“I consider myself a historian, who uses music as a conveyance to share stories,” says multi-instrumentalist, Trevor McKenzie. “I really enjoy delving into old songs and tunes that bridge the past and the present of communities around this part of the world.” Trevor helps keep the traditions alive through his performing as a solo artist, fiddler with the Elkville String Band, and sideman with various other projects, as a songwriter and recording artist, and as a teacher and mentor through Junior Appalachian Musicians programs and private lessons.
Trevor grew up on a cattle farm outside of Rural Retreat, Virginia, and his first exposures to music came through church and his father’s record collection. His dad played some guitar and cross-picked mandolin, and he had a diverse collection of music, heavy in bluegrass and southern rock. Trevor’s family also attended regional bluegrass shows, many of them held at the Fairview Ruritan Club in Galax, Virginia, where Trevor saw bands like Jim and Jesse McReynolds and Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys perform. One cassette tape that Trevor found particularly interesting as a child was a collection of Civil War-era songs recorded by Wayne Erbsen. “I was really interested in history before I even started playing music and the songs seemed like a soundtrack the suited the landscape as well as the old eighteenth and nineteenth century houses and outbuildings on the farm.”
When he was around nine-years-old, Trevor’s dad took him to Jim Lloyd’s barbershop, where Trevor started taking guitar lessons. As a young teenager, Trevor took up banjo to help fill-out a string band for a school talent show. He was also attending fiddlers conventions and getting more involved with the traditional music of the southwest Virginia area. By the time he moved to Boone, NC, to attend Appalachian State University as a public history student, Trevor was also taking up the fiddle and mandolin. About this time, he joined Jim Lloyd’s band, The Skyliners, along with Lloyd and bass player, Mark Rose. When Drake Walsh passed away in 2010, Trevor joined the Elkville String Band as fiddler, a role he continues today. Trevor also started teaching in Ashe and Watauga County JAM programs in 2008, and he continues to teach in the Boone JAM program at the Jones House Cultural and Community Center.
After his undergraduate studies, Trevor continued to graduate school at Appalachian State for a master’s degree in Appalachian Studies. Trevor’s interests in history and music continued combining as he wrote his thesis on Otto Wood, a famed bandit from Wilkes County whose story has been recorded in history through several songs and stories. “Herb Key was a big help when I was researching Otto Wood,” Trevor says. “We both have files full of information about Otto.” In addition to Herb Key and the Elkville String Band members, Trevor also developed a close relationship with Lonnie Ward, a Watauga County native and bearer of traditional music from the area. Trevor accompanied Lonnie on many musical outings and performances and considers him an important mentor. On fiddle, Trevor cites West Virginia’s celebrated traditional musician Jimmy Costa as a major influence.
Trevor has a rich and diverse repertoire of traditional tunes and songs from American roots genres. He also released a recording of original songs in 2016. “I like to write about local stories,” Trevor says of his songwriting. “ It’s a high bar to aim for, but I try to write things sort of in the same spirit of Robert Burns or someone like that, finding universal truths in small stories while creating new songs within a tradition.” In addition to his own album, Trevor has made several recordings with the Elkville String Band, is featured on the album Big Bend Killing: The Appalachian Ballad Tradition, and recorded The Freshet, an album of western North Carolina songs and tunes with the award-winning traditional musician Steve Kruger. Trevor has recorded soundtracks for films and documentary projects, including After Coal, The Mountain Minor, and Voices from the Headwaters.
Trevor works in the W.L. Eury Appalachian Collection in Belk Library at Appalachian State University. He is available for performances with Elkville String Band, as a solo artist, and with other string band configurations. Trevor is also available for teaching and workshop engagements.