The Zephyr Lightning Bolts play oldtime string band music at festivals, competitions, and dances in Western North Carolina. The group formed in the early 1980s with husband and wife Steve and Diane Bowen. Their son, Jacob, joined the band as fiddler in the 1990s to complete the core of the current lineup, which also includes guitar player Eddie Butcher.
Steve Bowen grew up in Wilkes County, and he learned to play guitar while he was in the military. When he returned to Wilkes County, Steve played bluegrass with local musicians. After he married Diane, the couple discovered the old-time music traditions of the area. They heard about Emily and Thornton Spencer of Whitetop, Virginia, who were offering music lessons at the local community college. Diane learned to play clawhammer banjo from Emily Spencer, and the Bowens decided to start an old-time band.
Steve and Diane soon met fiddler Roger Stamper, whose father was a classically-trained violinist. Roger was interested in fiddle music, especially in the Celtic style, but he also played old-time music inspired by Whitetop fiddler Albert Hash. The three started playing together, and in the mid-1990s, they officially named the band Zephyr Lighting Bolts, after the Zephyr community in Surry County.
When Roger dropped out of the band to pursue other interests, Steve and Diane encouraged Jacob to join the band. Jacob had learned to play fiddle as a child, but as a teenager was more interested in rock-and-roll guitar. He developed a strong interest in old-time music, though, and like his parents, Jacob looked to Thornton and Emily Spencer for instruction. He was around twenty years old when he joined for the band.
Guitar player Chester McMillian, from Surry County, plays guitar with the band. Chester was born in Carroll County, Virginia, into a musical family and community. He has played traditional oldtime Round Peak style music since childhood. By the time he was eleven or twelve years old, he was living in Surry County and taking an active part in the Round Peak music community. He has played with Dix Freeman, Tommy Jarrell, Greg Hooven, and with his own group Backstep that today includes his son, Nick.
The Zephyr Lightning Bolts have released four CDs. They have performed at many fiddlers’ conventions and have won prizes at Galax Fiddler’s Convention, Ashe County Fiddler’s Convention, Alleghany Fiddler’s Convention, and the Laurel Bloomery Fiddler’s Convention.
The Zephyr Lightning Bolts are available for performances, dances, school shows, and possibly some demonstrations.