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At a time when most people feel constantly distracted by technology and barraged by the news,
authenticity and straightforward honesty are paramount.
There's something about the music of The Po' Ramblin' Boys that cuts right through the noise of the world
and speaks plainly to the soul.
Formed in the Smoky Mountains, The Po' Ramblin' Boys are at once exactly what you would expect
and not at all what you would expect from a tattooed East Tennessee Bluegrass outfit.
No strangers to hard work, the boys are as much at home riding in their 1965 GM Tour bus
as they are crawling underneath to fix it when it needs maintenance.
But they take pride in being ambassadors of their genre,
and the group has brought their music from rural bluegrass festival stages to the rock clubs of Europe,
with stunning results.
Donka Koleva (vocals) is a native of the town of Rudozemin in Bulgaria's Rodope region. She performed for three years with Sliven Folk Dance and Music Ensemble, and in 1986, she became Director of the Folk Song Chorus of Sopot. Since then she has been a featured soloist on Bulgarian national radio and television, has participated in numerous singing competitions in Bulgaria and Europe, and has been featured on many recordings.
Nikolay Kolev (gadulka), a native of the Rose Valley village of Karavelovo, has been playing gadulka since age 10. He performed for three years with the Sliven Folk Dance and Music Ensemble. In 1984 he founded the orchestra "Sopot", and in 1992 the prize-winning ensemble "Balkanski Glasove". Nikolay has accompanied many well-known singers including Vulkana Stojanova, Roumen Rodopski and Todor Kozhuharov.
Tim Britton, John Williams and Katie Grennan
Multi-instrumentalist Tim Britton is best known for his playing of uilleann pipes. Born into a family central to the Philadelphia folk music scene, at age ten he became fascinated with the music of his Celtic roots. After receiving a grant at age fifteen to travel to Ireland, the scarcity of uilleann pipes led him to make his own set, quickly gaining respect as a pipe maker. Since then Tim has been performing with the likes of Eileen Ivers, Liz Carroll, and Na Casaidigh, appearing on over fifty records as well as A Prairie Home Companion and All Things Considered. In 1989 he was designated a master artist by the Iowa Arts Council.
John Williams was raised in Chicago but spent his summers in his father's hometown in Ireland. All-Ireland music champion five times over, multi-instrumentalist John is best known for his playing of the button accordion and concertina. He has been featured on the Irish national broadcasting network RTE, Mountain Stage, A Prairie Home Companion and the Grand Ole Opry. Williams' music appears in the movie Road to Perdition and has been featured in Chicago Magazine's annual Best of Chicago issue.
Katie Grennan, born and raised in Pittsburgh, first qualified for the Irish dance World Championships in Ireland at age 12. Since then, she has danced and fiddled with The Trinity Irish Dance Company, Gaelic Storm, and Irish tenor Michael Londra and appeared with The Chieftains, Cherish the Ladies, the Pittsburgh Symphony, and on A Prairie Home Companion. In 2017 she released her second solo fiddle and dance album "The Second Story". Katie has taught hundreds of children at Carnegie Mellon University, multiple Irish dance schools, and the Chicago Public School System.
Balfa Toujours has been together for over 30 years. Christine Balfa formed the band after the death of her father, the legendary fiddler Dewey Balfa, wanting to carry on the traditional Cajun music and message of the Balfa family. Balfa Toujours, meaning "still and always," plays Cajun songs from their Louisiana culture and continue to write expressive and incredibly danceable original songs. The band consists of musicians with rich musical families as well: joining Christine Balfa (guitar) is Jean-Jacques Aucoin (accordion), Blake Miller (fiddle), Shane Guidry (bass). Christine's daughter, Amelia Powell, will also be joining them for the UChicago Folk Festival on guitar, triangle, and vocals.
Fiddler Juan Rivera has been a member of Chicago's award-winning Sones de México Ensemble, and was awarded in the Old Town School of Folk Music's Iron Heart Heroes program in 2015. Otherwise, he is a Spanish teacher at the Mannheim Middle School in Franklin Park, and teaches Mexican music in the Chicago Public School system. With Carlos Garcia, who will join him on the jarana, he founded Los Condenados Huastecos, a band that focuses exclusively on the son huasteco style from La Huasteca region in Mexico. They have toured in Indiana, Illinois, and Texas, participating in festivals and concerts since 2011. Esteban Martinez rounds out the band on huapanguera.
Henry Barnes & Conner Vlietstra
Henry Barnes is from Washington Court House, Ohio and began learning to play the fiddle from his father at the age of four. Since then he has learned from Bobby Taylor, John Morris, and Roger Cooper. Inspired by the multicultural influences of the OH-WV-KY tri-state area and by musical mysteries of the past, Henry searches for the sounds that make old music special, carrying them into the present. He is recognized as a Master of Traditional Arts in the State of Ohio and has won contests including the Appalachian Stringband Contest at Clifftop, WV, the West Virginia State Folk Festival at Glennville, WV, and the Ed Haley Memorial Contest.
Conner Vlietstra is an old-time country musician from Chattanooga, TN, with a family from the Mississippi Delta. He began playing blues music on the guitar at age 14 and began playing country music shortly after with the inheritance of his grandfather's banjo. Influenced by artists like Furry Lewis, Uncle Dave Macon, and the Louvin Brothers, he currently attends ETSU for Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Roots Music Studies. Most of his time outside of class is spent scouring the internet or antique stores for country music not easily found. He performs with the groups Sinner Friends and The Price Sisters.
Jerron Blind Boy Paxton (born January 26, 1989) is an American multi-instrumentalist blues musician and vocalist from Los Angeles. He plays banjo, piano and violin and his musical influences are mainly rooted in the early blues from the 1920s and 30s. Jerron's family, originally from Louisiana, moved to LA in the 50s where he grew up before moving to New York city in 2007, where he currently resides. With a strong interest in blues and jazz music before World War II, Paxton's sound is influenced by the likes of Fats Waller and Blind Lemon Jefferson. According to Will Friedwald in the Wall Street Journal, Paxton is virtually the only music-maker of his generation playing guitar, banjo, piano and violin, among other implements to fully assimilate the blues idiom of the 1920s and '30s, the blues of Bessie Smith and Lonnie Johnson.