HILTONS, Va.  A returning debut at a legendary musical landmark rejuvenated the spirit from years past in a blissful tune.

The Kentucky Center for Traditional Music returned to the Carter Family Fold for the first time since the pandemic cut off live performances across the nation. Being able to perform at the birthplace of traditional music became a touching moment for all involved. 

“This is where we were coming the week the pandemic closed everything down and it was very disappointing because we were really looking forward to coming,” said Raymond McLain, KCTM’s director. “But I think it’s a beautiful that now when the pandemic opens that this is the first place we get to go perform. It’s like a full-circle, like we’re finally following through with something that was interrupted.” 

Members of the Mountain Music Ambassadors found a new appreciation in their performance. 

“[Performing] meant a lot and honestly at this point I think it meant more to me now than it would have before,” said Hayley King, a junior at the KCTM, who was supposed to go to the Fold in March 2020. 

Carter Family Fold

Hayley King performs at the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, Virginia March 12, 2022. Photo by Sarah Mitchell | The Trail Blazer

Janette Carter started the Carter Fold in 1974 to uphold a promise she made her parents, A.P and Sara Carter, who had contributed to the music industry in the 1920s. McLain’s family band was the first on the docket.

“It’s a place where people want to come to, to see where things began, to see the simplicity of country music because it’s not simple anymore,” said Rita Forrester, the daughter of Janette who currently runs the fold. “I imagine this is how it often used to be and most of the folks that come here are people that I really love.”

The history behind the Carter Family, partly from class lessons and McLain’s storytelling, taught the Ambassadors that the opportunity to perform on stage was an honor.  

 “You realize how important they are to our music and the fact that the place they walked in and the walls that used to ring with their voices and the doorways they used to pass through and doorknobs they used to touch,” said King, a Ridgeway, SC native.  “It’s just unbelievable to be in the same place.”

McLain said he’s been fortunate to continue sharing the stage with his students for the last twenty-two years. 

Carter Family Fold

Raymond McLain applauds the Mountain Music Ambassadors after they perform a tune at the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, Virginia March 12, 2022. Photo by Sarah Mitchell | The Trail Blazer

“This represents that very solid part of country music history,” he said. “When our students can go and take part in that, they’re part of country music and in that moment they’re part of country music history. They touch those people that might have even passed on years ago and it also puts us in touch with people in the future.” 

The night ended on a signature Carter family song that touched the hearts of Forrester, McLain and the band.

“Even though Rita was the only one left there with us of the immediate Carter family, it felt like they were all there and it was very sentimental,” said Izaac Daniels, a freshman traditional music major from Ashland, Ky. 

King said the tune unified the group as a singular heartbeat. 

“We’re all a part of the same world. We’re all a part of the same earth. The fact that we get to be together not only in our physical, in the same room, we can be together in our souls. We unify in music. But it’s because all the people in that room appreciate music the same way we do.” 

During students’ performance of “Will the Circle be Unbroken,” McLain and Forrester shared an emotional moment as the spirit of the Fold’s history come back to life.

“We were talking about specific people we used to see at the fold that were on that stage, that were in that audience, that would come and dance, that would come and help,” said McLain. “The relationships we had over years are very strong and even though some of those people have passed on, I still see them there in those seats and Rita does too. We could see all our loved ones there with us.” 

Carter Family Fold

Raymond McLain (left) and Rita Forrester (right) embrace during the Mountain Music Ambassadors' performance of “Will the Circle be Unbroken," one of many signature Carter family songs, at the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, Virginia March 12, 2022. Photo by Sarah Mitchell | The Trail Blazer