Although it is called “old-time,” the music Riley Baugus plays is, as he says, both old and new, “a living, breathing example of music and tradition that still lives in the mountains near my home.” The Round Peak style which is Baugus’s specialty reflects what he calls a “different feeling in the foothills” of North Carolina, where the music emphasizes the downbeat, giving the tunes a bluesy feel.
Attending the Regular Baptist church as a child helped Baugus hone his powerful singing voice, and when his instrumental interests turned from fiddle to banjo, his father helped young Riley build his first banjo out of scrap wood. Soon he studied avidly with elder local masters: “To learn from [National Heritage Fellow] Tommy Jarrell was like having a time machine at your disposal…. the information you were getting was one person removed from the mid-1800s.” Longtime friend Dirk Powell tapped Baugus to provide the ballad singer’s voice—and build the period-appropriate banjos—for the Academy Award-winning film Cold Mountain. Riley Baugus continues to craft hand-made banjos, and teaches and tours internationally, keeping the old-time music of North Carolina vital for a new generation of musicians and fans.