Joe and Paula McHugh play an American style of acoustic string music called “old-time” with roots reaching back to the fiddle tunes and ballads of the early Scotch-Irish and German pioneers who settled in the southern Appalachian mountains. Learned “by ear” and passed on from one generation to the next, the music was an important part of the social life of the mountains where it was played for dances, corn shuckings, weddings, and other community gatherings.

Olympia Old-Time Music Festival, Pretty Little Indian, Pretty Little Dog. Joe McHugh, fiddle, Paula McHugh, banjo, Forrest Newton, guitar. Filmed by Carla Wulfsburg.

Over time the music was enriched through contact with other ethnic groups including former African slaves who moved into the mountains looking for work after the Civil War and who brought with them an instrument, originally from Africa, called a “banjer.” The music also accompanied those who traveled west looking for opportunities in the gold fields of California or the rich farmland of the Oregon territory. Then came the invention of radio and the influence of old-time music spread to other parts of the country reaching urban as well as rural audiences. Today people both young and old continue to discover the joy, vitality, and camaraderie of this unique form of American music.

The Time Travelers playing a courting dulcimer

The Courting Dulcimer

Fiddle Sticks

“Joe and Paula have twice been featured concert performers and workshop leaders at the Olympia Old Time Festival. They are sought after performers due to their deep reverence for traditional American music, their skillful musical delivery, and their engaging stories. Recently they performed with a backdrop of Paula’s paintings depicting the particular tunes as they were played. It was an enthralling combination, with the images reflecting the deeper meaning, emotion, and history of each tune. Audience members both young and old were captivated and left with the gift of seeing these old tunes in a new light – cast jointly by Paula’s skillful brush and Joe’s amusing stories.”

~ Emily Teachout, Co-founder, and Programming Coordinator Olympia Old-Time Music Festival, Olympia Washington