Answer to My Prayer
Deep in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina there's a front porch that has been the destination of many folk who love these mountains, it's music and stories. Grammy winners and kids with their first guitar, banjo or fiddle, Hollywood producers, writers, and folk music collectors from all over the world, have made their way to the place Joe Penland simply calls "the farm". An invitation ain't that easy to get. Joe has been singing the ballads and telling the stories over half a century, but says with enthusiasm: "Privacy is pretty precious." And he has maintained that for a long time now. Occasionally coming out of "the shelter of these mountains" to sing at some festival or other, until recently he has been content to do it on the porch after the work is done. Deemed a "Cultural Treasure" by The Asheville Citizen Times, and the recipient of the coveted Bascom Lunsford Award (named for the founder of the longest running folk festival in America), Joe preferred the simple life of hard work and family. In 2004 after a serious bout with a life threatening illness, he was persuaded by some of his longtime friends to record the ballads he learned as a kid growing up in these mountains. "I guess that I finally realized I might not live forever. I remembered the stories of my Grandpa who died before I was born. My Mamma said he could play any instrument and he taught singing schools all over this country here. She says he met Uncle Dave Macon on a train and Uncle Dave said he was the best banjo player he had ever heard. Now ain't that something? I always thought how good it would have been to have known him or just have heard him sing. They didn't have all these modern gadgets then that we have now, so I thought it might be the right thing to leave something for my children to have for their babies." Joe recorded "Standing On Tradition the old songs" in 2004. " I didn't realize that I knew so many songs until then. So I just kept on after I kinda got used to it." Now there's more than enough material for five more records. "Once I got started, folks said well how about that song you wrote or that song you learnt from Lee. Well, I guess I'll have to stay around a little while longer to get 'em all down." His daughter Laurin and long time friend Mary Eagle, convinced him " to cross the big water" and took him to the Whitby Folk Festival in England. He sang at one performance with Mary, "and then the people just sorta carried us all around" and he sang and told stories of these mountains every day for the next two weeks. He was invited to Whitby again this year and according the master storyteller Taffy Thomas, his performance was the "emotional pinnacle of Whitby Folk Week". In September of 2006, he released " Answer to My Prayer" a collection of some of the songs he has written over the years and two covers of songs he loves. "It's just story songs about my life and the people I have met, with a dream or two thrown in for good measure." He has accepted his new found fame with his usual dry humor: "I guess it's good to have something to fall back on now that I can't do a decent days work." Encouraged by his friends, novelist and singer Sheila Kay Adams and four time Grammy winner David Holt, Joe, with the help of his daughter, is writing the stories he's been telling all these years and will release a third recording, "On Shaky Ground' in the spring of 2011 and "The Mary Sands Project' in the fall. And as Joe says: 'Every morning on this side of Glory is a good 'un and I'd best make the most of it." What was once available to a select few is finally out in the world. If you get a chance to see Joe Penland, don't miss it.