Spotlight on Emily Elam and upcoming season

The Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View opened the season recently to an enthusiastic crowd and performances by Music Roots students across Stone County. Joining the Ozark Folk Center staff this year as the assistant music director is Emily Phillips Elam, herself a product of the Music Roots program. For twenty years the program has brought local folk musicians into the schools to teach 4th-8th grade students how to play folk instruments. The program continues to deliver on its mission of preserving folk music from the Ozarks, while also providing a pipeline of talented musicians who perform at the Ozark Folk Center’s Ozark Highlands Theater and at other venues throughout the region. In her new role, Emily schedules musicians, dancers, and emcees for daytime and evening shows, manages ticket sales, and is the first person greeting visitors to the music theater.

The Music Roots program is funded by the Committee of One Hundred for the Ozark Folk Center, the Mountain View BlueGrass Association (both charitable organizations), and the Mountain View School District.

Emily observed that many things are the same at the Ozark Folk Center but she notes, “New faces are making appearances too; young women are building fiddles, teaching workshops, receiving prestigious nominations, and are beginning their transformation from Music Roots students to flourishing luthiers, teachers, and performers.  I am proud to have begun in a program that is giving so much life to the community, and will continue to do so for many years.”

Emily fondly recalls the initial impact of the Music Roots program on her personally. “Shortly after I began playing fiddle, Music Roots sponsored my first workshop from “Fiddlin’ Banjo Billy Mathews,” an old-time legend from the Ozarks.  I learned the tunes, but also drank in the stories of his travels across the United States.  Each year I returned to Billy’s workshops, learning hundreds of tunes and stories along the way.”

The Music Roots program continued to assist Emily in her professional development by sending her to several workshops with Alan Jabbour, who collected tunes from across rural Appalachia that would otherwise have become extinct.  “His stories and music fascinated me, and I began doing my own research on the histories of the tunes I played.  By the time I graduated high school, I had collected hundreds of tunes, recorded several CDs, and had years of teaching experience thanks to Music Roots,” said Emily.

The opportunity to learn from a renowned ethnomusicologist like Alan Jabbour led her to a degree in anthropology, which Emily shared, “has improved my ability to research and interpret musical traditions.” As a final project to graduate from the Donaghey Scholars Program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, she chose to transcribe Billy Mathews’ archive of 500 Fiddle Tunes.  Over the course of three years, she transcribed all 500 fiddle tunes, reviewed each one with Billy, and wrote an analysis of his style to help fiddlers learn to reproduce his old-time sound. Emily marveled, “all of this was made possible because Music Roots sent me to his workshop over ten years ago.  I hope this book is just the first of many contributions I can give back to the community that has given me so many gifts through music.”

Emily also found her husband, Everett, through their studies at UALR. They have even competed against one another! Everett Elam was the Arkansas State Fiddle Champion in the Adult Division last year and Emily was runner-up. Everett was grand champion of the event.  Emily has also been the Arkansas State Banjo Champion. The pair has their own band called Bow Tanglers.

Ozark Folk Center Park Superintendent John Morrow said, “Music Director Daren Dortin and myself are very excited to have Emily join our team here.  She brings a deep understanding of our mission, our music and our programming along with enthusiasm and energy.  She is already making a positive impact on the music program here.”

Emily invites everyone to come and enjoy the upcoming shows. Feature concerts for May include Lemon Bucket Orkestra on May 3, Molly Tuttle on May 4, Doyle Dykes and Danny Dozier on May 17, Wood & Wire on May 25.  Add to the mix the Merle Travis Thumbpicking weekend with the Arkansas State Thumbpicking contest on May 18, 2:30-6:30pm. For a terrific finale to end the month of May, Carlene Carter, daughter of country music legends June Carter and Carl Smith, stepdaughter of Johnny Cash, and granddaughter of “Mother” Maybelle Carter, will be on the Ozark Highlands stage for a reserved seating concert on May 31 at 7pm.  Tickets for all music events may be purchased online at

ozark folk center.ticketleap.com.

The Ozark Folk Center craft grounds are open Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5pm with daily music performances. The Ozark Highlands Theater hosts music performances Thursday-Saturdays from 7pm-9pm.