Mountain music coming to Suffolk

Published 9:20 pm Monday, September 16, 2013

The Virginia Mountain Boys will perform Saturday at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.

The Virginia Mountain Boys will perform Saturday at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.

The sounds of bluegrass and mountain music will sweep across the flatlands this weekend as the Virginia Mountain Boys play at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.

Described as “pure old-time mountain camp meeting, gospel, and folk songs rich in the old-school tradition,” the guitar-picking show begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the center, 110 W. Finney Ave.

“It’s something different,” said Ray Merritt, a volunteer publicist for the group. “You have music there that people probably have heard if they’re my age or fairly old. They’re heard it before, but they haven’t heard it in a long, long, long time. It is music our ancestors were singing back in those hills, and the young people probably have never heard it.”

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Guitarist Bill Jenkins, born in Newport News and raised in Hayes, began making music as a youngster and has performed on the White House lawn and before the National Press Club. He is joined by singer and rhythm guitarist Ken Worrell; bass fiddler Bill Collier; guitarist Joe Gilley; and five-string banjo player Clyde Bailey.

The group was formed in 1971 and still has three original members, Merritt said.

“Each time Bill sings a song, they give you a little background,” Merritt said. “He will talk about where the song came from, who first recorded it and who made it popular, or if it’s never been recorded. It’s an educational experience as well as entertainment.”

Songs some folks might recognize include “The Purple Heart Song,” “A Man of Constant Sorrow,” “In the Pines” and “Roving Gambler.” The arrangements are their own, influenced by their families’ musical traditions and other great mountain musicians, Merritt said in a press release.

The music of the Appalachians, which is primarily the type played by the Virginia Mountain Boys, was influenced by Scots-Irish and African rhythms and, in turn, later begat bluegrass and country music, Merritt added.

The band also will hang around after the show to shake hands and sign autographs, Merritt said.

“It’s a rollicking good time,” Merritt said. “People enjoy the music. Once they start playing, you’re going to start tapping your foot and want to sing along.”

Tickets are $30 for VIP tickets and $20 for general admission. Seniors, military and spouses, students, police and firemen receive discounts. Visit or call 923-2900 to purchase tickets.

For more information on the band, visit