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Ola Belle Festival Weekend 2 | April 23-25

SAT APR 23 - 25 | Weekend 2 pass only available for purchase until APR 22 | 7PM
$20 - $275 (+ service fee)

Presented by the Ashe County (NC) Arts Council.

The Ola Belle Reed Songwriting Retreat pays tribute to Ashe County, North Carolina Native and long-time Maryland resident National Heritage Fellowship Award and IBMA Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Old Belle Reed. North Carolina and nationally renowned songwriters on staff are excited to share their techniques in craft and art with you. Whether you are an experienced songwriter or about to write your first song, these retreats will help you add skills to your own magic, with detailed concepts, practice and instruction. There will of course be stories and anecdotes along the way.

The event runs over two consecutive weekend sessions. Each weekend will feature afternoon workshops and evening concerts.

Options abound! Purchase single concert tickets, register for a full weekend of workshops and concerts or do both weekends for a discounted price. Between weekends, some instructors will be available for on-on-one sessions at an additional fee. In need of tuition assistance? Email Jeff Fissel director@ashecountyarts.org.


Instructors: Tom Paxton, Jon Weisberger, Alice Gerrard, Joe Troop, Crys Matthews, Cathy Fink

(Program Subject to Change)


  • 10:00 am – meet and greet, staff and class intros
  • 11:00-12:30pmSongwriting Process w/ Jon Weisberger
    For many songwriters, starting is easier than finishing. Yet there are some approaches to the process that can make it smoother - or, at least, less stressful!  We’ll look at ways to make “song maps” that can help guide writers in moving from an idea for a song to a song.  
  • 1:00-2:30pm - New-Old Songs (Songwriting in the tradition)  w/ Alice Gerrard
    Where does your inspiration come from? What kinds of sounds are you trying to get? Songwriting is generally informed, melodically I believe, by all the sounds you love, and have absorbed and internalized through the years. Mine is generally rooted in traditional Southern-based music (which in turn is a distillation of mainly African American and European American traditional music). And that includes blues, gospel, country—everyone from people you may never have heard of like Texas Gladden or Vera Hall to The Staples Singers, Aretha Franklin and George Jones—from old-time unaccompanied style to more country sounds—at least, that’s where I tend to start out. I like the idea of reaching back for sounds.  I’ll sing a bunch of songs and discuss what gives them a traditional feel. 
  • 4:00-5:30Writing An Anthem/Making it Accessible  w/Crys Matthews
    It can be a challenge to say what we want to say in a way that calls out injustice while also calling the listener in. We’ll talk about ways to organize your message, and craft a protest song in a way that inspires. 
  • 7pm-8:30pm –  Song Swaps


  • 10-11:30am – Priming the Pump, Courting the Muse w/Cathy Fink
    Writing warm ups, prompts and ideas to get you started and keep you writing including creating your own writing assignments.
  • 12:30-2pm – Telling the Story in a Song w/Joe Troop
    We’re going to take a deep dive into the process of writing two complicated story songs and boiling them down to the essence of something deliverable, "A Plea to the US Government to Fully Fund the Postal Service" and "The Rise of Dreama Caldwell." Both of these songs were to serve a purpose, and both were effective. They not only had pragmatic, quantifiable results, but also touched real people's lives and garnered relevant media attention. I drew from my own experience to write the post office song, whereas with the song about Dreama, I was able to speak lengthily with her while writing in order to assure historical accuracy. They were very different song-writing experiences, each with pivotal "ah ha!" moments. Determination to discover the perfect word is a common theme in my search. When it happens, I feel a great sense of accomplishment. I'll talk about the mystical experiences I had with each of these songs.
  • 3:00-4:30pm – Editing Your Song w/Tom Paxton
    Step by step, Tom will talk about the details that help you make your song better. He’ll demonstrate examples of editing his own songs, talk about what he looks for as an editor, and will take a song or two from participants to demonstrate editing possibilities.
  • 5-6pm – Hangout with Breakout Rooms, Meet your Fellow Participants
  • 7:30pm – Staff Concert: Tom Paxton, Jon Weisberger, Alice Gerrard, Joe Troop, Crys Matthews, Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer
  • 9:15pm – Song Swaps


  • 10:00- 11:30am – Turning A Six Word Story Into A Song w/Cathy Fink
    We’ll be writing in class, starting with six word stories, turning them into 50 word stories and then turning them into songs, or parts of songs.
  • 12:30-2pm – Play Well With Others, Co-Writing w/Jon Weisberger
    When it works well, co-writing can produce songs that are more impactful than what any of the individual writers might have been able to create on their own.  How does it work?  What qualities make for a good co-writer, and for a good co-writing session?  What makes a good one even better?  We’ll look at strategies and tactics for making the most out of co-writing.
    *Students interested in teaming up to try co-writing between sessions 1 and 2 may also sign up for coaching sessions with Jon M-Th, April 19-22
  • 2-3pm – Prepare for Participant Showcase
  • 3-5pm – Participant Showcase

*April 19-22: Some instructors will be available for one-on-one sessions (or in Jon’s case, co-write team sessions) for an additional fee


(Program Subject to Change)

Instructors: Mark Simos, Tom Paxton, Cathy Fink, Jon Weisberger, Claire Lynch


  • 10:00 am – meet and greet, staff and class intros
  • 11:00-12:30pm – Dissecting the Perfect Song –Cathy, Mark, Jon, Tom, Claire -panel
    The panel will take classic perfect songs in different genres, using various exercises to dissect and learn the techniques of great songwriters. With the templates and lessons of those songs, we’ll jumpstart new songs.
  • 1-2:30pm – Creating melodies w/Mark Simos
    Why are some song melodies, especially those of older traditional songs, so seemingly simple yet so evocative, singable, memorable? Starting with examples of great song melodies, we’ll learn some deep structural principles of melodic design: how melodies can be interwoven with lyrics, rhythm, and song form to support the song’s meaning and emotion. These principles will lead us to challenges: games and exercises for writing, and helpful tools for revising, compelling melodies
  • 4-5:30pm –The Use Of Metaphor To Enrich Your Song – Claire Lynch
    Metaphor has been said to be the "lifeblood of all art". In this workshop, we'll see how it can be used in all types of songs from Country to comical. We'll focus on observing metaphor, understanding it and then using it in our songwriting to convey a deeper, more colorful level of understanding.
  • 7pm-8:30pm – Song Swaps


  • 10:00-11:30am – Tom Paxton, Interviewed by Cathy Fink with Q&A
    With Lifetime Achievement Awards from the GRAMMYs, ASCAP, Folk Alliance, and BBC Radio, Tom has created an enormous catalogue of well-loved and well-recorded songs while continuing to write songs into his 80’s. He’s had covers by Willie Nelson, Placido Domingo, Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, Earl Scruggs, Bobby Vinton, Glen Campbell, Charley Pride, Hank Snow, Chet Atkins, Judy Collins, Pete Seeger and many more. Tom’s own discography includes 63 CD’s. We’ll dig into his process, his career, and the stories behind the songs and recordings.
  • 12:30-2pm – The Business of Songwriting w/Jon Weisberger
    It’s widely believed that income from “roots music” songwriting is negligible, but that’s not necessarily the case - and whether you’re wanting to make that income part of your business plan, or just want to protect your rights as a creator, understanding the business of songwriting is a must.  We’ll review the basics of copyright, music publishing, licensing, the most common kinds of royalties as they apply to our corner of the music world. Then there is pitching your song, or getting others to record it and the elbow grease and luck involved.
  • 3:00-4:30 – Advice From The Experts w/ Claire Lynch
    This class will give you a glimpse into tried and true observations by many great writers from Joseph Pulitzer to Joni Mitchell and how they can be applied to crafting our own songs. I’ll also talk about how I’ve used these observations, and of course, add a few of my own. 
  • 5-6pm – Hangout with Breakout Rooms, Meet your Fellow Participants
  • 7:30pm – Staff Concert Mark Simos, Tom Paxton, Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, Jon Weisberger, Claire Lynch
  • 9:15pm – Song Swaps


  • 10:00- 11:30am - Editing Your Song w/Tom Paxton
    Building on Session 1’s workshop in editing, Tom will talk about the details that help you make your song better. Participants will be encouraged to submit songs in advance and have Tom use them as examples to discuss editing.  You must be comfortable with having this done for the class and time will limit how many songs can be discussed.
  • 12:30-2pm – The Truth About Three Chords w/Mark Simos
    Finding chords and progressions that support our song’s story and emotion—or help us find new stories to sing about—isn’t just about knowing more, or fancier, chords. We’ll explore new ways to use even simple sets of familiar chords, by attending to: how we move between chords, the rhythms of chord changes, and ways chords form their own “rhyming” patterns. We’ll draw lessons from some great example songs, and learn a fun game for creating fresh progressions—the infamous Simos “Hank Williams in Hell” exercise!
  • 2-3pm – Prepare for Participant Showcase
  • 3-5pm – Participant Showcase

Instructor Bios (Alphabetical Order):

Cathy Fink – Artistic Director - GRAMMY Award Winner, Cathy has won the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, International Songwriting Competition, Mid-Atlantic Songwriting Contest and has recorded 48 albums in her 48 year career, mostly with partner Marcy Marxer. Influenced by folks like Tom Paxton, Alice Gerrard, Pete Seeger and Ola Belle Reed, she writes what she wants in whatever style suits her from bluegrass to swing and from folk to rock.  Her songs have been featured on NPR as commentaries and have helped propel the SHOUT AND SHINE diversity movement in the bluegrass world. She has been nominated for 12 consecutive GRAMMY Awards and her two GRAMMY’s say “Artist, Engineer, Producer”, but the title she likes best is “Social Music Conductor.” www.cathymarcy.com

Alice Gerrard -  IBMA Lifetime Achievement Honoree, Alice has mixed and matched her love of traditional Appalachian music with songwriting for over fifty years. Her duo with Hazel Dickens brought her to bluegrass notoriety, but her songwriting has been as eclectic as the many causes she cares about. Alice toured with Ola Belle Reed on the Southern Folk Cultural Revival tours and appeared together on many festivals and concerts. She is the subject of the new documentary, “You Gave Me A Song.”

Claire Lynch - Long recognized and praised as a creative force in acoustic music, Claire Lynch is a pioneer who has continually pushed the boundaries of the Bluegrass genre. Her career has been decorated with many accolades including three GRAMMY nominations, eight International Bluegrass Music Association awards and the prestigious United States Artists Walker Fellowship. The song  "Dear Sister", co-written with Louisa Branscomb, won the 2014 International Bluegrass Music Association award for Song of the Year. Her eleven albums are full of inspired songwriting. On her “North by South” album, Claire pays tribute to some of her favorite Canadian songwriters. https://www.clairelynch.com/

Crys Matthews - A prolific lyricist, Matthews blends Americana, folk, jazz, blues, bluegrass and funk into a bold, complex performance steeped in traditional melodies punctuated by honest, original lyrics. Her two 2017 releases, a full-length album called The Imagineers, a selection of thoughtful songs about love and life, and an EP called “Battle Hymn for an Army of Lovers”, which tackles social justice themes, helped earn Matthews high praise like that from The Bluegrass Situation as well as the title of 2017 NewSong Music and Performance Competition grand prize winner. A well loved Kickstarter campaign helped her record the March 2021 new album, “Changemakers.”  http://crysmatthews.com/

Tom Paxton -  GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award Winner, Paxton has been an integral part of the songwriting and folk music community since the early 60’s Greenwich Village scene, and continues to be a primary influence on today’s “New Folk” performers. Tom has a daily songwriting practice and continues to tour, most recently with songwriters Jon Vezner and Don Henry,  writing songs together.   A few of his famous songs include “The Last Thing on My Mind”, “Ramblin' Boy”, “Whose Garden Was This?” and  “The Marvelous Toy.” https://www.tompaxton.com/

Mark Simos, associate professor in songwriting at Berklee College of Music, earned this quote from Alison Krauss, who has recorded several of his songs: “Mark Simos is a remarkable songwriter. He's one of those rare people who knows what words sound good together, and his lyrics are just as unique as his melodies. I never stop being amazed at his songs, and I'm never surprised that I love another one.” Over one hundred and fifty of Mark’s songs and instrumentals have been recorded by artists, Ricky Skaggs, Del McCoury, and Laurie Lewis. He’s co-written with Australian rock icon Jimmy Barnes, Catie Curtis, and the Infamous Stringdusters’ Andy Hall. His book “Songwriting Strategies” is available on Berklee Press. https://songwritingstrategies.com/

Joe Troop is a multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He’s also the founder of the GRAMMY-nominated string band, Che Apalache, based in Buenos Aires. As a solo artist, Troop composes wry and well-traveled acoustic music, sung in English, Spanish and Japanese. He wrenches old-time music into the world of contemporary global politics, creating a space for sympathy, solidarity, and a little humor. (In April, Troop released a COVID-19 single titled, “A Plea to the US Government to Fully Fund the Postal Service,” which was lauded by John Nichols of The Nation.) Jaunty, rhythmic, and tale-spinning, Troop plays fingerpicking mountain music for a progressive rural America. https://joetroop.com/

Jon Weisberger, recipient of the IBMA’s first Songwriter of the Year Award, is a prolific songwriter with more bluegrass “cuts” by other artists than just about anyone. He toured for sixteen years as bass player and songwriter with Chris Jones and the Night Drivers and is now entirely focused on his songwriting, publishing and album producing career.



April 16- 18 Weekend Pass $150 (+ $3 service fee)
Includes all workshops and evening concert. Only available for purchase until APR 15 | 7PM

April 17 | 7:30PM Concert only $20, $30 Supporter (+ $3 service fee)

April 23- 25 Weekend Pass $150 (+ $3 service fee)
Incudes all workshops and evening concerts. Only available for purchase until APR 22 | 7PM)

April 24 | 7:30PM Concert only: $20, $30 Supporter (+ $3 service fee)

BOTH WEEKEND PASS  $275 (+ $5 service fee)
Includes all workshops and both evening concerts. Only available for purchase until APR 15 | 7PM)

About your virtual pass:

All workshops will be held through ZOOM. Your access will be emailed to you by the event organizers prior to the event. If you don’t already have ZOOM, please download the app here

All virtual concerts will be through the Creative Alliance ticketing portal. Access to concerts will be through a virtual ticket, emailed to you from info@creativealliance.org at the time of purchase.

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