It takes some serious nurturing skills to raise a PineCone from a Tomader seed.
The Oldtime Music And Dance Enthusiasts of Raleigh (TOMADER) first got together in 1983 to establish a place for old time musicians to play in the Raleigh area. The focus has always been on traditional music, but in the beginning, the fledgling organization offered a rather limited menu of only bluegrass, gospel and blues in addition to the oldtime sounds.
In 1984, the name was changed to PineCone, and the focus of the music gradually broadened to include doo-wop, swing and world music. "Our mission statement is to preserve, promote and present the traditional folk arts," says Executive Director Susan Newberry. "It now has expanded to include the folk music of a lot of different folks from a whole lot of different countries. PineCone really is presenting the folk music base of world music."
The organization has a three-pronged approach to presenting entertainment. The venue for their larger acts is Raleigh's 800-seat Stewart Theater on the NCSU campus. Regional acts are mostly displayed in the 350-seat Daniels Auditorium in the North Carolina Museum of History on free Sunday afternoon concerts. Local acts show up at Garner's Lake Benson Park in the summer where seating on the grassy lakeshore is unlimited. In the winter months, the show moves inside to the 500-seat Garner Historic Auditorium located in the 1921-era Garner School building on Garner Road. Both venues are free.
"We've had just about anybody who's anybody in the bluegrass world," says Newberry. Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, Doc Watson, Del McCoury, Ricky Scaggs, Peter Rowan, Tony Rice, Norman Blake, JD Crowe, Doyle Lawson, and Lynn Morris are past PineCone performers. Not all on the list have made it into the building however. "Alison Krauss--the first time we presented her she couldn't even drive a car, and it was in a field," Newberry says.
The director is proud of the fact that PineCone is one of the few places offering the opportunity for the real community artist to perform in public. The organization has presented nearly every N.C. Heritage award winner, including Etta Baker, Joe Thomson, Benton Flippen, and Ralph Blizzard. "And then we got into world music, and then we presented cowboy music and flat-pick guitar music, and we're doing a good bit of Mexican programming," says Newberry. PineCone is considered the largest and most active organization presenting folk music in the state.
Past president Ben Runkel, who now sits on the board of directors, says that Newberry has been instrumental in bringing different local and regional performers to Garner and also to the Museum of History series. "We talked about it a lot and decided as a board to start bring in more international kinds of artists there, especially if they relate to a population here in this area like Hispanic, Vietnamese, Indian--all kinds of things," Runkel said. "We try to work some of that in into all of the series that we do and it has been pretty successful."
February's schedule features an international cast. The Gypsy and Klezmer influenced music of Les Yeux Noirs (The Black Eyes, named for a Django Reinhardt tune) featuring music from Romania, Hungary, Russia and Armenia is at Stewart Theater Thursday, Feb. 12 at 8 p.m. Ballet Regional Mexicano will perform two different sets of traditional dances from the Mexican states of Jalisco and Nuevo Leon at the Garner Auditorium Feb 22. The family dance troupe Los Viejitos ("The Little Old Men") will perform a traditional dance from the state of Michoacan.
One act that Runkel was instrumental in getting and is proudest of was legendary Bob Wills fiddler Johnny Gimble appearing with a band of Nashville studio musicians, the Time Jumpers at the Stewart Theater. He is also proud to have been able to present in the Garner Theater local gospel artists The Capitol City Five. "The whole mission, more or less, is to take these really talented but not necessarily well known performers and bring them out in to the public so people can see them. That's the overarching thing that really turned me on about it," Runkel says.
In any given year, the organization puts 100-150 events and broadcasts fifty weekly radio shows. The PineCone Bluegrass Show, hosted by Tim Woodall and Larry Nixon on WQDR, 94.7FM on Sunday night from 6-9 p.m., is celebrating its 15th year on the air. It's been number one in its time slot since the day it went on the air. In addition to the shows it does at the three venues already mentioned, the organization has a program they call PineCone Sessions.
"We offer the opportunity for folks in the community to get together and make music together," Newberry says of the monthly session. "There's a shape note group that we sponsor, there is a hammer dulcimer session, and we also sponsor an Irish music session that is really a beginner's session."
This year marks PineCone's 20th anniversary season. "We're really excited about that, and hoping to put together a season that has some real what we hope will be once in a lifetime opportunities," Newberry says.
And the selection process for those opportunities is of course very serious and scientific, right? "About the criteria for selecting an artist, the biggest one is when everybody goes 'wow' when the name is mentioned," Newberry laughs.
"We go, 'Yeah, that's who we ought to have.' "
Upcoming PineCone events