Photo Courtesy of Spence’s Rye
As a child, Blacksville native Gary Copeland and his family went to Glenville each year for the West Virginia State Folk Festival—a celebration of Appalachian music and heritage. The traditional banjo music Gary heard there struck a chord in him and created a lifelong interest in all things Appalachian.
Gary decided to give the banjo a try in 2010 after playing guitar for more than 20 years, and says he’s found his niche with his Appalachian solo folk act, Spence’s Rye. Gary loves the simplicity of performing solo and traveling light to Appalachian festivals, outdoor concerts, and music venues throughout West Virginia.
“Everyday folks created and played what is now termed ‘old time’ music to be played at community gatherings, family events, or solo. Much of that material has passed, over centuries, into the present. All along the music was, and is presently, a part of American culture forever. It is the music of the people,” he says.
Gary says the downward strumming technique used in traditional banjo music tends to create a more rhythmic energy. “My experience is that stringed musical instruments, picked in strictly a downward motion, create a more powerful sound than to upstroke. What I like best about banjo is the rhythmic nature of the downstroke, and the feel of an earlier time it tends to invoke.”
Spence’s Rye performs both originals and cover songs, and Gary says his songs are inspired by the joys and woes of the past that continue to correlate with present-day working-class people. “The majority of the tunes I play, including originals, are derived from folklore or everyday experiences in the lives of everyday people—the ones working their tails off to bring home that which is necessary to their subsistence without fanfare. The struggles and celebrations run the gamut; we all face them.”