Montana Young: Fiddling Up a Storm

Montana_Young
Fiddling Up a Storm Cover Property of VFH
Buy now

Anyone concerned that traditional bluegrass and old time music may no longer resonate with today’s youth need only witness the masterful playing of Montana Young to allay these fears. At the tender age of 12, Montana has already been delighting audiences at fiddling conventions, festivals, and community jams for years, along the musically rich Crooked Road. Like many child prodigies, Montana attends to her craft with a maturity and artistry that belies her years. Unlike so many other child prodigies, she does so without losing her youthful exuberance or humble reverence to the masters that she has had the foresight to seek out.

Probably the single most important characteristic that has defined Montana’s early experiences in music is her relentless hunger to learn and expand her skills. She first became mesmerized by the fiddle at the age of four, when her parents took her to the Galax Old Time Fiddlers Convention.

“I saw this girl up on stage,” Montana remembers, “and she was playing and dancing around and the crowd was going wild. So from that point, all I wanted was a fiddle. I don’t think my mom and dad really took me seriously at first, but eventually they gave me one.”

Montana was raised in Bassett, Virginia, in Henry County, just east of the Crooked Road, where bluegrass music is not as prevalent as in neighboring counties to the west. It was difficult for her father to find Montana a violin teacher locally, but eventually he landed her with Jane Wong, a Roanoke-based classical violinist, and local bluegrass performer Timmy Martin. These two early instructors provided her with “the best of both worlds,” as her father likes to say. Montana has enjoyed tremendous success with classical violin, earning first chair in the Roanoke Junior Strings, but her true love has always been bluegrass: “I’ve met so many great people through bluegrass,” Montana told me, “and besides it’s just so much fun to play.”

At the age of 10, Montana studied with bluegrass legend Buddy Pendleton, of Patrick County, through the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program.  Buddy, who played a stint with Bill Monroe and toured with the likes of Joan Baez, decided to forego the life on the road to be closer to his family in the small town of Woolwine, Virginia.  Mere miles away and only a generation or two apart, Pendleton and Montana clicked instantly.  “I’ve had some experiences in music,” remarked Pendleton at Eastwood Studios in Cana Virginia, where this fine project was recorded, “and I’ll tell you, I just don’t think you’re going to find a fiddler any better than Montana at her age.”  During their apprenticeship, Buddy taught Montana his signature bowing style, as well as a number of fiddle tunes, including “Florida Blues,” “Say Old Man,” and “Polecat Blues,” which appear on this recording.

Montana is a famously quick learner.  Legend has it that she learns most fiddle tunes in about 10 or 15 minutes.  Perhaps because she is such a quick study, she often finds herself the fortunate recipient of impromptu tutorials from many of her musical heroes, including Wayne Henderson, Eddie Bond, Gerald Anderson, Linda Lay, Spencer Strickland, and others.  Several of these artists, as well as other fine musicians from along the Crooked Road, appear on this project.

At the time of this writing, Montana has won over 50 blue ribbons for her fiddling.  She has won every youth fiddle competition in her path, and has won first prize in the adult fiddling categories at such prestigious competitions as the Sparta, Fries, Elk Creek, and Mt. Airy fiddling conventions.  And like that unnamed girl who inspired the wide eyed four-year old from Bassett, she is now inspiring countless young kids to take up the fiddle throughout the region.

Montana is learning fast and growing up all too quickly.  If you are reading these notes several years after this CD’s release, it is likely that her mastery has significantly evolved since these recordings, produced in two stormy Southwest Virginia spring nights.  Nevertheless, this recording captures a young artist, peerless at her age, at the top of her game, accompanied by some of the finest musicians you’re going to find.  And for this we can all rejoice.

Jon Lohman, Director
Virginia Folklife Program

  1. BLUEGRASS IN THE BACKWOODS (Kenny Baker, Southern melody Publishing Co., BMI)
    Montana taught herself this song by listening to a Kenny Baker record.
    Montana Young, fiddle
    Dave Neal, guitar
  2. BLACKBERRY BLOSSOM (Traditional)
    Montana learned this song from Wayne Henderson, after hearing him play it on stage at his festival in Grayson Highlands Park in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia.
    Montana Young, fiddle
    Wayne Henderson, guitar
    Dave Neal, guitar
  3. MISSISSIPPI SAWYER (Traditional)
    Montana first heard this song performed during a competition by Fries, Virginia fiddler, Eddie Bond.
    Montana Young, fiddle
    Martha Spencer, guitar
    Amanda Wright, banjo
    Debbie Bremer, bass
  4. LOVER’S WALTZ (Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, Swinging Door Music, BMI)
    Montana taught herself this song after hearing Jay and Molly’s recording.
    Montana Young, fiddle
    Stan Spencer, guitar
  5. BACK UP AND PUSH (Benny Martin, Fiddle and Bow Music, BMI)
    Montana learned this classic from one of her first violin teachers, Timmy Smith of Bassett, Virginia.
    Montana Young, fiddle
    Dave Neal, guitar
  6. GOLD WATCH CHAIN (A.P. Carter)
    Montana learned this during her Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship with Buddy Pendleton.
    Montana Young, fiddle
    Martha Spencer, guitar and vocal
    Amanda Wright, banjo
    Buddy Pendleton, fiddle
  7. SAY OLD MAN (CAN YOU PLAY THE FIDDLE?) (Traditional)
    Montana learned this song, one of her favorites, from Buddy as well.
    Montana Young, fiddle
    Scott Fore, guitar
  8. FLORIDA BLUES (Traditional)
    Another classic taught to Montana by Buddy.
    Montana Young, fiddle
    Wayne Henderson, guitar
    Dave Neal, guitar
  9. POLECAT BLUES (Traditional)
    Another one learned by Grayson County fiddle giant, Eddie Bond.
    Montana Young, fiddle
    Martha Spencer, guitar
    Amanda Wright, banjo
    Debbie Bremer, bass
  10. ST. ANNE’S REEL (Traditional)
    Montana taught herself this song from a Wayne Henderson record.
    Montana Young, fiddle
    Wayne Henderson, guitar
    Scott Fore, guitar
  11. CHICKEN REEL (Traditional)
    Montana first heard Wayne Henderson make his guitar sound like a chicken at the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival in Ferrum, Virginia.
    Montana Young, fiddle
    Wayne Henderson, guitar
    Scott Fore, guitar
  12. CHEROKEE SHUFFLE (Traditional)
    Montana learned this from Caroll County, Virginia mandolin player Spencer Strickland.  Spencer won “Best All Around Performer” at the 2004 Galax Fiddlers Convention with this version of Cherokee Shuffle.
    Montana Young, fiddle
    Scott Fore, banjo
  13. SWEET HOUR OF PRAYER (William B. Bradbury)
    Montana learned this song at her church, First Baptist Church in Bassett, Virginia.  Buddy taught Montana how to “twin fiddle” during their apprenticeship.
    Montana Young, fiddle
    Buddy Pendleton, fiddle
  14. LIBERTY (Traditional)
    This is the first song that Montana ever played in a fiddle competition.  She learned it from Eddie Bond.
    Montana Young, fiddle
    Martha Spencer, guitar
    Amanda Wright, banjo
    Debbie Bremer, bass
    Buddy Pendleton, fiddle