“I just called it mountain music,” David Sawyer says of his first memories of hearing old-time southern Appalachian string band music. “I could tell there was a real difference in the music, but I never knew what to call it back then.” David eventually learned to call the music old-time, and he has spent more than two decades playing, traveling to festivals and gatherings, and hosting music parties and jams at his home and at the Stone Mountain General Store in Wilkes County.
David’s first memory of hearing old-time music came at a summer camp at Unicoi State Park, near his birthplace in White County, on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Georgia. “I was probably twelve years old, and we learned to buckdance to recorded old-time music.” As a teenager, he moved to Madison County, North Carolina, and there he found more traditional mountain music and dancing. “We lived outside of Mars Hill, and we would hear [music] at the college.”
David became interested in performing when he was a graduate student doing field research at the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina. There he met two students from the University of Georgia, Rob and Mary Kelly. “They were into old-time music, and they were really good musicians,” he recalls. “I loved the music, and they helped me pick out a guitar, and Rob taught me how to play.” As he played guitar, he developed a passion for old-time music.
A job as a district biologist in northwestern North Carolina took him to Wilkes County. “I knew there was music around here because I had gone to the Mount Airy Fiddlers Convention, but I didn’t know anybody.” He was soon advised to check out the Crouse House in Sparta, where an old-time jam took place and Emily Spencer gave fiddle lessons.”Fred McBride was always there playing,” he remembers. “I liked the way Fred played, because it was a real old-timey way,” he says. “I played with Fred for five or six years, once or twice a week, and I tried to mimic him as much as I could.” David played at the old-time jam at the Todd General Store, where he met many regional musicians, including Sam Gobble. “Sam helped me a lot, and I guess I wound up fiddling [in a style] kind of half-way between Fred and Sam,” he says.
David and his wife Tammy, inspired by the music jam at the Todd General Store, decided to open a general store near Stone Mountain State Park, where they could offer camping supplies, some food, and local crafts, and host a jam session for local musicians. Since 2004, they have hosted a weekly jam session on Saturday nights at the Stone Mountain General Store.
David Sawyer hosts a weekly jam session open to musicians and visitors at the Stone Mountain General Store. He occasionally performs with regional musicians at fiddlers’ conventions and dances.