• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Traditional music becomes Woodford native’s obsession

THE LOCAL HONEYS – string musicians Montana Hobbs, left, and Woodford County native Linda Jean Stokley – perform traditional music and a few songs they’ve penned about life experiences. During a celebration of traditional music at Berea College last year, Stokley says she taught a workshop on the “archaic artform of singing while playing the fiddle, which not a lot of people do … It’s like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time.” (Erica Chambers Photography)

Her mother played banjo before she was born, but Linda Jean Stokley says she found her own path to old-time music while taking a class at the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music. Listening to master fiddler Jesse Wells play became a life-changing experience for the Woodford County native. “I heard him play the fiddle,” remembers Stokley, “and I was just instantly drawn to it. And I think that when you discover something on your own, it makes it more of an obsession for you…” Stokley started taking music education classes at Morehead State University after graduating from Lexington Catholic High School. “And while I was there (to study jazz),” she says, “I discovered traditional, old-time, bluegrass and … regional music. “And ever since then,” she adds, “I’ve been really wrapped up in the music from this area.” In traditional music, it’s not uncommon for a community of musicians to share what they’ve learned so old tunes are not forgotten, Stokley says. She experienced this firsthand with Wells, who was “always really quick to share his knowledge because he views the importance of preserving this music. And I think that he saw that I was truly mesmerized the way that he was when he discovered this music for himself,” says Stokley. So she learned how to play fiddle under the guidance of her mentor, Wells, and began sharing old-time songs with others. “Everyone can kind of relate to roots music,” says Stokley, “but I happened to be right in the heart of Morehead … where traditional music is very much alive and well.” Before she and Montana Hobbs – who now perform as The Local Honeys – became the first female graduates of the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music at Morehead State University in May 2015, the musicians played together in a string band at MSU. They were also regular listeners of regional music and started having conversations with master fiddler John Harrod, whom Stokley describes as an “encyclopedia of Kentucky fiddle music…” Soon, The Local Honeys were playing tunes together while gaining a deeper understanding of traditional Kentucky music. And now they’re able to earn a living while playing Appalachian music for audiences in the bluegrass area and elsewhere. “We don’t play music because we want to be famous,” explains Stokley. “We play this music because we have this really deep love for the traditional tunes from the region.” With over 100 performances this year alone, The Local Honeys had only traveled outside of Kentucky for an occasional performance in West Virginia, Tennessee and Ohio, before embarking on an East Coast concert tour this month. “We’re really proud,” says Stokley, “to be in a state that values live music…” One of the biggest challenges in managing their own career has been being women in the music industry, which Stokley describes as “really difficult.” “We’re typically the only females on a lineup,” she explains. “We’ll go play festivals … and they’ll have 10 bands and we’ll be the only girls playing music up there. “I don’t think anybody even notices, but we’re like, ‘I wish there were some other girls around here that played music.’ We think of it, but no one else does.” Often, she says, audiences underestimate her and Hobbs as musicians because they’re women, “but we’re just playing music because we love to.” The Local Honeys delve into the topic of being a woman in an untraditional or man’s role in “Little Girls Actin’ Like Men,” a song written by Hobbs. “Freight Train Blues,” which Stokley describes as just “about everyone’s favorite tune,” was a song that the duo first heard performed by Cousin Emmy, a multi-talented musician from Barren County. “A lot of the songs that Montana and I learn or perform haven’t been heard outside of their communities that they were originally played in,” says Stokley, 26. “We’re able to take the old songs that people don’t know, and then they associate them with us, which I think is pretty neat.” More importantly, performing old-time songs are opportunities to preserve Kentucky’s music traditions by shedding light on the contributions of musicians from the past, she says. Born and raised in Woodford County, Stokley grew up on Kaenzig Brothers Orchard (now Eckert’s-Boyd Orchard), owned by her grandfather and great-uncle. Being in a family of “really good singers” gave her a musical heritage. She learned to embrace the healing power of music after her dad took his own life when she was only 8 years old. It wasn’t until Stokley was a student at Morehead State that this self-described string player wrote “I Love You, Charlene,” a song about the emotions and grief of losing a parent. It was her mother, Charlene, who urged Stokley to continue her music education at Morehead State University, where she could play electric bass in its jazz studies department. And it was her mother who supported her musical ambitions from an early age – sometimes taking her daughter to three music lessons a week. “I think she just really wanted to nurture what she thought was God’s gift,” says Stokley, who lived in Morehead for about seven years. She recently moved back to Woodford County and says, “It feels good to be home.” The Local Honeys return to Stokley’s hometown for 30-minute pre-show concerts before “An Appalachian Christmas Carol,” during the first three weekends of December.

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