21st-century tech boosts old-time music at Center ...

21st-century tech boosts old-time music at Center for Popular Music’s new ‘unconference’ [+VIDEO]

The Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University is tuning up for a new series of special “unconferences” about old-time music, taking advantage of the last year’s “unusual” learning opportunities — and newfangled technology — to reach an even wider audience each month.

“Old-Time Music in the 21st Century Unconference 1: Authenticity and the Revival” kicked off the series Feb. 12 via Zoom.

Center for Popular Music logoThe event featured Grammy-winning and nominated musician and former Carolina Chocolate Drops member Dom Flemons, renowned music professor and author
Lydia Hamessley and the center’s own music historian and archivist John Fabke, who also manages its Grammy-winning Spring Fed Records label.

Center director Greg Reish, a music scholar and old-time musician, and global history interdisciplinarian and musician Dan Margolies served as hosts for the 90-minute virtual event.

The full discussion is available to watch above or via the center’s YouTube channel at

Organizers say the “unconference” title stems from their intent to keep the gatherings as “radically decentered conversations,” keeping a core group of panelists to discuss each topic with audience members who tune in online. Follow-up events are set for Friday, March 12, and Friday, April 16.

Dom Flemons, Grammy-winning and nominated musician and former member of the groundbreaking Carolina Chocolate Drops.

Dom Flemons

Flemons, a member of the groundbreaking and Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops from their 2005 founding until 2013, has released five albums as a solo performer and with other musicians, including his 2018 Grammy-nominated “Black Cowboys.”

Dubbed the “American Songster” for his interests in and performances of American music stretching across nearly 100 years, Flemons’ musical specialties include old-time music, Piedmont blues and neotraditional country.

Dr. Lydia Hamessley, author and professor of music at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. (photo courtesy of Nancy L. Ford)

Dr. Lydia Hamessley

Hamessley teaches courses in country music, Medieval and Renaissance music, music and film, and world music at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. Also a musician, the professor’s research specialty is old-time and bluegrass music with an emphasis on women and southern Appalachia.

Her 2020 book, “Unlikely Angel: The Songs of Dolly Parton,” addresses the myriad ways Parton incorporates her cultural and musical heritage, including old-time music, into her songs about women’s lives.

John Fabke, music historian, archivist and manager for the Spring Fed Records label at the Center for Popular Music at MTSU

John Fabke

Fabke, a historian, archivist and musician who first joined the Center for Popular Music as an intern almost a decade ago, has handled important archival projects that include the center’s Grammy grant-funded Charles K. Wolfe Audio Collection and Marvin Hedrick Bean Blossom Collection and the songs collection for the “My Homeland Tennessee: Research Guide to Songs About Tennessee.”

He’s managed the Spring Fed label, which focuses on the traditional music of Tennessee and the South, since 2014. Spring Fed released its first CD recorded in MTSU’s studios, the old-time fiddle music “Tennessee Breakdown,” last year; its newest CD, “Rural Felicity: Fiddle Tunes from 18th and 19th Century North America,” is now available.

The Center for Popular Music at MTSU, part of the College of Media and Entertainment, is one of the world’s oldest and largest research centers devoted to studying American folk and popular music from the early 18th century to the present.

The center also develops and sponsors programs in American vernacular music and presents special concerts, lectures and events for the campus community.

For more information on the Center for Popular Music and its projects and special events, visit

— Gina E. Fann (