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After 77 years, WBT Briarhoppers still going strong with new faces

Alana Flowers may write a song about it someday: How she and her younger brother and sister joined an old-time hillbilly band called the WBT Briarhoppers.

Lyrics will express the joy of being newcomers in a group that's been making music for 77 years.

Flowers, 22, started playing banjo with The Briarhoppers in 2009; fiddle player Hannah Flowers, 16, and mandolin player Dillon Flowers, 12, came on board in January.

On Friday, the award-winning Mount Holly musicians will make their first public appearance together with the legendary string band at Charlotte's Great Aunt Stella Center. The concert is co-sponsored by the Charlotte Folk Society and the Levine Museum of the New South.

"It's quite an achievement when a band can last through eight decades and keep on going," said Levine museum historian Tom Hanchett. "Today, the Briarhoppers builds on history by making it ring out with talented young players."

The June 10 show will take place near the site of the Wilder Building where WBT radio beamed programs along the East Coast in the 1930s. Organized by WBT announcer Charles Crutchfield, who coined the folksy name, the Briarhoppers were Carolina superstars.

The old band revived in the 1970s and as members died they were replaced.

Roy "Whitey" Grant died in 2010 at 94; banjo player David Deese of Salisbury died in March at 69.

In addition to the Flowers trio, who also perform as the Flowers Family Band, the current Briarhopper lineup includes Grammy-nominated fiddler Dwight Moody; bass player and music historian Tom Warlick, author of "The WBT Briarhoppers;" and Richard Hollis on dobro and guitar.

New fan base

An environmental engineer, Warlick, 49, started the Clover, S.C., Barn Dance. A lifelong Briarhopper fan, he joined the band in 2007, honored for the chance to play "the people's music."

At churches, senior centers, ballparks - the band served up old standards like "Wait Till the Sunshine Nellie."

Loyal audiences loved it, but the Briarhoppers knew they needed new fans to survive.

"That's our future: going to young audiences and taking young players," Warlick said. "We want the band to be around for another 77 years."

Warlick heard Alana Flowers perform at the Clover barn dance and was impressed.

When she got the invitation to join the Briarhoppers "I started jumping up and down," she said.

"The Briarhoppers had so much influence in the Charlotte area," said Flowers, a student at Central Piedmont Community College. "They've been such a major component in bluegrass and folk music."

As a new member she played a show at Central Piedmont and learned how the band connected with audiences. Instant applause and displays of emotion struck her as "surreal."

Making history

Now, Flowers will be joined by her brother and sister. The Flowers Family Band has performed together for more than seven years. They've played RenoFest and MerleFest and opened for bluegrass great Rhonda Vincent.

This summer, when the band tours with George Hamilton IV, Flowers hopes to introduce new material, including originals by her and her sister.

It's crossed her mind that someday the Flowers family may be in charge of keeping the Briarhoppers going.

"We're all making history together,'' Flowers said. "Which is pretty cool."

WANT TO GO?

The WBT Briarhoppers perform Friday at the Great Aunt Stella Center, 926 Elizabeth Ave. in Charlotte.

Admission is free. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the music starts at 7:30 p.m.

For details, contact Wanda Hubicki at The Charlotte Folk Society, 704-563-7080 or go to www.folksociety.org.

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