UK’s relationship with Appalachia includes music

By Kayla Pickrell

“Appalachia in the Bluegrass” is not new to UK’s campus. Ron Pen, the founder of the John Jacob Niles Center for American Music at UK, has organized the series since 2004, based on his love for Appalachian music.

This week the series continues with a performance from “Rich and the Po’ Boys” at noon on Friday.

“It dawned on me — if I can’t bring Muhammed to the mountain, I could bring the mountain to Muhammed,” Pen said. “In other words, I started to bring Appalachian musicians to campus as a way of enabling my Appalachian music class to enjoy active engagement with the people as well as the music.”

Always held in the John Jacob Niles Center located in the lobby of the Lucille Little Fine Arts Library, Appalachia in the Bluegrass sheds light on a style of music that normally does not encompass the area outside of the large mountain range: folk music.

Folk music comes to life through its “vibrancy,” “virtuosity” and the sheer dedication it requires to learn, said Ben Arnold, director for the UK School of Music.

Arnold, who helps oversee the program, says he has gained an understanding of folk music from working with the musicians.

Folk music requires “thousands of hours of practice,” and has made these artists “professionals,” Arnold said.

Appalachia in the Bluegrass provides an hour to kick back at the end of every week and enjoy some live entertainment for free.

“An hour spent listening and interacting with extraordinary performers in (an) intimate space … more like a back porch than a concert hall,” Pen said.

Pen said that live music is more than just music.

“I want students to understand that people belong to place,” he said. “Place matters. We are all tied to our sense of place by an invisible web of culture. Music is a powerful thread in that w