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Hiliary Dirlam

Hilary Dirlam

Oldtime musician Mars Hill, NC (Madison County)

In her more than twenty-five years as a resident of the North Carolina mountains, oldtime musician Hilary Dirlam has made significant contributions to the region’s music, both in her own playing and through her preservation efforts. Dirlam played bass for both the Carroll Best Band and Luke Smathers‘ Mountain Swing Band, placing her at the heart of some of western Carolina’s classic music traditions. She has performed and recorded with many other great oldtime musicians, including Bruce Greene and Peter Sutherland. Dirlam has produced or played on more than thirty albums.

Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, Dirlam studied with master fiddler Gordon Freeman. “His short-bow fiddling was amazing,” she recalls, “and I recorded all of his tunes in hundreds of hours of home recordings, made him slow tunes down so I could understand his bowing, and transcribed some of them.” Dirlam also played with Freeman’s family band, and produced a commercial cassette of his fiddling.

In the late 1990s Dirlam received a grant from the North Carolina Arts Council to present more than thirty concerts by traditional musicians in the Madison County schools. “One group was a band of Madison County High School students that I helped get together, which ended up performing professionally, the Lonesome Mountain String Band. One member of the band was Josh Goforth, who has gone on to a career as a world-class musician and performer.”

When not playing oldtime American music, Hilary Dirlam is involved with Himalayan folk music. She has collected, recorded, transcribed, and learned music in Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley, and has a recording company, Daka and Dakini Recordings. She works with a Tibetan monastery and nunnery in Nepal, and has recorded and distributes seven CDs of Tibetan sacred music, with an eighth in the works. Dirlam can even play Nepali music on the oldtime banjo.


Hilary Dirlam is available for concerts, solo or with band; to play for dances (Southern or Northern oldtime music, with band, and can provide a caller); for workshops, residencies, and private lessons in most stringband instruments, arranging, and theory; for arranging and production of professional recordings; for tune transcriptions from recordings; for original traditionally-based music, scoring, and arranging; and for booking and organization of oldtime music events.