The Journeys of Riley Baugus and Tim Eriksen

Riley_baugusRiley Baugus and Tim Eriksen traveled very different routes to traditional American music. 

Baugus (pictured) grew up in the foothills of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, surrounded by and breathing the old-time Appalachian music.

Eriksen came to the old-time tunes by way of punk rock.

Tim Eriksen plays banjo, guitar, and fiddle, and is known primarily for his powerful voice and abilities as an innovator and leader within American shape-note singing traditions.

He started out playing Indian music on the vina, a seven-stringed traditional instrument similar to the sitar. He later became lead vocalist for the punk rock band Cordelia’s Dad.

Improbably, the band also played northern Appalachian music, and in 1995 compiled an all-acoustic album. They began going to more fiddlers’ and old-time music conventions, which deepened their love for the traditional mountain music.

“I just got more and more drawn into this nineteenth-century stuff,” Eriksen says.

But he found that not very many people knew the old songs. 

He had to seek them out in order to learn them and pass them along, pointing out that “me and Riley are probably the only people under seventy who sing some of them.” 

Baugus grew up surrounded by traditional southern Appalachian music. The music was played, and continues to be played, at the autumn and coming-of-spring festivals.

When Riley was ten, his school offered violin lessons. Baugus got excited. Here, he’d get a chance to learn to play the old-time fiddle music he loved.

“I never realized that there were other kinds of music you’d want to do with the violin,” he says. “At that age, and in my family, the only music that was played on the fiddle was fiddle music. So when the teacher started showing us pieces by Dvořák, I realized that was not what I was interested in!” 

Ultimately, however, Baugus says, his classical music education on the violin helped him on the fiddle.

He also learned the guitar and, together with his father, built his own banjo. In his teens, he and friend Kirk Sutphin would go to fiddlers’ conventions in the Carolina foothills.

“We were an oddity because we were playing old time music,” Baugus says. “People thought it was kind of cute, these kids showing up playing old-time.”

Baugus pauses. “It got us a lot of ‘ins’ with people,” he says. “They wanted to show us things, and pass down what they knew” he says. 

As Baugus grew older, he went to work as a welder and a blacksmith and continued making banjos, building the banjo he still plays.

He also built one for Dirk Powell, which led to Powell inviting Baugus to join him, along with Eriksen, playing the old-time music—and teaching the actors the old-time music—in the film Cold Mountain.

Ultimately, sharing the tradition with others is a primary motivator for Baugus.

“I enjoy pleasing the crowd,” Baugus says. “I love getting up there and being able to move people with the music. It’s also a good chance to talk about southern Appalachian culture and bring people a positive message about us. So many films and shows put us in a bad light. Like we talk slow, or have funny accents. I like to show people who we really are.” 

Southern Mountain Traditions Workshop: November 16-18
Public Performance and Dance: November 17 (USO Building)

A weekend workshop for fiddle, guitar, and banjo players culminates in a November 17, 7:30 pm public concert featuring Baugus, Eriksen, and Centrum’s Artistic Director for Fiddle Tunes, Dirk Powell. A called square dance follows the concert. For Workshop Registration follow this link or call 360.385.3102, x114. For Tickets to the performance and dance, follow this link or call 360.385.3102, x117.