Old time music is an ensemble-based, hard-driving form that has inspired dancers across southern Appalachia for generations. One of the epicenters of old-time music is the small community of Whitetop, Virginia, in Grayson County, home of the Whitetop Mountain Band, a family band that has entertained audiences for more than 40 years. Renowned fiddler and instrument builder Albert Hash started the band in the 1940s. He was later joined by his brother-in-law, master fiddler Thornton Spencer, and Thornton’s wife, singer, banjoist, and music instructor Emily Spencer. The three also founded an old-time music program at Mount Rogers School, a small K-12 public school in Whitetop. The program taught countless children to play old-time music, and received both regional and national attention. The band has featured several line-ups over the years, but long kept its core of Thornton, Emily, and their remarkably talented daughter, multi-instrumentalist Martha Spencer.
Sadly, Thornton Spencer passed away in 2017, but his son Kilby has stepped in to fill his father’s formidable shoes on fiddle. Along with Kilby, Martha, and Emily, the Whitetop Mountain Band features Debbie Bramer on bass, Ersel Fletcher on guitar and vocals, and Frank Rische on mandolin, vocals, and guitar.
Steeped in the mountain music traditions and a mainstay of the Appalachian dance scene, the band frequently plays venerable old time dance venues like the Carter Family Fold, the Floyd Country Store, the Fries Theater Square Dance, and others throughout Southwest Virginia. Over the years, the band has toured to festivals and performance venues across the United States, and has performed in premier festivals in Australia, Europe, and Canada. Their shows highlight a wide variety of mountain music traditions mixed with traditional country, originals, and high-energy flatfoot dancing.
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