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Do you like roots music? Then we're giving away a getaway just for you

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
 Sammie Moore, a.k.a. Ironing Board Sam
Sammie Moore, a.k.a. Ironing Board Sam
Photo: Music Maker Relief Foundation

Usually, our giveaways here at The A.V. Club are of physical media: LPs, Blu-rays, that one time we gave away a giant print with Joaquin Phoenix’s face on it. But this time, we’re doing something a little different. We’re giving away a getaway to Durham, NC, to attend a five-day music and arts festival celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Music Maker Foundation, so you can see living legends of American roots music perform live.

As all musicians know painfully well, a career in the arts does not come with a retirement plan. Founded in 1994, the Music Maker Relief Foundation documents the work of and provides assistance to the keepers of traditional Southern musical folkways, whether that be through direct financial support or through boosting their careers by booking them gigs and producing their albums. Musicians involved with Music Maker are mostly senior citizens, and come from four different traditions—blues, gospel, string bands, and traditional Native American music—and include artists like blues legend Alabama Slim, Indigenous vocalist Pura Fé, and gospel group The Branchettes. (You can see a full list of Music Maker’s artists here.)


This year, Music Maker is marking its 25th year with a festival called Music Maker 25, which is being presented in partnership with Duke University and is described in a press release as “spotlight[ing] the true champions of Southern music that often live in obscurity yet continue to define our collective culture.” We’re giving away a getaway to Durham, NC for the festival, a prize package that includes a pair of tickets to every event at Music Maker 25 from December 4-8, as well as a superior king room at the very stylish Durham Hotel with a value of more than $1,300. (Note that you’ll have to provide your own transportation to and from Durham, and your own meals.)

To enter to win a trip for two to Music Maker 25, email us at avcontests@theonion.com with your full name and the subject line “I Got The Blues” before 12 PM CT on Friday, October 25. We’ll randomly select a winner that afternoon, and notify them via email. You can see the full lineup for Music Maker 25, as well as videos about Music Maker and a playlist featuring participating performers, below. You can also find event information here and ticket information for the festival here.




Music Maker 25 opens at The Fruit with a celebration of the next generation of Piedmont Blues boundary-pushers and tradition-preservers. Founding Carolina Chocolate Drops member Dom Flemons, GRAMMY winner and “equal parts studious folklorist, multi-instrumentalist, and American griot” (St. Pete Catalyst), pulls from repertoire covering more than a century of American musical tradition. Hailed by The Wall Street Journal as “virtually the only music-maker of his generation playing guitar, banjo, piano, and violin to fully assimilate the blues idiom,” Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton reaches back with his faithful renditions of 1920s and 30s songbook repertoire. Two accomplished pickers — Durham-based Jake Xerxes Fussell and Pittsville, Virginia-based Gail Caesar — further demonstrate that the future of the music is in good hands. Each artist will perform a short set and close out the show together in a finale of their favorites.


Southern Voices: Lonnie Holley & Alexa Rose


Thursday evening at Music Maker 25 features individual sets from two distinct Southern voices — multidisciplinary visual artist and improvisational musician Lonnie Holley and Southwest Virginia mountain native and roots musician Alexa Rose. A journeyman and sculptor who recorded his first ever album of music in his sixties, Holley has lived an unparalleled life, one reflected in the captivating fare of 2012’s Just Before Music and last year’s sprawling MITH. Of that latter full-length, The Quietus hailed it as “a record that, far from being cartoonish or hackneyed, feels tangible and rings true.” Rose, compared to the likes of Joni Mitchell and Hurray for the Riff Raff, is developing a sound distinctly her own. Drawing inspiration from her Appalachian heritage, her voice “stands out with depth and complexity, capable of gymnastic yodels and deep resonance” (Cary Magazine).


Zydeco: Major Handy with Buckwheat Zydeco, Jr. & Ils Sont Partis


For one memorable night, the history and evolution of the Creole Zydeco tradition will be on display. A veteran of Buckwheat Zydeco and Rockin’ Dopsie’s groups, as well as a seasoned bandleader in his own right, accordion virtuoso Major Handy has spent decades honing his craft. Informed by his French Creole heritage and still going strong nearly a decade and a half following Hurricane Katrina, his music captures the potency and eclecticism of the zydeco genre. Buckwheat Zydeco heir Buckwheat Zydeco, Jr. and his band Ils Sont Partis join Handy, each artist trading off lead on an evening-length zydeco dance party heavy with accordion and rub board.


Native American: Pura Fé, Cary Morin, Deer Clan Singers & Lakota John


At this Saturday matinee presentation, an intergenerational mix of performers from the U.S. and Canada demonstrates the extraordinary range of sounds and musical styles being advanced by Native American artists. Over the past 25 years, Pura Fé’s voice has graced records by the Indigo Girls, Robert Mirabal, and The Band’s Robbie Robertson, among others. Her own albums, with a capella trio Ulali as well as solo, place her mesmerizing vocals front and center. Born and raised in Montana, Crow tribal member Cary Morin shifted from the rock-oriented ensemble The Atoll to the acoustic fingerpicking now synonymous with his solo work. Sharing Tuscarora lineage with Pura Fé, the Deer Clan Singers bring indigenous traditions into the present. Pura Fé hosts the proceedings, with opening sets by Morin and Deer Clan Singers. Scarcely into his twenties, Pembroke-based Lumbee and Lakota guitarist Lakota John & Kin perform in the exhibition space at The Fruit prior to the performance.


Blues Revue: Cool John Ferguson, Alabama Slim, Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen, Pura Fé & Cary Morin, Music Director: Timothy Duffy


Music Maker founder Timothy Duffy directs the house band for Saturday evening’s “Music Maker Blues Revue,” the organization’s signature traveling showcase. Left-handed lowcountry electric bluesman Cool John Ferguson started in gospel groups, building a reputation for outstanding live performances characterized by his upside-down guitar technique. He has earned high praise from the legendary Taj Mahal, who likened Ferguson to Jimi Hendrix and Django Reinhardt. Another blues authority, octogenarian Alabama Slim, recorded his debut album, The Mighty Flood, in 2007; that album and its 2010 follow-up Blue and Lonesome proved well worth the wait, each a robust collection of history and heartache. Joining them are longtime New Orleans singer Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen, blues polymath Pura Fé, and inimitable guitarist Cary Morin.


Gospel: The Branchettes with special guest Phil Cook | The Glorifying Vines Sisters


The Sunday proceedings at Music Maker 25 celebrate the gospel tradition. The matinee features The Branchettes, a Johnston County, NC duo composed of vocalist Lena Mae Perry and pianist Wilbur Tharpe, who are devoted to sharing the songs and congregational hymns that live in their hearts. Having previously tapped Perry for his own Southland Revue shows and in other collaborative efforts, gospel’s influence on Phil Cook’s inimitable vocal delivery is unmistakable. Aquarium Drunkard praised his 2018 album People Are My Drug as a vital product of our times, adding that “the Durham-based singer/songwriter clearly views his mission as a celebratory one, recognizing that the work required right now is good work to do.” In recent years, Cook has also worked with Hiss Golden Messenger and Mavis Staples, an indication of his impressive range. Cook joins The Branchettes for a special collaboration.



Music Maker 25 closes out Sunday evening with a gospel set featuring The Glorifying Vines Sisters. The Glorifying Vines represent a divine musical tradition, one that dates back to the singing quartets of the 1930s. Fittingly, The Raleigh News & Observer once praised the gospel singing group for “bringing old-school tent-revival fervor to unexpected places.” Led by Alice Vines, the Eastern North Carolina family band has taken their gripping devotionals wherever the spirit leads them, no matter if the venue is sacred or secular. Alice Vines is joined by vocalists Audrey Vines, Melody Harper, Curtis Harper, Johnny Ray Daniels, and Anthony Daniels, who will trade off on lead and welcome additional family to the stage for guest performances, a triumphant close to this five-day celebration of Music Maker Relief Foundation, a North Carolina and national treasure.