Blue Ridge JAM is in its fourth year of serving the Cashiers, NC area. The chapter is sponsored by Mountain Youth Charities, a 501c3 organization. They meet on the campus of Blue Ridge School; students are welcome from across the Cashiers plateau region. The program meets on Monday afternoons, 3-5 PM, 12 times per semester. Classes are offered for students in grades 3-12 in guitar, banjo, fiddle and mandolin. Students also have opportunities to try autoharp, dulcimer and upright bass. Everyone also takes part in “Prime Time” which includes games, dance, crafts, stories, guest speakers and guest performers, and “Community Time” where everyone comes together at the end of the day to share what they have learned. Tuition is $75 per semester, with a $20 instrument rental fee. Many students participate tuition-free thanks to generous donors.
Sarah Hall serves as program director for JAM-Blue Ridge. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Music Theory and Composition from Appalachian State and a Masters in Music Education from UNC-G. She is currently music teacher for Blue Ridge School and Blue Ridge Early College. She has previously taught for Pfeiffer University, Catawba College, and Western Carolina University and in public schools in Rowan and Mecklenburg counties. Her other jobs have included Director of Education for a symphony orchestra, arts reporter for a newspaper, magazine editor, church music director, founding director of the Amadeus Youth Choir and founder of the Salisbury (NC) School of Music.
Gerald Haskins has been making music for almost 60 years. Starting as a piano player in a Dixieland band in the early ‘60s, he later became the front man and upright bass player in a jazz trio. After a short stint on bass with the San Francisco Civic Orchestra, he formed a folk duo (on guitar) which toured extensively in Mexico and the Caribbean before finally winding up teaching guitar in England. Along the way he has done broadcasts of his poetry for the BBC, some of which have been picked up by theater companies, translated into regional dialects, and performed around the UK. His latest love is the ukulele, which as he says “…is a great instrument because it only has four strings, while we have five fingers for fretting!”
Debbie Lassiter has been playing violin for over 50 years, starting lessons and playing with the school orchestra in 5th grade in Chicago. After moving to Atlanta, she played with the Dekalb County Community Orchestra and Atlanta Emory Orchestra during high school and college. Since moving to Highlands/Cashiers she has been performing for 20 years with the Summer Chapel gospel/bluegrass band and Nocturne, a classical chamber trio. Debbie is chairperson of the Blue Ridge JAM Advisory Council and assists teaching the JAM fiddle class. With her love of music and children she brings a wealth of experience and energy to the program.
Jennifer McKee is song and dance leader and instrumental assistant for JAM-Blue Ridge. Jennifer teaches fifth and sixth grade language arts and social studies for Blue Ridge School, dedicating her Monday afternoons to JAM as a volunteer. She grew up in a musical family — singing, dancing, and playing a variety of instruments with her parents and siblings. Her family ties run deep in Western NC, and she is well-versed in local history.
Lindy Spring comes from a musical family on both sides. She began taking violin lessons at age seven, often accompanied by her published composer father on the piano. In college she played with the Rollins Baroque ensemble while studying with Alphonse Carlo, concertmaster of the Florida Symphony. Although trained classically, she grew up with traditional and bluegrass music in the mountains of North Carolina in the summer, and enjoys playing and learning different styles of music. She currently plays at various community productions, churches, and weddings in the Highlands, NC area.
Dusk Weaver has taught for Blue Ridge JAM since its beginning in Fall 2016, and he served as director of Jackson County JAM from May 2012 – June 2017. Dusk is well known in the region as a singer/songwriter and recording artist, having released two CD albums and a CD single of original music that reviewers coined “StorySong Americana.” His songwriting, music, and singing voice won hearty praise from the late Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame standout Mickey Newbury, who served as a mentor to Dusk. Mr. Weaver also studied songwriting under the direct tutelage of Berklee School of Music legend Pat Pattison. Dusk is an award-winning author and a featured member of the Poetic Genius Society. His illustrated children’s book entitled “Bill Willy the Wild (Who Isn’t a Boy at All!)” will be published in 2020.
Charles Wood has been a first-place winner in numerous banjo competitions including the Osippee Valley Maine Contest, the Rockygrass Banjo Contest in Lyons, Colorado, South Carolina’s Renofest State Banjo Contest, the Merlefest Banjo Contest in Wilkesboro, and the Winfield National Banjo Contest in Winfield, Kansas. He has performed professionally since age 18 when he began playing with ex-Bill Monroe sideman Curtis Blackwell and his band, The Dixie Bluegrass Boys, touring throughout the eastern United States. Since then, his appearances have included “A Prairie Home Companion,” two tours in Austria and Germany with The Lonesome Road Band, teaching at the Munich Germany Banjo Camp in Oct 2009 and various regional and national Bluegrass festivals. Wood was invited by Steve Martin to perform with him and Earl Scruggs, Pete Wernick, and Tony Ellis at the 2005 New Yorker Festival in New York City. With this group he made an appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman. Wood currently performs with Asheville-based band Nitrograss. Wood has recorded five albums. He teaches lessons to students in upstate South Carolina and western North Carolina and offers lessons online as well.
Norma Jean Zahner took “Beginning Guitar” as an elective in the public school system in Ann Arbor, Michigan before moving to Highlands, NC in the fall of 1973. With encouragement and tutoring from her local high school teachers, Doyle Calloway, and other musicians she has been performing throughout the Southeast at public and private events for 40 years.
Debbie Lassiter, chairperson
Bob Merriman, treasurer
For more information, please contact:
Sarah Hall, JAM Program Director
95 Bobcat Dr.
Cashiers, NC 28717
The musical roots of Jackson County run deep into the wellspring of traditional Appalachian music. One of the most famous early musicians in Jackson County was Samantha Biddix Bumgarner who, in 1924, was the first woman to record “hillbilly” music. Her accompanist on the recording was Eva Smathers Davis of Sylva, NC. Samantha’s father, Has Biddix, was also a fiddler of some reknown. Today, there are still many musicians of high caliber in Jackson County like the notable Queen Family, The Fiddlin’ Dills Sisters, Darren Nicholson (award winning mandolin player with Balsam Range), Rye Holler Boys and the up and coming bluegrass/gospel band Mountain Faith. Click here for more information on the musical heritage of Jackson County.