaches them how to take the music to the next level," he said. "They learn to work as a band, get good stage presence, work with a crowd and play with other students."
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