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Old-time musician picks, strums tunes of a simple life

SPRING LAKE — The way Laura Boosinger sees it, the current economic downturn the nation is suffering through might have a silver lining. It can make people appreciate the things in life that are pure and down to earth.

For Boosinger, a celebrated multi-instrumentalist in the old-time music tradition, a couple of straight-back chairs are all that's needed to have a great time.

"Two people sharing the joy of playing music face to face is about as good as it gets for me," Boosinger said from her Asheville, N.C., home. "It's low tech, low cost, and you can do it anywhere that people are willing to put up with you."

Boosinger, 51, will perform Saturday at the Florida Old Time Music Championship at the Sertoma Youth Ranch. She has shared many a tune during her 30-plus years of performing and has starred on musical stages throughout the United States and Europe.

Considered one of the most knowledgeable purveyors of Appalachian music, she spends nearly as much time teaching old-time clawhammer banjo as she does performing on one.

"To a lot of people, the clawhammer banjo is the real soul of Appalachian music," Boosinger said. "They hear that sound, and it paints a romantic picture of little cabins and lush mountainsides. Though the fiddle is certainly part of that, it's the banjo that adds a special dimension to it."

Lately, Boosinger has seen a lot more younger faces at her seminars and workshops. Her theory is that a lot of them are coming back to the music they first heard growing up.

"It probably has to do with the music being so family-oriented," Boosinger said. "Bluegrass and old-time music tends to be handed down from generation to generation. Fundamentally, it hasn't changed much over time. (The fiddle tune) Sally Ann still sounds the same way it did 70 or 80 years ago."

Boosinger's foray into old-time music began in her freshman year at Warren Wilson College, a small liberal arts college tucked away in North Carolina's Swannanoa Valley, near Asheville. Among the courses offered was a beginning banjo class. Once she got the basics down, Boosinger sought out local old-time music standout David Holt for more advanced lessons.

In 1984, Boosinger joined the Luke Smathers Band, an Asheville string band that had been around in one form or another since the 1920s.

"That was my real music education," said Boosinger, who stayed with the band for 13 years until Smathers' death in 1997. "We did everything from Old Joe Clark to Tiger Rag. Everything seemed to fit."

Since then, Boosinger has performed mostly as a solo act, but is joined on stage occasionally by longtime multi-instrumentalist friend Josh Goforth.

"I feel I'm still growing musically," Boosinger said. "I guess I'm just naturally inquisitive."

Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.

If you go

Old time music

The Florida Old Time Music Championship is today and Saturday at the Sertoma Youth Ranch, south of Spring Lake on Myers Road. Contests begin at 7 tonight. On Saturday, activities begin at 10 a.m.; contest eliminations start at 2 p.m., and finals are at 7 p.m. Admission is $5 today and $10 Saturday. Weekend admission is $15. Children under 12 are admitted free. For information, call (352) 588-4734 or visit the event's Web site at For information on Laura Boosinger, visit her Web site at

Old-time musician picks, strums tunes of a simple life 03/12/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 12, 2009 7:52pm]
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