My daughter wanted only two things for Christmas … a banjo … and a bullfrog

William Lewis, executive director for PineCone, the Piedmont council of Traditional Music

“We’re still working on that bullfrog …!

In the classic tradition, Eliza learns "knee-to-knee" with teacher David Holt

Traditional music has been learned “knee-to-knee” and passed down from one generation to the next in the oral tradition –  one person teaching the next.  These songs do not have any authentic or original version because regional and local influences over time have self-selected those variants that become preferred. A single artist may perform the songs similarly each time that it is played, but it is often the community of regional “locals” who impart a special flavor on its rendition.

David Holt is one such traditional artist who has combed remote mountain communities like Kingdom Come, Kentucky and Sodom Laurel, North Carolina searching for the best traditional musicians.  Holt has found hundreds of old-time knees who are a wealth of folk music, stories and wisdom — banjoist Wade Mainer, ballad singer Dellie Norton, singing coal miner Nimrod Workman, and 122 year-old washboard player Susie Brunson.

T. Michael Coleman, Bryan Sutton, and David Holt with event sponsors

David was recent guest artist at a PineCone sponsored event in Raleigh with a new show, Deep River Rising, featuring two other Grammy Award winning North Carolina musicians, Bryan Sutton and T. Michael Coleman.

During his curtain speech prior to the performance, William Lewis shared with the audience the story of his daughter, Eliza, who as only three-years-old at the time she first saw David Holt perform and was inspired to want to learn banjo.

“David gave Eliza a CD of folksongs. The CD cover had an artist’s rendition of David playing banjo while riding atop a gigantic bullfrog. She just about wore the grooves off of that disc. When Christmastime came around a few months later, Eliza had only two things on her wish list: a banjo…and a bullfrog.”

David Holt’s CD, “I Got a Bullfrog: Folksongs for the Fun of It”  is a compilation of songs kids love best. No doubt about it because these are the songs kids like best.

Engrained in his family’s lore, Lewis shared the story of his daughter’s Christmas wishes with friends far and wide. The North Carolina-based folk trio the Kruger Brothers heard this story and made one of Eliza’s wishes come true this past November when they surprised her with an autographed Goodtime Deering banjo.

Now…about that bullfrog.

Lewis’s daughters attended the Deep River Rising concert in Raleigh. Eliza (now 7 years old) brings her banjo, just in case. After Lewis shared the story of the “banjo and the bullfrog” with David Holt, he suggested Eliza come backstage during intermission for a quick lesson.


Folk music is as much about the process as it is the product. The folk process begins with being inspired by someone. Then, we seek out that person to learn from them either “knee-to-knee” or by listening to and imitating recordings of their music. Next, we find ways to make the music our own. Finally, we acknowledge and celebrate those who inspired us and from which we learned the craft. In this manner, folk music comes full circle and the spirit of the music lives on through the re-telling of our own personal experiences.

David Holt regards Doc Watson as his “musical father” and one of the “greatest folk musicians that America has ever produced.”  Band members Bryan Sutton and T. Michael Coleman have same regard for Doc having played with him during parts of their careers.  As Doc approaches his 89th birthday, the intent of Deep River Rising is to keep his music moving forward and exposing its sound to broader audiences.

Just as David Holt, Bryan Sutton, and T. Michael Coleman are using Deep River Rising to tell the story of the artist who most inspired them to become musicians, perhaps Eliza Lewis will look back on this concert and the re-telling of the story of the “banjo and a bullfrog” as an important launching point for her own musical interests and pursuits.

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